The Coach is In…

How Uncomfortable Are We Willing to Be?


“Awareness is not a giver of solace – it is just the opposite. It is a disturber, and an awakener. Able leaders are usually sharply awake and reasonably disturbed. They are not seekers of solace.”  – Robert Greenleaf from “The Servant as Leader, pg. 20”

If you ask me, “Jim, how comfortable do you want to be?” I would reply, “What type of ‘comfortable’ are we talking about – physical (including economic), intellectual, emotional, spiritual, or social?” If you then said, “Does it matter?” I would likely say, “Probably not, but in my experience physical discomfort might be easier to deal with than emotional discomfort.”

If we didn’t have any qualifiers, I would likely say that I’d rather be more ‘comfortable’ than ‘uncomfortable.’ Yet, if I reflect over my life, my greatest learning and growth came from times of discomfort. A time when I was living mostly on hearty vegetable soup and Bisquick drop biscuits was easier than experiencing the death of my mother when I was 29. Finding out my child suffered from a neuromuscular disorder was harder than losing my job. You get the idea.

Being ‘uncomfortable’ represents times of challenge, some small, some large, and some that take your breath away. Our responses can be, “that’s inconvenient” to “I don’t know how I am going to handle this.” The choices of how we will ‘handle these things’ in our lives can be life changing. My mother used to say that difficulties in life are the things that help ‘temper your steel.’ They help you build greater capacity by building additional skills, knowledge, ability to cope, and still take care of your life’s responsibilities. That increased capacity helps you to deal with additional difficulties. They are also a measure of your willingness to own those difficulties as something for you to solve, not someone else.

All that said, I spent a good portion of my life trying to get to the ‘other side’ (the more comfortable side) as soon as I could. It wasn’t until I learned the ‘wisdom of discomfort’ that I learned to ‘sit’ with it for as long as I needed to learn whatever I needed to learn. That evolution allows me to not be afraid of future discomfort, as I’ve spent a lot of time building capacity – that, and my faith in God.

My work affords me a great look at how people deal with the ‘discomfort’ in their life. Generally, this has to do with behaviors or choices that are not working for them. When people choose to use a coach it is because what they are doing isn’t getting them what they want. Often, we explore first what they want. They may start with just knowing they want to make a different choice(s), but aren’t always sure how to go about it.

What preceded was the preamble for our main discussion – reference material. What has been stirring in my head and my heart is what I have been experiencing regarding what has been occurring in our country for several years, coming to a crescendo in the last 7 months. What I’ve been reflecting on includes, but is not limited to: increased intolerance, divisiveness, increased racism (i.e., African-American individuals being shot by police), a pandemic of epic proportion (currently north of 22.7 million cases and 375,000 deaths), conspiracy theories that defy logic (my bias), and political chaos, including our president refusing to concede the election and engaging in behavior that further incited the extremists who attacked our Capitol January 6. What should be my/our response to what is occurring around us?

I find all of it incredibly disturbing. I am angry, sad, challenged and at some level threatened (i.e., my country, as I have known it, has been ‘disintegrating’ at its roots). I am ‘uncomfortable’ with where we are and possibly headed. Whether some of this ‘dis-ease’ is a function of media (be it the press or social) that accentuates the views that get attention I’m not sure, but I believe it is a contributor.

Are you disturbed, uncomfortable? Are you challenged by what your ‘response’ should be? I know I am. As a leader, I have always been measured in my response to situations, choosing to respond rather than react. I have contacted my Senators and Representatives when I have a strong opinion. I have operated within the ‘confines’ of what I call ‘reasonableness,’ or comfortableness.

While the stress of the pandemic, including greater isolation, could be elevating my state of discomfort, I believe there is more at work. For the first time in a very long time, I am examining in what ways I am a white supremist? In what ways has white privilege contributed to me elevating my value, my race, as better than others who don’t look like me? Maybe I am not an overt part of the problem, but because I have not been more overt in my actions, I become part of not doing as much as I could and in that way I’m complicit in where we find ourselves with regard to race relations today. When I don’t like what I see, what should I do about it? In what way should I respond to those who openly spread divisiveness and hate?

It is easy for me/us to be ‘uncomfortable’ with what we see, but be more ‘uncomfortable’ with taking too much overt action. “I don’t want to rock the boat; I don’t want to offend anyone.” It is easy to think that ‘someone else’ will address these issues – and then you see many who are part of solving these issues, inspiring us (our elected officials), are part of the problem. This isn’t new, but it may further obfuscate how we will decide to respond.

What I know is that I will need to endure additional discomfort if I decide to be more ‘active’ in my response to what is occurring around me. I’m not sure what will emerge for me over time. What I do know is that being ‘uncomfortable’ challenges me to change, just as it does for those I coach. I would like to think that that change will be more positive, more active, that it will set an example for my children, for my grandchildren.

“Ask not what your country can do for you ask what you can do for your country” were the famous words uttered by John F. Kennedy at his inauguration, January 20, 1961. He went on to say, “We observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom — symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning — signifying renewal, as well as change.” His reference was to the Cold War and that the new administration was a new beginning. His call to action was for us to find a way to contribute, to be part of the solution.

I was 10 when President Kennedy was inaugurated. The inauguration of Joe Biden on January 20 will be 60 years from President Kennedy’s. In my mind, it represents a new beginning, a new opportunity to move our politics toward a place of greater collaboration, and us toward a call to action where me/you/we can help encourage our representatives (and not just in government) to a place of greater effectiveness, a place of greater respect, a place of listening to understand. A place where something is not always either or, but can be both/and.

Thanks for ‘eaves dropping’ as I continue to contemplate what my action will be. I hope it afforded you a time to ask questions for yourself. May we continue to ‘gather’ and support a ‘conversation’ that is positive and leads to a place of caring and action.

Allow me to leave you with this quote from John Lewis, “Know that the truth always leads to love and the perpetuation of peace.” Amen.

Toward a better you…