The Art of Being Uncomfortable

Ask an author and they'll practically gush about how hard writing a book is. It takes a special kind of mental endurance. You get up at 6 a.m., if you're paying the bills by doing something that's not writing books yet, and you write in the spare, secret hours that others spend sleeping. I can, at any given moment, easily come up with a hundred reasons why I should be doing something else, rather than writing my book, because writing is ridiculously uncomfortable.

Thomas Mann once said, "A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." Which is true because if you know what you're doing, you're never actually happy with what you've written because you know it could be better, and so begins the long, tedious revision process. Then an editor sees it and things get worse.

There's no sitting, daydreaming and admiring the view while brilliance drips from your pen. At least, not for me. For me, this is uncomfortable. And I'm ok with that.

Uncomfortableness isn't something to be avoided. Uncomfortableness must be embraced. It is how we achieve what we set out to achieve. I would go so far as to say that uncomfortableness must be actively sought out.

Introducing uncomfortableness into the system, into the process you're going through, isn't going to mess it up. The uncomfortableness in the system quite often is the system. It's the walls of the house you're building, whether that house is a business, a career, your art or an exercise routine.

This is a short version of a long story, but in 2006, jaded with my career in the advertising industry and wanting to create something intimate and personal that wasn't trying to sell you a car, running shoes or a toothbrush, I started to write a series of poems and prose to accompany a friend's photos on a blog.

I decided at the outset to never use gender-specific pronouns, the names of specific countries, cities, neighborhoods or places -- in fact, anything that might make it reflect any identity at all. Then I decided I'd start the name of every single entry in the blog with the word: "the," and that all of them would contain the word, "you," at least once.

I made sure they all had the word, "you," in them because that seemed to make it human for me, and I had sincere motivations for all my decisions. But, if I'm honest, I have no idea why I decided I'd always start the name of every entry with the word, "the." That, specifically, just seemed like the right uncomfortableness to introduce into the system.

I knew obeying all these little rules would make it more difficult than if I'd simply decided to just write some poems. But I also knew I was building something.

I named the experiment, "I Wrote This for You," and started publishing it online in 2007. Several years later, I've written more than a thousand entries, some as short as a sentence, some as long as a few hundred words, next to an equal amount of my friend's photos. People started to read it and share it, and in 2012, we got a book deal. Since then, we've sold more than 100,000 copies.

If I hadn't actively sought out some kind of uncomfortableness, if I hadn't decided to reach beyond my comfortable career, none of this would've happened.

It is the strain against the muscle when you exercise that builds it. It is the hours you spend studying that earn you your diploma. It is the patience you have with each other that grows a strong marriage. And, ironically, whether it's doing the dishes or running or anything else, expecting that life will be easy and comfortable is the surest path to pain and frustration.

So, I wish you peace, and an uncomfortable day.