When I walk into a room, I am almost never the smartest / funniest / best looking/ most accomplished person. Maybe I’m the weirdest person, but even then I’m not sure; I know some pretty weird people. The point is, I’m never the most successful person in any space that I choose to spend time in. I’m consistently surrounded by people whose skills, energies, and ambitions match or exceed my own. This can feel uncomfortable because it threatens our sense of ego.
I do not think this is unique to Swarthmore or any one place for that matter, but I’ve yet to encounter any place that does this as well as Swarthmore, and does so without an atmosphere of competition.
“But Jacky,” you might ask, “Why in the world would I ever want to feel uncomfortable?”
Because doing things that are uncomfortable forces you to confront challenges and learn in ways that stretch your abilities and thinking.
It’s often said that good is the enemy of great. Most people reach a certain level of success and then plateau. This begs the question, Is there anything wrong with being complacent and comfortable? No, not necessarily, but this mentality becomes problematic when one ceases to mature and no longer seeks out new challenges. I say this not to impose my mindset onto anyone else, but to express the ideals I value.
As you can tell from the photo on the right, I’m not a terribly good photographer. That’s okay. I have friends who are, and they can teach me. I carry this mentality with me in all aspects of my life. Got a low grade on a test? No problem. Who can I reach out to to help me study for the next one? Trying to bulk up in the gym and lift heavier weights? My scrawny self is certainly no expert in this field, but I have friends who are. Friends, or rather mentors, can be people, books, videos, anything really.
That’s how you find comfort in discomfort. Do something with the intent to learn and not to impress, and you’ll find that the key to finding joy in uncertainty is by measuring progress, not performance. I might not lift as much as the large dude in the tank top who roars each time he lifts 500lbs, but I’m still stronger than I was last week. Maybe I did worse on a test than the girl next to me, but still, I’m improving.
“Learning never stops. Many people die at 25 but are not put in the coffin until 75. The learning stopped for them early.” – James Altucher
Swarthmore seems to think on this wavelength too.
Example: I’m betting that at some point in your life, you’ve written an essay of some sort. Spoiler alert: that doesn’t change once you get to college or, you know, life.
“But what if I’m a terrible writer who’d rather count the specks of sand in a playground than count the number of words in a word document?” you ask.
“What what if classes are too hard? What if I don’t know how to study or what to study? What if I fail all my classes? What if AHHHHHHH!!!!!”
No problem, friend. Swarthmore has resources for that too. Get some help from your neighbor Student Academic Mentor (SAM) or get yourself a free tutor. And once you figure things out, reach out and try to help others, too.
You were, once upon a time, just like them you know.