The Beauty of Discomfort
How artists can hear what their hearts are trying to tell them
For years I ran from discomfort. As hard and as fast as I could.
Still do, sometimes…
When I was running hard and fast from discomfort, the truth that I didn’t understand was this:
Discomfort is baked into the experience of being human. We must choose whether the discomfort we walk through opens up our imaginations to deep dreams OR whether the discomfort we walk through shuts down that quiet piece of our hearts that calls us to be artists.
I didn’t understand that. So many of our choices as artists are between these two experiences of discomfort - the discomfort of running toward something or the discomfort of running from something. I mistakenly believed that when I avoided the discomfort of failing at auditions or playing out of tune in a gig my life would feel more peaceful. I believed that quitting was easier to endure than failing.
It wasn’t. It isn’t.
The pain that emerges when we self-abandon, when we deny the whisper of our hearts is … well, it's catastrophic. Take it from someone who went all in on muting the beauty she was born to create.
I don’t want that for you.
So, rather than running from discomfort or feeling like something is wrong, let’s choose to view discomfort as an indicator that we are on the right path. Discomfort can become our measuring stick for determining our course as artists.
While everything doesn’t need to be scary, some things certainly should! The balance between comfort and discomfort will be unique to each of us, depending on personality, capacity and emotional health. Having a few scary moments each week is evidence that you’re on the right track. That you are pursuing something that you care about and that your heart wants!
How do we experience discomfort in a way that supports us as artists?
1. Give yourself space to feel the discomfort.
So often, all we need to do is feel our feelings. I am learning this over and over again (I can be a slow learner!) with my kiddos. Much of the time, when they are in pain, they simply need the space to be in pain with someone who loves them. They feel the pain for 2 minutes or 20 minutes, and then they move through it in their own way. We are the same! Feel first, then move through and learn.
2. Get curious about the discomfort.
When you feel resistance to an idea or an experience, ask yourself what your heart is trying to tell you? For some of us, the language of feeling is not always readily accessible. There can be a sense of avoidance followed by some persuasive arguments (thanks, brain … ahem) or a sense of dismissiveness that an idea is out of reach. Get curious about why? What is in there that you should know? What are you really afraid of? Do your values help you manage that fear? What is your discomfort trying to tell you?
3. See the discomfort as useful.
It is information that will help you! For example, it is incredibly uncomfortable to be unprepared for rehearsal. Noted! Next time you can take steps to mitigate the discomfort by doing X, Y, or Z. Or, maybe you did something that was brave, but the result wasn’t what you had hoped for. You experimented and received feedback. What can you change? Or, maybe you don’t need to change, you just need to try again? We are always running experiments; allow the discomfort to inform the next iteration of the experiment for you.
Discomfort is beautiful. Kinda painful - sometimes we are learning tough lessons, sometimes we are contending with failure, sometimes we see how far we still have to go - but it is also integral to our lives as artists.
Let’s not rescue ourselves from discomfort but choose to feel it, understand it, and use it to inform how we move forward.
Next Steps and Additional Resources
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Founder of The Musician's Mindset
Katie is a certified life coach dedicated to helping musicians overcome stage fright and believe in their own unique artistic voice. She believes live classical music is a powerful antidote for the division, pain, and loneliness pervasive in the culture and strives to support all artists to confidently share their work with the world. She lives in Cincinnati with her husband, three kiddos, a dog, a snake, and a goldfish named Orca.