Discomfort is a Key to Growth and Empathy

I’ll never forget the first time I walked into a Karate Dojo at the urging of a friend. I was in my late 20s, in good shape, and had some experience with martial arts. I had no reason to be anxious, but I was. I was afraid because I was walking into the unknown.

After a few classes, I started to look forward to going to the dojo, because I knew who I’d see and what to expect. But then, just as I’d gotten comfortable there, I had to switch to one in another town, and I was just as nervous the first time I went to that dojo! 

Not long after, I decided to pursue a CrossFit Level 1 training and credential at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. 

Once again, I was scared. I had zero experience. The course was only open to active military, veterans, and first responders, and I imagined myself walking into a big facility filled with huge special ops guys. I thought for sure I’d make a fool of myself. I almost backed out the night before, but I’d invested $1,000, and, thankfully, I wasn’t willing to rationalize my way out of the commitment I’d made.

When I arrived, I was surprised to discover that I belonged there as much as the other (perfectly normal-looking) people. By the end of the weekend, I couldn’t wait to start working as a CrossFit coach.

I started inviting people to my garage to learn CrossFit, keeping in mind that this new fitness regime, in this new place, might be scary for them, just as walking into the karate dojo and CrossFit Level 1 training had been for me.  

When we outgrew my garage, I purchased a dilapidated, foreclosed towing garage and turned it into a CrossFit box. As people started showing up, I welcomed them warmly, again imagining how uncomfortable they might feel walking through those doors for the first time. (As we have grown, built additions, and turned our gym into a state of the art CrossFit box, I joke with our oldest members about how much trust they must have had to come to a foreclosed towing garage for fitness!)  

I’ve learned two important lessons that I believe are worth sharing:

  1. The things that make you uncomfortable will also make you grow, often in powerful ways. These things might include eating a healthier diet, applying for a new job,walking into a new gym, or writing a blog. (It took me many years to start writing this one, and I’m glad I’ve finally overcome my fear of sharing my thoughts in writing). 
  2. Remember what scares you probably scares others, so bring your empathy to those new people who may come into your space – whatever space that is. Welcome them and help them feel at ease. It’s been so gratifying to see how visitors and newcomers are welcomed by members at CrossFit Acadia. I hope that our welcoming culture is a reflection of what I learned and tried to model after facing my own discomfort.

Nick Birdsall is the founder of CrossFit Acadia, CF-L2, an EMT and Firefighter, and a former Marine.