The joy of uncomfortable conversations

I made a cool discovery this year.

Or more accurately, made a cool re-discovery.

Success is a function of your willingness to have uncomfortable conversations.

Last week, I quit my contract job. Without another one to go to.

I had been working flat out for a year, with only a couple of short breaks. My mental health was suffering. I wasn’t enjoying the work at all. My weekends were spent recovering from the week, just in time to go back in for more punishment Monday morning.

A confluence of unexpected family circumstances meant that, if I quit before the end of the contract, I’d be able to recharge, do some much-needed DIY around the house, and enjoy a holiday with my youngest daughter before she shoots off to start university.

And I’d be able to rethink what I do, and why I do it. I’d have some time to write posts like this one.

I had to bid farewell to colleagues I’d been working with for a year. One or two of them, I’d grown quite fond of.

A voice in my head was saying, Are you nuts?

Uncomfortable conversation. But it was the right thing to do.

Uncomfortable conversations can be all sorts. We tend to think they’re always with other people with whom we don’t get along, or with whom we’ve had a disagreement.

And yep, those happen.

But most of my uncomfortable conversations are with myself.

And here’s the funny thing:

Uncomfortable conversations always pay off.


Even if it’s with someone else, and I don’t succeed in winning them over, there’s a payoff.

I did the right thing. Now I’ll sleep soundly.

Every time I trudge to the gym, there’s a very uncomfortable conversation raging between my body and my head. Why are we doing this? We’re tired. It’s been a long day. C’mon. Stay home.

Shut up. We’re going to the gym. You will feel tons better on the way home. You know you will. You always do.

And off I go. And I always do. (Usually. Last night, I’m ashamed to admit, I caved.)

A year ago, my body and my head had a VERY uncomfortable conversation.

At the age of 54, I earned my black belt in Tae Kwon Do.

I won’t forget it in a hurry. On my Mental Trophy Wall, it has a prominent place.

The most dreaded aspect of any black belt grading is the Spirit Test.

It is well named.

It is designed to break you. To reveal to you what you’re made of. How badly you want it.

It is approximately 45 minutes of physical endurance hell. With only one rule, one exam question.

Don’t quit. (Until they say you can.)

I don’t come from a family of athletes. We’re geeks, not jocks. My dad was a professional couch potato.

So the Spirit Test filled me with dread.

I was the last one on the field to finish. My peripheral vision had gone, and I knew I was not far from blacking out. I could hear those who’d already finished cheering me on. Thank God for them!

I had energy for only one thought:

Finish. And then, do one more press-up, just to prove to myself that I would go further if asked.

One more press-up might not seem like much. Trust me, it was then.

When it was over, I had only two sentiments. Exhaustion. And Elation.

It would be several days before I learned if I’d passed or not. But that barely mattered. In my head, I had Slain the Dragon.

Uncomfortable conversation.

Payoff. (Huge.)

You have an uncomfortable conversation every time you try to quit a bad habit. Or start a new one.

Key idea there: Try to do one of each simultaneously.

(The dam-builder had better also be a gorge-cutter. The river’s got to go somewhere.)

I had an uncomfortable conversation six months ago.

After a few feeble attempts in previous lives, I started journaling.

First thing in the morning, I go downstairs, grab a bottle of water, which I then sip for 30 minutes as I scribble in a notebook.

Correction: I don’t scribble in a notebook.

I listen to myself. (That’s another key idea.)

What habit did I sacrifice? 30 minutes in bed, listening to (or trying to) the morning news.

It wasn’t a sacrifice. The news is always depressing.

And the contents of my journal, well, hey . . . .

I have documented so much cool stuff, that I now routinely go back through the journal, to reacquaint myself with my own wisdom.

I don’t use that word lightly, nor am I being immodest. I have discovered, that by listening to myself on paper (no tablet, phone, or laptop), I can release wisdom. Useful for myself and others.

Uncomfortable conversation.

And payoff. Big, big payoff.

I had another uncomfortable conversation an hour ago, before I started this post.

What have I got that’s worth saying this morning? Not much, most likely.

Shut up. Yes, you do. Something will show up, it always does.

Uncomfortable conversation.


You decide.

I’ve decided. This has been well worth it.

The Thing You Fear is the Thing You Most Need to Do.

Do it.

3 thoughts on “The joy of uncomfortable conversations

  1. Roland Huston

    Hi Dave,
    Thanks for this. I had an uncomfortable conversation myself over the past year which ended with me resigning from the position as director at my school. It was a real battle to have this conversation but once I’d had it I never looked back and I don’t regret my decision. I wish I could have more such conversations…I will try my best.
    Hope you have many more uncomfortable conversations.

    1. Barnabas Post author

      I’ll have plenty more, I’ve have no doubt.

      Most of the agony in big decisions is in the running from them. The avoidance, the procrastination. Once made, the decision itself is rarely wrong.


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