Good feelings as well as bad

Someone recently got in touch about a post where I argue that feeling uncomfortable or tired is OK, “a sign you’re doing the right work”. They wanted me to clarify: did I mean that “the right work” always has to involve feelings like discomfort or fatigue or fear?

My answer: absolutely not, and I’m sorry if the blog post implied that. If this kind of work really made people feel consistently bad, that would be disastrous for human civilisation. Showing leadership, or creating art, or coming up with a plan, or doing some original coding – all those things can make you feel amazing. There are so many rewards built in to “difficult” work if you can get to the stage of unlocking them: the joy of being in creative flow, the joy of bouncing ideas off others, feeling proud of yourself for taking control, feeling strong, loving what you’ve made because it’s yours.

All I meant in my blog post was that bad feelings like self-doubt and fear and fatigue are common when you’re approaching the kind of work that takes something bigger out of you. So they shouldn’t be a reason to give up. You can use the uncomfortableness as a clue that you may be levelling up, putting yourself in a situation where you can do something more interesting and worthwhile.

My belief is that acknowledging weird feelings puts you more in control of yourself and the situation. And it protects you by helping you to separate the alarm-bells kind of uncomfortable – “This person is trying to force me into something I’m not happy with” –  from the levelling-up kind of uncomfortable: “Oh God, I don’t know where to start and I’m so afraid of messing up! Maybe I’ll just check email first…”

I think society trains people, especially women, to ignore and smooth over the alarm-bells kind of uncomfortable, but doesn’t offer much support for pushing through the levelling-up kind of uncomfortable. Acknowledging and accepting your feelings is a way of reversing that messed-up conditioning. You still get to choose which feelings you act on and how.

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