Being comfortable with being uncomfortable

Dr. Mardy Grothe’s book, Oxymoronica, explores the world of contradictory figures of speech. “Many examples of oxymoronica appear illogical or self-contradictory on the surface,” writes Grothe. “But at a deeper level, they usually make a great deal of sense and are often profoundly true.” For example, he cites that well-known quote by French writer Alphonse Karr, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

That quote is particularly applicable as we deal with the pandemic caused by the new virus COVID-19. Pandemics are nothing new — there have been many throughout history. The flu pandemic of 1918 was the deadliest in history. It infected about one-third of the planet’s population and killed an estimated 20 to 50 million victims. We have no idea what the death toll will be when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, nor do we know when it will end. We don’t know what will happen but the fear of what might happen has paralyzed the world.

In the foreword to Oxymoronica, Richard Lederer shares a thought-provoking statement by Carl Jung, “Man’s real life consists of a complex of inexorable opposites — day and night, birth and death, happiness and misery, good and evil. If it were not so, existence would come to an end.” In other words, life itself is an oxymoron. It is a continuous contradiction that bounces between extremes on a spectrum of highs and lows. That is normal. The problem is when we wish for life to be static and predictable. That brings to mind another oxymoron, “Be careful what you wish for, it might come true.” The only time life is static is when it ends.

Life does not consist of only day, birth, happiness and good. It also includes night, death, misery and evil. Each of these opposites provides the boundaries of life itself. Life is a dynamic struggle played out between these opposites. Without that struggle it would be, to paraphrase Carl Jung, the end of our existence. What we also fail to understand is the value to be found in the struggle. As Napoleon Hill observed in his book, Think and Grow Rich, “Within every adversity lies the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” That statement appears to be an oxymoron, but I discovered just how true it is in 2008.

In October of that year, I spoke at a conference in Australia about change. I had no idea how timely my presentation would be. The world turned upside down during the two weeks I was down under. It was the beginning of the worst financial crisis in history since the Great Depression.

As one who made a big part of his living as a professional speaker, I felt the impact immediately. Corporations and associations cancelled conventions and conferences. The meeting industry was devastated. I was not immune. But as my speaking engagements decreased, I focused more of my attention on consulting. And our business started growing. Ironically, the Great Recession of 2008 turned out to be the beginning of the best 10 years in the 30-year history of our business.

We have no idea what will happen as a result of coronavirus pandemic. More people will suffer and die. But when you look at life on a continuum over many years, this is normal. What is not normal is the idea that we should not have to experience any degree of pain or should ever have to be uncomfortable. The economy will turn around. The markets will go up. New businesses and jobs will be created. That’s normal. But to expect things to remain that way is not.

People will pay to ride a rollercoaster just for the thrill but do everything in their power to avoid the smallest speed bump on the road of life. I’ve lived long enough to ride the rollercoaster up and down a few times. Does it make me uncomfortable? Sure. But I have learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s an oxymoron. But that’s what makes the rollercoaster worth the ride.

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