Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

By Jim Whitt

This article was originally published on November 19, 2008

“You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap,” says Dolly Parton. That, ladies and gentlemen, is an oxymoronic statement. There’s nothing cheap about Dolly Parton. She is solid gold – an extraordinary talent that has made herself even more so by capitalizing on her paradoxical personality. Dolly personifies oxymoronica, a term coined by Dr. Mardy Grothe. 

Oxymoronica is also the title of a book by Dr. Grothe which explores the world of contradictory figures of speech such as the quote by Dolly Parton. “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.” Among many examples he cites French writer Alphonse Karr’s famous quote, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.”

In the foreword of 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. We should be careful what we wish for, however. The only time life is static is when it ends.

We are currently living in an economic downturn. This is normal. The markets go up, the markets go down. Businesses fail and people lose jobs. 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. Bailout seems to be the order of the day – someone should bail us out rather than experience failure. But here’s another oxymoron – without failure there is no success. There’s just static.

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 your existence.

I was on the phone with two people this week discussing their futures. One is starting a new business and the other is considering launching a new career in consulting – neither of which is the most comfortable thing to do during the current economic climate. So, I shared something with them that I have learned over the years. I have learned to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s an oxymoron. But it’s a positive contradiction – I’ve discovered I am at my best when I’m uncomfortable and at my worst when I’m comfortable. So, I’ve decided to live comfortably uncomfortable.

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. That’s an oxymoron. 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. 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 what makes the rollercoaster worth the ride.

Editors note: It’s been more than two years since the two people mentioned in this article started their new businesses. I’m happy to report that both ventures have been and continue to be extremely successful.

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