Personal Growth

The Two Sides of Discomfort

Last week, after months of deliberation, I shadowed an acting class. I wasn’t sure what to expect–it took everything in me just to show up. I have no desire to be an actor and there’s no hidden talent buried within me. In fact, the thought of acting makes me want to curl up and die. So what the hell was I doing there?

For those committed to personal growth, discomfort is considered a positive. And it often is. But discomfort can signal different things.

Sometimes discomfort is a sign that you’re growing and pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone or current abilities. Other times it acts an alert, warning you of a misguided decision.

The same concept holds true for exercise. There’s a discomfort that you push through to build strength or endurance. But there’s also a discomfort that signals injury. If you attempt to push through the latter, you compound the mistake and end up worse for it. While exercise is based more on feeling and experience, personal growth shares similar elements.

A certain level of stress is important. As Nassim Taleb, philosopher and writer, explains in his book Antifragile, “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” The key is finding the right threshold.

Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. Likewise with randomness, uncertainty, chaos: you want to use them, not hide from them. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.
— Nassim Taleb

What’s worth sticking out?

Whenever I’m in an uncomfortable situation, I apply the same rule of thumb that I use to evaluate whether or not something is worth quitting.

I start by asking myself, “Do I feel nervous or uncomfortable because this is difficult? Or do I feel nervous because something’s off and this contradicts my character, values, or principles?”

The former is worth sticking out because that’s where personal growth stems from. The latter means it’s probably time to bow out and reassess.

With the acting class, my primary motivation was using it as an experiment to improve my public speaking skills. I came across the idea over coffee with a friend and fellow writer, Lily Hansen. She told me how her background in acting helped improve her stage presence and presentation skills. It was an interesting angle that I thought worth testing out.

But the fact remained, I was nervous and in no way looking forward to the class. It took a disproportionate amount of energy to even schedule it. But I followed through because it aligned with an area of my life that I wanted to improve.

Another way of looking at this is by using a model James Clear suggests, and asking yourself, “Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?”

The acting class was a vote for my desired identity, not as an actor, but as a stronger communicator and storyteller. I looked at it as an opportunity to arm myself with techniques to build greater comfort presenting in front of an audience.

Does this behavior help me become the type of person I wish to be? Does this habit cast a vote for or against my desired identity?
— James Clear

The nuance of discomfort

There’s also a nuance to discomfort that’s worth taking into account. As circumstances change, the type of discomfort can shift beneath you. Earlier this year, a few technology companies reached out about open positions. I went through with the interviews–nerves and all–because I knew they would help me hone my skills, clean up my thinking, and explore my options.

But when it came to an offer, it was a different type of discomfort. I was able to step back and identify that my hesitation was because it didn’t line up with my priorities for the immediate future. I was still more excited about my current team, our upcoming challenges, and what we were building.

In that context, the decision to leave such a positive situation seemed foolish. I didn’t want to jump at the first new opportunity I came across, I wanted the right opportunity. And that meant doubling down on my current position.

The difficult part is that you have to preserve a deep sense of awareness to avoid rationalizing decisions beyond all recognition. There will be moments when you fail to rise to the occasion. Your natural instinct will be to seek out evidence to affirm you made the right decision–confirmation bias.

But life is rarely as neat and orderly as you might hope. You won’t always know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you made the right or wrong decision. You just have to assess things to the best of your ability and learn along the way. With greater awareness of your cognitive biases and what discomfort means in different contexts, you’ll be able to make better decisions.

Growth and self-preservation

If you take an impulse at face value, you’ll never be able to differentiate between the shades of discomfort. Consider what side of the spectrum the discomfort you’re facing falls on. One leads towards growth and the other self-preservation.

There will be moments when you’re uncomfortable. That’s not always a bad thing. The vast majority of us would be better off with more adventure, discomfort, and randomness in our lives. But you have to know the difference between stupid risks and opportunities for growth.

If it aligns with your character, it’s worth pushing through those difficult moments when you feel like quitting. No matter how uncomfortable you might be. It’s the discomfort from situations that contradict your character or priorities that deserve a second look.

30 Lessons for Living at Your Best by 30

Behind almost everything I’ve done in my 20s there’s been a single motivating factor–discovering what it means to live well. By living well I don’t mean extravagantly. I mean determining what I want out of life, living in a way that aligns with those values and principles, and learning in everything I do. In other words, striving to be the best version of myself.

While there will be inevitable ups and downs, no matter where you are, you want to be able to step back and see a clear upward trajectory which tracks the course of your life.

The best way to ensure this is by learning from your failures, putting in the work, and aspiring to be at your best. There will be days, weeks, even months, when things might seem to stagnate or head in the opposite direction, but you need the mental toughness to adapt and push yourself towards progress, as defined by you.

