The Head's Tales: The Virtues of Discomfort

Welcome Back! After a wonderful two months hiatus (which at SMS is a misnomer because we are never quiet), I am excited about the start of school. This summer we had an array of groups on campus taking advantage of our beautiful surroundings and facilities. A core group of us who stuck around got to watch a group of international students (from SELSA, Nichidai, Maple, and our own Summer School program) develop their language skills, our summer camps extending the learning and the fun outside of the classroom, transformation of the girls who attended our “first of its kind” girl empowerment camp entitled S.E.L.F.I.E., and our flourishing tennis program. All of these activities opened SMS to the broader community and it was a joy to share with individuals the strengths of St. Margaret’s. For me though, the real work and excitement is getting into what we do best: educating girls and helping them develop their confidence to take on whatever life throws their way. This brings me to this blog’s theme – discomfort and the importance of courage.

Aristotle once said: “Courage is the first of human qualities because it’s the quality that guarantees the others.” Without courage, we would never try new things or be willing to push beyond our comfort level. Courage allows us to accept challenges as opportunities to learn, grow, build resiliency, and strengthen our resolve in pushing through discomfort. Without courage, you would remain where you are – hence, the pitfalls of accepting the status quo – and you would be blind to learning and growing. Without courage, you would never find those new pathways that come from trying new things to enrich your life.

One of my favourite summer past-times, is immersing myself into reading an array of books. One of my highlights, was a book by Amanda Lang entitled The Beauty of Discomfort: How What We Avoid Is What We Need. This brought to mind an experience several years ago that truly tested my limits, when I joined my sister and some of her friends on a six-day kayaking trip through the Broken Islands. To be truthful, I am not comfortable around water as a result of a tragic incident in my younger years and only agreed to join the group to support a woman who had recently lost her husband. The only way she could participate was to find a paddling buddy to accompany her in the boat. To support her, I decided her needs were greater than mine and it was time for me to confront my fear about open water. I loved the camaraderie, the scenery, the fantastic food, and settling into a comfortable bed at the end of each day. However, I woke up anxious every day as we prepared to leave the dock to get into our kayaks; I held my breath whenever the waves got high or when the boat would rock; and I felt panic whenever the weather changed and land was not close by! At the end of the experience, I was proud of what I had accomplished. I can unequivocally say I liked it, but didn’t love the experience (which means I am not sure if I would be eager to do it again), even though I enjoy retelling my story! I have come to appreciate the opportunity to grow as I tested my limits and did something that allowed me to fully experience the beauty of nature beyond just looking at pictures, or living vicariously through other people’s adventures. I also benefited from that positive feeling of helping someone through the healing process.

In Amanda Lang’s book, she believes that successful people embrace discomfort. She explains that learning to tolerate discomfort is essential to develop coping skills, and is an effective means to improve self-esteem, increase adaptability, and inspire others. She goes on to say, “discomfort is inherently good for you,” and that the opportunity to experience it on your terms will prepare you for those times when discomfort is forced upon you – like a life altering illness, changes in your personal circumstances, or possibly the need to reinvent yourself. She believes that discomfort is the foundation for change. The ability to feel we can somehow manage it will ultimately make us happier and will better prepare us for a future that will continue to be full of surprises—some good and some not so good.

So… with school just around the corner, our girls returning to new classes, new peers, new surroundings (particularly for our new residence students), and new challenges at Outweek, let’s actively support our girls to “lean in” to discomfort. If our girls are not pushed out of their comfort zone and encouraged to try new things, they will miss the opportunity to learn – about the world, themselves, and their own capacity to change. Courage and comfort will never be friends unless we can help our students say YES to discomfort!

“It’s uncomfortable to not know what will happen; not to know what’s next; but the true benefit of accepting the discomfort and the potential of short-term pain, is realizing that you may land exactly where you want to go and feel empowered through the process.”

Amanda Lang

“We don’t learn much when everything goes right. We learn most when things go wrong.”

Simon Sinek


The Beauty of Discomfort: How what we avoid is what we need. Amanda Lang. 2017

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