What do you eat first? That is a very fun discussion that goes on in our home and that’s discussed in regards to eating a cupcake or a main course that will have a number of foods on the plate. When you eat a cupcake, do you eat the frosting first? Do you go top down, frosting first and then the cupcake? Or do you eat it bottom up, do you eat the cupcake and you save the best for last?
When you eat a dish that has multiple foods on it, which food do you eat first? Do you eat the food that you love first and then eat the other food or do you save what you love for last?
Well, it’s interesting because while everyone approaches this differently based on our nature, there’s a well known Stamford marshmallow experiment which you may be familiar with where they put children in a room with a video camera, which the child is unaware of, and they told the child to sit down by a table and they gave him a marshmallow. And they said, they told the child, If you don’t eat the marshmallow for the next ten minutes, we’re going to come back in and we’re going to award you with two marshmallows. Great investment.
And they did this with many children to see how the children would respond. Some children immediately ate the marshmallow, they couldn’t wait the ten minutes. Some of the kids played around for a few minutes and finally succumbed. And some children, they smelled it, they licked it, they played with it but they did not eat it and after ten minutes they were awarded with a second marshmallow.
What they did was they followed these children years later in their life to see how they were doing in their life. And what they discovered was that those that had more discipline or exercised more discipline were in a better place in their life.
What this teaches us is that what one woman called in her book, whose name I’m not recalling right now, the Blessings of a Scraped Knee, and that is that there is blessing to discomfort. Because short‑term discomfort can lead to enormous comfort; whereas, short‑term comfort generally will lead to discomfort.
And that’s why this is what we need to remember. What I’m going to say right now. And that is, all growth happens in discomfort. Again, all growth happens in discomfort.
Stagnation happens in comfort. This is the reality of the world that G‑d created. That we need to be ready to make ourselves uncomfortable in order to move forward, in order to achieve, in order to gain. And when we are not ready to make ourselves uncomfortable, we end up in stagnation.
And we all know this. We know this with health. This is very obvious. You know, when we ‑‑ to live a healthy lifestyle requires exercising discomfort. To exercise, right, requires a lot of discomfort and it’s really hard for most people to do, beginning with myself. However, the discomfort of exercise gives people enormous energy and health and you can say comfort.
When it comes to learning, those who are ready to make themselves uncomfortable to understand ideas which are not natural to them or seem strange to them because of their background, but they jump into it even though it’s uncomfortable, they become very expansive in their knowledge. People who are not ready to exercise discomfort in their learning simply do not develop and become ‑‑ as a person that is well rounded and well versed.
And the most important area of our life where we must exercise discomfort is character development. That is the most difficult area of our life to really transform ourselves to be the person G‑d wants us to be. And that absolutely requires enormous discomfort. And it’s a discomfort which is hard to actually put our fingers on because it is, we can say, intangible and hard to define and capture. And so often we sit in the comfort of our own character comfort zone and that is a terrible place to stay. And that’s the reason why there are many articles that demonstrate, that teach that one of the main characteristics of leaders is that leaders, true leaders are always ready to step into an uncomfortable task. Many people run away from an uncomfortable task. True leaders will step into an uncomfortable task, they won’t go away from it. And that is a true sign of leadership because it shows that this person is always ready to grow, to develop themselves. That is the blessing of discomfort and this is exactly why comfort is dangerous. It’s actually dangerous. Because we wither away in our comfort zones.
And, you know, I try to, whenever I’m uncomfortable, whenever something makes me uncomfortable, I try and ask myself, What is G‑d trying to reveal to me? That there’s probably something within me which I have not revealed within myself and by G‑d making me uncomfortable, he’s giving me the opportunity to discover something about myself or something about another or about the world around me that I am resisting discovering. So every time we experience discomfort it is ‑‑ there is an opportunity of blessing. We don’t seek discomfort. In other words, when I say we don’t seek discomfort, we don’t deliberately just make our lives miserable. However, when the discomfort is necessary for us to fulfill what we know we need to do, we move, we step right into it when we know that is the right thing.
Our Rabbis teach us, olam katan ze ha’adam, the world, the universe, the micro universe is man. A man is considered to be an entire universe, the microcosm of the entire ‑‑ of an entire universe. And the greatest form of exile that we can be in is the exile of staying within our comfort zone.
So some have ‑‑ some have a motto, if it feels good, it’s right. That is not a Jewish motto. Because feelings are the most subjective form of measuring something. It’s the most dishonest way of assessing something, the way we feel. We have to know that it can feel very uncomfortable and it can still be the very right thing to do.
A Rabbi, Dr. Abraham Twerski, you may have heard of him, a very profound Rabbinic psychologist, he wrote many books and one of them, Happiness and the Human Spirit. In it he writes about the danger of ignoring what he calls the signals of growth which generally come from and through discomfort. And he explains it with this beautiful analogy. He explains, How can a lobster grow? It’s encased in an inflexible shell that doesn’t let it expand. And the answer is that the lobster grows until the shell becomes confining and oppressive. It grows and grows until the shell actually confines it. And then the lobster retreats under a rock to be safe from predatory fish, sheds the shell and produces a more spacious one. As the lobster continues to grow, the new shell is eventually going to become oppressive. So what does the lobster do? It repeats the process of shedding the confining shell and producing a larger shell.
The signal for the lobster that it’s time to shed the shell is what? It’s discomfort. That’s when it knows it’s time for me to grow. Discomfort is the indication that there is a growth opportunity.
Think about it. If the lobster had access to doctors, they might never grow. Every time they felt the discomfort of their oppressive shell, they would get a prescription for a painkiller or a tranquilizer. With the discomfort gone, they wouldn’t shed their shell and they wouldn’t produce a more spacious one. They would die as tiny little lobsters. And the same is true for human beings.
We can look at discomfort as a signal that it’s time to grow so that we expand ourselves to draw closer to the true potential G‑d has invested within us, so that we can realize that potential and bring the fullest of our light to the universe, which is our ‑‑ actually our obligation. You know, a gentleman once gave the Rebbe a blessing on his birthday and he said, Rebbe, I want to bless you with good health and to continue doing everything you do. And the Rebbe said, To continue everything I do? To do more than I have been doing. And so the man in his, you know, as a gentleman said to the Rebbe, We’ll be happy, Rebbe, if you simply continue doing what you’re doing. And the Rebbe resisted that and he said, The sign of life is growth. How do you know something is living, if it’s growing? If it’s not growing, then it doesn’t have life. If I’m not doing more than I did yesterday, that is a serious problem. It’s a question of life.
And so G‑d has given us an eight‑day workshop. And that eight‑day workshop is called Passover. And Passover is all about leaving Egypt. It’s all about leaving small, narrow, limited places. Small, narrow, limited places are places of comfort. That’s what the holiday of Passover is about. And G‑d gave us this eight‑day workshop because we need it. We need it so that we focus in those eight days on getting out of our comfort.
And you know something, one of the most comfortable places for a human being is to say the world is about me and that there is no creator and that there isn’t a higher calling. And when we begin to leave our comfort zone and we are ready to listen to why we were put here instead of creating our own version of why we are here, we become very powerful, expansive people of faith.
And, so, I don’t know about you but I think I have a lot more to do to prepare for the holiday of Passover.