With my 30th birthday in sight, I’ve narrowed in on a few hard-fought, as well as mind-numbingly simple lessons, which have helped me establish a sense of this trajectory. I don’t presume to have all the answers. These are just the lessons that have resonated strongest with me over the past decade. Remember, there’s no “right” path, but I hope these prove useful as you find your own way.

1. Get the essentials down first

If you expect to feel good and achieve anything in your life, you need to prioritize sleep, exercise and eating well. These are the non-negotiables. You can’t neglect yourself and expect to function at a high level. This is foundational to everything else on this list.

2. Limit the number of do-overs

Don’t underestimate the power of avoiding dumb decisions. Most of the trouble that people run into is self-inflicted. There are enough obstacles ahead of you as is, don’t create extra work for yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to be brilliant in every decision you make, just avoid the big mistakes. Focus on making well-rounded, rational decisions each day, and allow compound interest to run its course.

3. There is no way things are “supposed to be”

The sooner you give up an imagined reality, the better you’ll be able to negotiate the way forward. Close the gap by differentiating between internal and external expectations and assigning each their proper weight. Prioritizing internal expectations is the path towards gratitude and self-sufficiency. External expectations introduce dependencies. Don’t place a premium on things you can’t affect.

4. Create more, consume less

What you consume doesn’t make you unique. The fact that you’re a fan of the Golden State Warriors, listen to Ed Sheeran, watch Game of Thrones, and only buy Apple products, are not unique identifiers. What you create and what you’re putting out into the world is what defines you.

5. Life is a single player game

You can’t expect to retain your sanity if you insist on comparing yourself to people heading in an entirely different direction. Measure you against you.

6. There is no substitute for true resourcefulness

One of the biggest obstacles I faced when I took my first job out of college was my inability to handle ambiguity and uncertainty. The predictability of the curriculum and instruction in school won’t do you any favors here. As it turns out, life is far more about resourcefulness than a checklist of prescribed actions. You must learn to adapt, teach yourself, and create your own momentum. There is no blueprint to walk you through every step of your life.

7. Put in the self-work

It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be worth it. Your 20s should be a decade primarily dedicated to yourself so you can figure your shit out. Before you enter into any relationship or realize any of your aspirations–if you don’t want them to go up in flames–you need to be self-aware and self-sufficient.

8. Directions in life are mutually exclusive

For the first half of my 20s I wanted to be everything, so I was unable to commit to anything. But the earlier you cross the irrelevant off your list, the faster you’ll be able to make meaningful progress and give your complete attention to the things you can’t live without. If you’re unsure where to start, try this exercise from Warren Buffett and double down on those things.

9. JOMO (joy of missing out) > FOMO (fear of missing out)

“FOMO” is another way of saying you’re incapable of prioritizing–you want to be everything and everywhere, which is an impossibility. Once you’ve figured out what’s important to you, passing on unnecessary obligations or engagements which you’re not invested in will be a source of great satisfaction.

10. What you walk away from defines you as much as the things you stick out

Whenever you encounter a moment of self-doubt or the urge to quit, ask yourself, do you feel like quitting because it’s difficult? Or do you feel like quitting because it contradicts your character, values, or priorities? The former means you should stick it out, the latter means it’s time to call it quits.

11. Growth is nonlinear

As Nassim Taleb explains in Fooled by Randomness, nonlinear relationships are the rule, not the exception. We mistakingly believe that if two variables are causally linked, a steady input in one should result in a positive linear progression in the other. Life doesn’t work that way. You can’t always expect visible progress when comparing one day to the next. You might have to dedicate years to your craft before something clicks. Remember, it’s your overall trajectory that matters, not the noise you encounter on a daily basis. The shorter the time frame, the more variance there will be–focus on the big picture.

12. Figure out what you can sustain indefinitely

That’s what it’s going take to set yourself apart. Most people drop off at the first sign of adversity or boredom, outlast them.

13. Leverage compound interest

The power of compound interest applies to almost everything in life, not just financial investments. For most hard-working, talented people it’s just a matter of time. Years of consistently showing up, learning, and dedicating time to your craft will pay dividends. The power of small, calculated decisions, habits, and behaviors grows exponentially over time.

14. Physical endurance builds mental endurance

Most people live in fear of the slightest discomfort or inconvenience. If you’re able to practice consistently pushing yourself to the point of discomfort and sustaining at that level, you begin to build resilience. In this regard, physical endurance translates into mental toughness.

15. Lasting comfort is found by embracing discomfort

Intermittent periods of discomfort prepare you to handle a wider range of potential scenarios. This helps you expand the confines of your current comfort zone and, ultimately, experience less discomfort than those who cling to convenience and familiarity. The latter find themselves in positions of considerable vulnerability–rigid and unable to adapt. This is the paradox of comfort.

