Embrace Frustration

Embrace Frustration



Embrace Frustration

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When it comes to knowing and doing things it seems we enjoy having a clear understanding and effective skills so that we can just get on with being successful. When this is going really well, we can enter what is called the “flow state”, where everything we are doing feels almost effortless and we perform at the peak of our abilities. The feeling of mastery, whether over knowledge or skills or both, is a sort of high that we have sought since the days that we first stood up and decided to give walking a try. That good feeling of mastery, however, doesn’t come quickly or easily. It is the product of much effort along a path that entails confusion, mistakes and failure. We will fall down a lot before we can make it across a room in one go. Frustration, simply put, is the feeling we get when we fail in our attempt to reach a goal.

 When learning something new, we are bound to experience uncertainty and confusion, especially in the beginning. We will also be clumsy at first as our skills are yet undeveloped and unrefined. Instead of the intoxicating feeling of mastery we will inevitably experience failure at some point and feel frustrated. It’s not a nice feeling. It is unpleasant to be confused and make mistakes. Sometimes we will make a mess of things and our diligent efforts will not yield the results we had hoped for. We may be tempted to give up and return to what we know and are well-able to do. While it is frustrating, it may also be embarrassing if we appear, or think we appear, stupid and incompetent in front of others. The feeling of frustration and embarrassment can amplify and morph into a feeling of shame, which makes the whole thing even worse. Better to cut our losses and avoid these horrible feelings by just sticking with whatever we are already good at and hope that that will be enough.

 We all know that this is no way to live. Maybe we can get through life by just crawling, but this is a sad compromise that robs us of the experiences that come from developing our potentials. There are things to be discovered in the next room if we can toddle our way there. Yet even though we know this, we sometimes let frustration stop us. When we do, we not only rob ourselves, but we rob the world of what we could contribute if we didn’t give up. Therefore, we have to accept that some degree of frustration comes with learning anything. The slogan “embrace frustration”, goes a bit further though. Instead of merely tolerating or bearing it, I am suggesting that we welcome it, we wrap our arms around it like a good friend and give it a special place to sit in the living room of our lives. Instead of seeing it as the grim reaper of failure and shame, it is the harbinger of new knowledge and skills. It is the gateway on the highway of growth. Feel free to add your own metaphor if you think these are corny, but I trust you know what I am saying and agree.

For anyone who has done weight training it is common knowledge that in order to build muscles we need to exert them to the point of feeling “the burn”. I don’t think this is a particularly pleasant feeling, but it gives us confirmation that we have pushed the muscle to a point that will make a difference. It is the sign that it has gone beyond its previous limits and ventured outside of its comfort zone. We could think of frustration in a similar way. It is like the mental “burn” we experience when we have pushed our mind past a previous limitation in thinking or doing. In this way, little by little we strengthen our knowledge and skill and, in the process, establish the habit of not being daunted by frustration.

I have mentioned in another blog that I decided to learn how to play the piano at the age of 59 and have learned much more than just how to play the piano in the process. In the beginning it was almost entirely frustrating. I now can enjoy what I have learned so far, but frustration continues to sit in that chair for every practice session. In fact, the slogan “embrace frustration” occurred to me because of how much frustration I have experienced with the piano. My teacher also happened to think it was a good attitude to have for learning the instrument.

Also, on another personal note, creating a Shopify store and selling things has been a new learning experience for me. I am still in the early stages and already I have made many mistakes and confronted ample confusion and frustration. I don’t expect this to end, but I do have faith that I will advance to frustrations over new things as I master the lessons gained from the mistakes and failures I’ve had so far.

I created this mug with this slogan for anyone who feels challenged by the experience of frustration, but knows that they don’t want to let it stop them from learning and growing. It is for anyone who would benefit from a regular reminder to not give up. This is my wish for you. May you make friends with frustration and stretch yourself into great places you couldn’t have even imagined. May you find success along the stepping stones of failure.

There is a little story about the inventor Thomas Edison that I have shared with many of my therapy clients who fear taking the risk of making mistakes and failing. Apparently, a reporter once asked Edison, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times at inventing the lightbulb?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The lightbulb was an invention with 1,000 steps. Great success is built on failure, frustration, even catastrophe.”

Well, there you have it.

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