Last spring, I spent two hours once a week completely and utterly embarrassing myself in front of 11 other people to the point of tears. It was exactly what I wanted.
As I’ve discussed before, I’m a grad student studying social work. My school offers a course called the Isms Lab, where 12 classmates meet once a week and have a discussion about all the isms: racism, sexism, heterocentrism, ableism, etc. Because we all have prejudices of some form (and if you think you don’t, you definitely do), the class is intended to illuminate your problem areas and correct them.
And this is done by tearing each other to pieces.
Everyone in the course came from different backgrounds. Many different races, sexual orientations, classes, and more. So the real learning wasn’t whatever the professor had to say. In fact, the professor said very little. The growth happened when you said something completely racist or sexist or heterocentrist without even realizing it and your classmates completely ripped you apart for it.
It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Not that the class was always enjoyable. I will never forget leaving the room every week furious or sad or totally embarrassed about something I’d done or said. It would consume my thoughts for days.
And yet I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. At the end of the semester I could confidently say that I had become a little bit better for having made myself so very vulnerable.
Because it is when we are completely helpless and outside our comfort zones that personal growth occurs. The moments when I am most embarrassed, most agonized, and most likely to want to crawl under a rock and stay there are ultimately the moments where I am growing, expanding, and learning how to be a better person.
Personal development occurs in the uncomfortable. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? The reason we are growing when it hurts the most is because we’ve never pushed ourselves that far before, and we’ve never pushed ourselves that far because to do so would feel negative. But when we dare to be in pain or ill-at-ease, we inevitably learn a new way to bloom.
Discomfort that leads to growth can happen in many forms. It can happen when someone hurts you. It can happen when you take some time alone to ask yourself hard questions. It can happen when a friend or stranger calls you out for saying or doing something destructive and you feel completely raw for it.
Seek out the uncomfortable. Go after something that makes you cringe or feel frightfully open. It’s in those moments that we become something better than what we were before.
Have you ever had an growing experience that felt uncomfortable at the time? I’d love to hear about it!
Let me make one thing clear: I’m not encouraging anyone to stay in personally harmful situations for the sake of growth. There are some instances, such as abusive relationships or oppression, where it is best to leave or protect yourself in any way that feels safe. Please don’t mistake this.