16. Stillness is the best lesson traveling will teach you

I was an insatiable traveler for most of my 20s, visiting 25 countries and four continents. The only thing I’ve found more fulfilling than travel is learning to be still and content at home. Travel, go see the world, live somewhere new–otherwise, you’ll regret it later on. But this should lay the foundation for you to find peace in your future immediate surroundings. And this is the real value of experiences gained from travel–they help you build a broader perspective and a stronger sense of identity and appreciation at home. There’s nothing more fulfilling than the sense of gratitude that comes from moments when you’re content right with being right where you are.

17. Get a dog

Very few things have had a more profound, positive impact on my life. Presence, patience, empathy, joy–a dog will remind you of these values every single day.

18. Read like your life depends on it

To quote Naval Ravikant, once, “The genuine love for reading itself, when cultivated, is a superpower. The means of learning are abundant–it’s the desire to learn that is scarce. Cultivate that desire by reading what you want.” And twice, “Reading science, math, and philosophy one hour per day will likely put you at the upper echelon of human success within seven years.” The power of compound interest applies as much to reading and building better mental models as anything else.

19. No one alive has all the right answers

Avoid the urge to overidentify and reach for absolutes. Learn to live in the gray area. That’s what separates lifelong learners from pretenders.

20. General advice > specific advice

You will encounter mentors who want to prescribe specific advice. For the most part, it’s ineffective, because there is no single path to success. You will never be able to replicate the lives of those you admire. But you can examine the systems and mental models that give them their edge. This is where you’ll find the truly valuable lessons that you can apply to your own life, direction, and decision making.

21. Avoid ideologies at all costs

As Charlie Munger suggests, “Heavy ideology is one of the most extreme distorters of human cognition.” There’s no better way to impair your own rationality and decision making. Ideologies will drive you towards confirmation bias and close-mindedness.

22. Legacy is a mirage

If you have any sense of historical perspective, you’ll realize that you won’t be remembered. The desire for legacy is narcissism in disguise. This realization should be empowering, not disheartening. It will allow you to go out and make a difference now, instead of attempting to preserve some future image of yourself when you won’t be around to reap any of its benefits.

23. “In victory, learn when to stop.”

Drifting expectations are dangerous. This is one of Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power. You have to allow yourself time to reflect on what you have and how far you’ve come. Those who refuse to come to terms with this lesson find themselves as textbook examples of hubris, brought down by the same insatiability and arrogance that led them on an accelerated, unsustainable path towards the top. This is the reason people lose fortunes, families crumble, companies self-destruct, empires fall. More is not always the answer. Know when you’ve won.

24. Money matters

In The Geometry of Wealth, Brian Portnoy explains that wealth and investing are about funding contentment and underwriting a meaningful life, as defined by you. Not about getting rich, having “more,” and losing yourself on the hedonic treadmill. There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to the impact of income on experiential happiness (around $75,000), but there is no cap on reflective happiness. Wealth is a tool to achieve freedom, self-sufficiency, and spend your time exactly how you want to.

25. You can’t have it all, but you can have what you prioritize

Don’t try to keep up with those living an extravagant lifestyle. If your goal is to fund your own contentment and underwrite a meaningful life, you need to figure out what’s most important to you. Spend money on those things, without hesitation, and invest in yourself. Live frugally and cut costs everywhere else.

26. Moderation is king

This is the single most important value no one has told you about. Avoid excess. As a society, we pride ourselves on extremes. But even our virtues, when taken too far, collapse into their opposite–crippling flaws in character. Find the golden mean.

27. Everyone is facing their own adversity

I’m reminded of this on an almost weekly basis. The carefully curated versions people project of themselves on social media don’t reflect what’s actually going on in their lives. You never know what someone’s going through or what they’ve been through. Be kind.

28. Commit to the people who share your most important values

I can’t say it better than Ray Dalio, “When you have alignment, cherish it. While there is nobody in the world who will share your point of view on everything, there are people who will share your most important values and the ways in which you choose to live them out. Make sure you end up with those people.”

29. Build a philosophy of life that works for you

Philosophy is about the art of living. It will make these lessons easier if you have a reference point that reflects your most important values and principles. For me, this is a version of Stoicism. Go out there and find one that works for you, or create your own. Whatever you do, establish one, because this adds purpose, direction, and serves as a constant reminder of what’s worth attaining in life.

30. There’s no secret to happiness, other than gratitude

The single trait that the happiest people all have in common is a profound sense of gratitude. They wake up in the morning and feel lucky, with an appreciation for life and their current position. I achieve this by reflecting on all the good things I have, worst-case scenarios, and the finer details in my immediate surroundings.


The only true failures in life are moments of apathy or defiance, when you’re unwilling to learn. Knowledge and experience count for little if you’re unable to commit them as life lessons.

Determine what you want out of life, live in a way that aligns with those values, and never stop learning. That’s what it takes if you want to discover what it means to live well and maintain an upward trajectory over the course of your life. Go out and find the lessons that resonate strongest with you.