My husband recently made the decision to leave a job he loved. In order for you to understand my point, I need to emphasize just how much he loved this job. He said it was his favorite job since he was a bartender in the only on-campus bar at our college — and that was a really fun job. As you can imagine, he did not take the decision to leave lightly. In fact, he agonized over it.
It was an interesting aspect of the new job that turned out to be the tipping point of his decision. As he described the new position to me, he said, “I’m a little scared. This is a big job. It’s going to be hard. What if it’s more than I can handle?” As his sentence hung in the air between us, we gave each other a knowing look. A job like this – a job that would be a challenge, a job that would make him stretch, a job that mixed in a healthy dose of “what if?” – was the only kind of job that was worth leaving a position that made him so happy.
At first glance, this may seem counterintuitive. Why would anyone choose to leave comfort and contentment for a challenge which, even in its first impression, looks like it’s going to be a big one? After all, comfort feels good and contentment is something most of us seek. Yet, I suspect that when most of us look back over the course of our lives, times of greatest challenge stand out as our most satisfying times.
Personally, I will never forget my math class sophomore year in high school. Never having been a strong math student, I was dismayed to be assigned a man reputed to be the toughest teacher in the building. The first marking period did not go well. But I was determined not to let this teacher break my streak of good grades. I kept at it and, sometime that winter, I realized that I actually “got it.” By the end of the year, not only did I earn a grade I was proud of, but, thanks to that teacher, algebra remains the only kind of math I can begin to help my children with. More so, that teacher is one of the few I still remember as truly great.
Practicing yoga provides a less addling way to work with this notion. As we move and breathe on our mats, again and again we have the opportunity to choose to stretch beyond comfort. Again and again we experience the benefits and satisfaction of putting ourselves into challenging situations. While it is nice and feels very good to sail through a yoga practice filled with familiar postures, over time I suspect this type of practice would fail to lure you back to your mat. Comfort, it turns out, can be the perilous top of a slippery slope to boredom.
Add in a posture that is hard or scary or confusing, however, and you might find yourself impatient for a chance to try again. It’s important in a yoga practice to be working on a pose. It’s critical to the energy of your practice that you be learning, stretching and growing. Even though the new posture may be daunting, seem impossible or just feel really, really uncomfortable, it adds an element of interest to your daily practice. This spark of interest keeps you hungry for more. It keeps you coming back day after day. It creates a practice that can last for – and support you for – a lifetime.
Getting comfortable with willingly – even eagerly – stretching beyond your comfort zone (ironic, no?) is a powerful gift of a yoga practice. It leaves us brave enough to try. It leaves us aware enough to recognize an opportunity, even when it’s masquerading as fearsome change. It leaves us certain enough in the benefits of a challenge that we’re less likely to shy away. It leaves us open enough to new possibilities that we will continue to grow and stretch throughout our lives. Most importantly, it leaves us willing to continue to become the person it is possible for us to be, even when we’re pretty happy with the person we already are.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s quote describes my year of high school math beautifully. It wasn’t easy, but it was certainly interesting. It also describes the yoga practice that continues to draw me to my mat daily after almost 13 years. Three weeks into my husband’s new job, he feels the same way. He’s working harder than he has in years and he says it’s hard as hell. But he also says his crazy days are never dull — the work is way too interesting for that.
Take a look around. What opportunity – perhaps disguised as something tough or even scary – is presenting itself to you?