Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

“I’m getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.”  A friend in Singapore talking about expatriate living

When she first said it, I thought…”oh that’s cute, but I don’t really get it.”   For me, the thought of moving to different parts of the world and making a new life there is exhilarating…in fact, it’s right in my comfort zone.  Even recently climbing Mt. Sibayak, an active volcano in Northern Sumatra, pictured above, is in my comfort zone.   But then, as I thought about it a bit more and experienced my own discomfort later that week, I realized each person’s definition of “uncomfortable” is unique and many times based on our own personal fears and insecurities.  And, sometimes, it is well worth facing those fears and becoming, as my friend would say, comfortable in being uncomfortable.

I am both an extrovert and an introvert in many ways.  Most of the time, I derive my own energy from the energy of others and crave the interactions with people.  I think this is why I prefer big cities over country living.  But, I am also one who prefers to socialize (and work to some extent) in smaller groups or one-on-one, having deep, meaningful conversations. Put me in a situation where I am alone and attending a larger function with groups of strangers, and I am definitely out of my comfort zone.

This is exactly what I experienced on a few different occasions over the last two weeks when attending an International Women’s Day networking event with the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore and, then again, at an intimate concert for 25 people by a friend of a friend.  Both times I was alone, and both times I knew no one going in.  I even had to make a deal with myself before going to the networking event to take the pressure off of having to “meet as many people as possible.”  If I only met one person, I told myself, that would be a win.  Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed both functions (especially the music), but I definitely felt an awkward sense of myself the majority of the time I was there. I was uncomfortable.  

Despite that, however, some pretty interesting connections came from both of those events.  At the networking event, I met a woman who was a partner at a global law firm with a Singapore office.  We clumsily (I think she felt as awkward as I) exchanged our information and a little bit about our backgrounds.  She then proceeded to invite me to her company’s Women’s Day event the following week, and I hastily accepted.  That was pretty much the extent of our interaction and, even at her company’s event, we only talked briefly.   However, what did happen was some meaningful conversations with at least five others that were attending, including the featured speaker.  All very different, but connected in one way or another to different aspects in my life, including with one of my investments and with my co-facilitation of the ReGroup.  And, best of all, I met some fabulous new working women in Singapore.

And, then there was the private concert.  As you may know already, I love music. It is my medicine.  And, I especially love small music venues…and really miss that aspect of my life from San Francisco.  A friend had sent out the invite earlier in the week, but she was not able to attend.  I made the decision to go very last minute and was not able to rally any other friends to go.  But, I was craving good music and needed a little pick me up that day. So, alone, I went.   And again, it felt a bit awkward and uncomfortable.  But, I am so glad that I went.  The main performer and organizer of the event Corinne Gibbons was awesome…not only in her musical talent, but as what she portrays as a person.  This past week, she just left Singapore for a few months, including touring with her band in the US, but I am certain when she returns, we will find many synergies in both of our interests and work with building future generations of empathetic global citizens. Very exciting.

So, I guess it is up to each of us what level of discomfort we are willing to put up with in our lives.  Only we can know what is right for ourselves.  It seems that, for me, the value that was derived from making interesting new connections with human beings far outweighed the short term awkwardness and anxiety that I had in the moment.  And, who knows?  Maybe those networking events will begin to feel more like I did when climbing Mt. Sibayak.  Well, probably not.

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