The Discomfort Zone | Farrah Storr | TEDxExeter

Translator: Riaki Poništ
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney So I’d like to start this talk
with a big ask from each one of you. And my ask is this: So I want you to identify
the person sat next to you, and if you came in here with someone,
which I’m sure most of you did, not that person, OK? The really scary stranger
on the other side of you. OK? Have you found them? OK. (Laughter) Alright, OK, OK. Don’t get too friendly. (Laughter) So what’s going to happen is this: I’m going to count down
in a moment from five seconds, and you are going to turn to that person, and you’re going to look them
really intensely in the eyes for the entire five seconds, OK? And it’s going to feel awkward.
Just embrace the discomfort. OK. Can you turn towards them? (Laughter) OK, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait! (Laughter) On your marks, (Laughter) get set, stare. Five, four, three, two, one. OK, right. You can resume staring back at me now. So, on a scale of one to ten,
if I was to ask you, how deeply uncomfortable
was that experience for you just now, probably most of you would say, “Well, it was pretty uncomfortable. It’s not kind of what I had planned
for my Friday afternoon.” You’d probably say eight
or nine out of ten. But I’d ask you to think
really carefully about that. Because, was the entire experience
deeply uncomfortable? I mean, sure, the few nanoseconds
when I first came onto the stage and explained what you’re about to do, that was probably
pretty uncomfortable, right? And then maybe when you first
turned to face one another. But after that, when I started
counting down from five, That was OK, right? Because by then, what had happened is you’d kind of settled
into the discomfort, and your mind and your body – well, it was concentrating
on the task in hand. I call these “BMDs.” And as the editor of Cosmopolitan,
I have to have full disclaimer here: “BMD” does not stand for some
new weird sexual subculture as much as it sounds like that. (Laughter) BMD stands for “brief
moments of discomfort.” In other words,
transitory moments of tension as you stand in the doorway
of transformation. Because that is what discomfort does. It transforms. it helps us grow. Now I should probably
just qualify here by saying, “I’m not talking today
about the sort of discomfort that happens as a result
of deep-seated trauma. I’m talking more about the discomfort that each of us faces day in, day out,
week after week, month after month. Your BMD just now, well that was turning to face
the stranger next to you. Your moment of transformation, that was connecting
with another human being But here’s the current problem: We currently live in a society
which has real issue with discomfort. Children’s homework,
for many years now, is not marked in aggressive red pen, but in the softer rainbow markings
of gentle pink and subtle green. Universities, we’re starting to see the escalation of these places
called “safe spaces,” where students can retreat to if they feel wounded or uncomfortable
by certain words or ideas. We even do it to ourselves. I know I do. By self-selecting to exist
in an online world, where you need only ever bump up
against the opinions and world views which sit comfortably with your own. And this is a grave, grave problem. Because we are wilfully sleepwalking into a world whose very foundations
are made of comfort. And in doing that,
we are not only robbing society, we are not only robbing
future generations, but we are robbing ourselves
the opportunity to transform. So I know all about living in a world
whose foundations are made of comfort. I was a middle child;
I was the classic third or fourth. And I had elder siblings. And what that did
is it shielded me from a lot. So an elder, popular sister at school meant that I was protected
at all times by sharking bullies. A cool older brother meant that I always swerved
the slings and arrows of outrageous behaviour by male teens. When those two siblings moved from our home town
of Manchester down to London, just as soon as I was old enough, I dutifully followed them
without even questioning it. I lived in a world, I existed in a world
which was so ready-made and kind of pre-digested for me
by those who had come before, that actually, I was a static person. I remember waking up one day as I was sliding out of my teens
and heading into my 20s and realising two things. One: I had no idea of who I was. And two: I had no idea
of who I had the potential to become. And so, just four weeks shy
of my 21st birthday, I did something radical,
or radical at least for me. I threw myself into my first
genuine moment of discomfort, and I booked myself a one-way ticket
to go and live in Paris. Now, just to give you a sense
of how deeply uncomfortable that was for me at the time, I was 20 years old. I’d never travelled anywhere by myself
outside of Manchester alone. I also could barely
speak a word of French. So I remember just to get
breakfast in the morning, because I hardly knew any words, I had to, first of all, I had to find
the most smiley, cheeriest boulangerie, which, if anyone that’s been
to Paris can imagine, there aren’t many of those. And it was always really busy,
so I’d have to go in, and typically, the baguettes
that I wanted were behind the till, so I had to stand there in front
of all these Parisian women. And I had to mime eating
a baguette every morning. Yeah, you can imagine, some of you,
how that went down. (Laughter) Unbeknownst to me, I also got a job
teaching English to French students, not realising I got a job in the toughest
school in the toughest suburb. And even though I’d only ever lived
with my family up until then, out of desperation not being able
to find anywhere to live, I moved into an apartment in Montmartre
