“Adversity introduces a man to himself.” – Albert Einstein
As I was leaving the house, in swimming trunks and flip-flops and with towel in hand, my daughter asked me,
“Why do you keep swimming in ice cold water if it is uncomfortable?”
“Sometimes you gotta do things that aren’t comfortable.”
And with that I walked out the door.
Yet, there is so much more to why I do uncomfortable things.
Why do I continue with cold immersion, and push myself past fear in lead climbs? Likely the same reason why I prefer to ride a motorcycle with no windscreen or hand warmers. It makes me feel alive.
Its not just about trying new things or testing my limits and pushing myself. Of course these are a part of it, as is seeing where these paths might take me. Fear and discomfort are barriers, true, but they are barriers which when overcome leave you feeling alive and with a sense of achievement. These, again though, are only part of the reason.
A Deeper Purpose
I think what really draws me towards adversity and discomfort, fear and pushing limits is much more primal. As I get older I feel less and less any need to explain myself or ‘fit in’. I need very little and want even less. I am not drawn to nor a slave to social media or distraction, and indeed I find a better high and sense of fulfillment in moments; little moments.
Moments, like the warmth that works its way from your fingers to your soul when you put your hands in a sink full of fresh hot water to do the dishes. Like watching your child display tenacity in working through and finally besting a climb, or getting on a surfboard for the first time. Moments like nailing latte art. You know, the little moments.
These moments are fleeting though. They aren’t easily coerced. They happen when they happen, and are so much better when an effort is needed to expose them. Slowly immersing myself into near-freezing water is a moment. It is a deliberate act. One which forces me to focus. It is a moment I look forward to each day. Even though it is harder now, as it is daily below freezing and with snow in the forecast, I am working to make it one of my Big Rocks and a daily ritual – an anchor for the day.
The feeling from overcoming the discomfort, of finding, accepting, and facing a daily challenge, is a feeling so liberating that it is now become addictive. Whether it is finding a moment’s focus in controlling my breathing during cold-immersion, or working through the joint pain of indoor rock climbing or the fear of a lead climb, or the numbing chill and discomfort of a long and cool motorcycle ride, these victories over adversity and discomfort are the moments where I feel most alive.
Does getting into freezing water suck? Of course, but the satisfaction of knowing I did it, in a moment of complete focus and control, in seeking and overcoming adversity, far outweighs the discomfort. The discomfort is short, the feeling of satisfaction lasts. A life without these challenges though, is a life I do not want to live.
A Daily Dose Of Discomfort
Over the years I have developed a real disdain for comfort. I actively seek discomfort and look forward to each day’s dose of discomfort, and fear. I find joy in these activities. In a small way because so many balk at them. More so though, there is growth and the benefit of better understanding what you are capable of, what your body is capable of. It helps me find calm, and become collected.
In some ways it brings me back to the many things I loved about the army when I first joined. Those things that seemed so distant when I took on more senior roles, which increasingly tied me to a desk, and so far from the trenches and mud I loved. I’m getting a little taste of a Benjamin Button existence – finding my youth and vigor the older I get.
For me, a life without adversity is a life missing so much. I’d rather freeze in a mountain pool after 3 torturous weeks climbing than spend one day at a tropical resort. Where most dream of a week in Cuba, I dream of walking the entire Greater Patagonia Trail or motorcycling around the world – with no windscreen or hand warmers of course. I can attest that the memories that have stood out most after almost five decades, have been the ones that have involved overcoming some adversity.
So I swim in ice-cold water, and scare myself on lead climbs, and shiver after 9-hour motorcycle rides – and feel more alive with each moment I surrender to these activities.
That, my beautiful daughter, is why I do the things I do.
“Let me embrace thee, sour adversity, for wise men say it is the wisest course.” – William Shakespeare