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Learning is Uncomfortable… And That’s Okay

path in a foggy forest
Photo by Lyle Wilkinson on Unsplash

Here’s what I’m learning: When we’re learning something new—when we enter new territory—it’s uncomfortable. As far as I can tell, it’s always uncomfortable. I keep thinking it will get easier, and it does… this new territory becomes familiar, known, more comfortable. But then I turn a corner and I’m in a different new territory. Once again, I don’t know how things work, I don’t know the lay of the land, I’m just feeling my way through.

Slowly I’m getting accustomed to the feeling of being in new territory. The territory is new, but the feeling, the experience, is pretty much the same. Now, instead of thinking there’s something wrong with me, I recognize it as just part of the process of entering new territory.

When I get that overwhelmed feeling, like I’m in over my head, barely keeping up, tumbling forward… then I know I’m in a growth spurt. I’m learning to be patient with these feelings, rather than run away from them. Because 1) I know this won’t last—even though it feels like it will go on forever—and 2) I’ll gain new knowledge, skills and experience as a result. Believe it or not, this feeling of “overwhelm” actually means I’m making progress.

If entering new territory always feels uncomfortable, then I suspect this is probably a universal experience. My guess is it’s the same for everyone. This learning edge is where we’re pushing into the unknown. The location of the learning edge may be different for each person, but the experience of it is probably pretty similar. Your learning edge may be much farther along the path than mine, but we are both experiencing new territory.

Sharing Knowledge

So how do we support one another in this process? How do we share what we’re learning? How do we help one another learn?

I’ve had people share their knowledge with me in an attitude of “I know and you don’t know.” It carries with it the implication that I’m weak or backward for not knowing. I’ve also had people withhold information because they don’t want to insult my intelligence by telling me how something works, telling me something I may already know. Neither approach is particularly helpful.

But if we understand that we are all on the learning path, that we all experience the discomfort of new territory, we can have compassion for one another. And we can find ways to support one another that are empowering and uplifting.

It’s rather humbling to realize that this path of learning is unending. No matter how much ground I cover, there’s always more to learn. And it’s multi-threaded. I may make considerable progress along one thread, and you’ve outstripped me along another. Not that it’s a competition—it’s a journey in which we each have different strengths. And that’s wonderful, because we can tap into each other’s knowledge and experience, which move us all along faster.

Choosing Words

The words we use when we share what we’re learning are important as well. I’ve heard it described as using “words as mild as milk.” As we come to understand the dignity of learning, we also gain an appreciation and a respect for the courage it takes to tackle something new. That respect influences the words we choose and how we say them.

Letting Go

There’s also an element of detachment. We’re familiar with the saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” It’s quite possible that, even though I may know something that would help someone, I’m not the right “teacher” or this might not be the right time. I can offer the knowledge as if offering a gift to a king. If it’s accepted, great. If not, I need to just let go and respect that person’s journey. It’s not always easy to do, but when I remember that we’re all on the path, it helps. There are other opportunities and other teachers and the right one will show up for each of us. We just need to keep moving forward.

Moving Forward

What is your experience of entering new territory? What does it feel like to be at the beginning of learning something new? What have you found that helps with the process? I’d love to hear your insights. Please share in the comments below or contact me directly, if you prefer.

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