with two professional clowns and a three-legged cat called Knit. And this is no joke. The cat, I later found out,
had wilfully thrown herself off the sixth floor balcony. After having lived
with the clowns for a year, I understood exactly why that was. (Laughter) So there we were, living cheek-by-jowl
in this tiny, tiny apartment high above the rooftops of Paris, which I’m fully aware makes it
sound like so romantic and charming and kind of the inspiration for Amelie, when really the truth is – it was far more like an homage
to Rising Damp, if I can tell you. (Laughter) And I was uncomfortable. I was deeply, deeply uncomfortable
and well within my discomfort zone. But here’s the thing. The entire experience
was not uncomfortable. It was just punctuated
by brief moments of discomfort. So for example, turning up
to a party by myself looking to try and make friends. Getting on a bus in the morning and not being able to communicate
with the bus driver ask whether the bus was on its way
into Paris or on its way out of Paris. I had to try and control a room
of 40 very angry teenage French boys with the power of mime
and gesticulation alone. Each one of these BMDs
were thrown upon me. And I simply had to deal
with them without a road map. And yet, as I dealt with each one of them, I started to notice small transformations
taking place within me. I discovered that actually, I was OK
at navigating my way around even the creakiest Parisian party. I discovered that contrary to belief,
I was alright at public speaking and I could kind of handle
a roomful of people, But most of all, I discovered that I was tough
and I was street-smart in a way that I had never believed
an introverted middle child could be. So this is why it is an absolute mistake
to shield ourselves from discomfort. You know, discomfort is not something
to be protected from; it’s something to be exposed to. Discomfort is not struggle;
discomfort is challenge. Discomfort does not diminish us; discomfort empowers us
and transforms us and helps us grow. Discomfort is what the human body
and mind is built for. So many of our greatest
leaders and thinkers only came to be who they were because they were forced
into their moments of discomfort. And by being forced into those moments, they pushed against the parameters
of who they believed they were and discovered a whole new
personal horizon beyond there. Winston Churchill, for much of his career, was actually seen as nothing more
than a quarrelous back-bencher. But it was only when he was thrust
into the role of Prime Minister at probably one of the most
uncomfortable times in British history with a world war on the horizon that he found not only his voice
as an orator but his strength as a leader. I’ll give you another example. One of my heroes, Steven Spielberg, again, arguably one of the greatest
living creatives of our time. But very early on in Spielberg’s career when he was filming the film
many of you have probably seen, Jaws, Spielberg had decided he was going
to use this huge mechanical shark to show Jaws. But very early on in filming,
there was a malfunction with the shark. It was complete disaster. Because Spielberg found out that actually, the malfunction wouldn’t be fixed
until they were near the end of filming. With time ticking and diminishing budgets, Spielberg was forced to push
against the parameters of his creativity, and come up with another way. Now, for those of you
that have seen Jaws here, you’ll realise that actually, Jaws is chilling not because you see
the shark but because you don’t. Spielberg actually worked
on showing murky water shots and leaned on John Williams’
masterful two-note score to denote whenever the fish
was in the water. And I think you’ll all agree it’s one of the most masterful pieces
of filmmaking there is. Now, these are just two examples,
but I could give you many, many more. Because the truth is, life is wonderful,
but life is also really tough, and in order to survive in a tough world, we need strength, strength which is created
by being exposed to discomfort, not fragility created
by being coddled from it. So we need leaders, and we need thinkers, and we need doers,
and we even need sit-backers, who are comfortable
with the uncomfortable. We need people who are built for battle,
not created for collapse. Millennials are our largest
living adult population. And yet, we choose to call them
“Generation Snowflake,” a largely pejorative term which hints not at their strengths
but at their fragility. And that is a mistake for them
and is a mistake for us. Instead, I choose to call them
“Generation Snowdrop.” Because snowdrops, just like snowflakes, appear in the deepest, darkest,
most uncomfortable depths of winter. They raise their tiny shivering heads
knowing it is a time of great discomfort. snowdrops can withstand frost,
sub-zero temperatures, and even snow. In fact, they don’t just
survive but they thrive. Plant a snowdrop one year on your border and watch the following year
as you have a whole border of them. The year after that, a whole garden. The year after that, who knows,
an incredible gleaming white forest. So my message to you today
is be a snowdrop. When challenge approaches,
raise your head from the ground. When discomfort is close, stand up to it, step into it,
and step through it. Because, I promise you, if you start stepping
into your discomfort zone starting from now, on the other side, you will find
your personal greatness. Thank you. (Applause)

Maurice Vega

6 Responses

  1. I couldn’t have looked at a stranger like that! eye contact is something I can’t do even with people I know!

  2. I hate when speakers do that to remove the attention initially from themselves when they're speaking to make the audience uncomfortable

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