I’ve started breaking in a new pair of hiking boots. It’s excruciating.
I was excited to take them out of their box for the first time. I caressed them, supple and waxy beneath my fingers as the new-leather smell drifted into my nostrils. I could barely wait to lace them up, to feel my feet cradled and supported in all the right places.
A couple of miles into my first hike in them, a blister began to appear on my heel. Then my toes began to rub. The spring was gone from my step — instead I hobbled and stumbled like a drunkard, desperate to make it home and to pull them from my feet.
The joy of breaking in new boots.
It’s an experience that’s reluctantly repeated every couple of years when I have to replace my boots — the first month is a frustrating and agonising process.
Eventually, they will feel comfortable and familiar, but not before I’ve put in the painful miles to break them in.
Having gotten through a few pairs of boots in my time, it’s a lesson that I should have learned by now. Yet each time I seem to forget.
It seems to me that the same pattern of events unfolds in other aspects of life too.
We embark upon something new, often buoyed up with excitement and optimism. We may have been anticipating getting started for a long while, or maybe we’re diving in spontaneously.
When we finally get started, it proves to be painful and tortuous instead of living up to our expectations.
We forget that there’s work to be done and discomfort to overcome if the new venture is eventually going to feel comfortable and familiar.
Did you think it’d be easy?
When we start out, it’s often with a sense of eager anticipation.
- We’ve come up with a business idea that seems a foolproof path to riches.
- After months of searching and numerous catastrophic first dates, we finally believe that we’ve found the person who we could see ourselves falling in love with.
- We’ve just joined a gym and are optimistic that this will be the time that we finally lose the excess pounds and get in shape.
That enthusiasm is what drives us to begin the endeavour in the first place. It’s what spurs us on to commit to the investment of time, effort and emotional energy. Those are all necessary for there to be any chance of lasting success, and essential for getting started with something new.
What we often overlook is the chance, the likelihood even that before we receive the pleasure, we’re likely to be in for some pain too.
The hard work is necessary if we’re to continually reap the benefit. The pain needs to be overcome. The boots still need to be broken in.
You wouldn't expect…
You wouldn’t expect to be able to run a marathon without first training to build your endurance.
You wouldn't pick up a guitar for the first time and expect to let rip with the solo from ‘Sweet Child O’Mine’.
You wouldn’t grab a paintbrush for the first time and expect to turn out a perfect copy of the Mona Lisa.
Why then do we believe we should be able to sit down and write a bestseller or a viral blog with our first effort?
Why do we expect a new business venture will be an overnight success, customers clamouring for our product or service from day one?
Why do we expect mastery without paying our dues and putting in the hard-yards?
The business may initially succeed in line with our expectations but at some point there will be a cashflow shortage, a downturn in sales or unforeseen problems that knock things off track.
It will feel uncomfortable.
The initial flushes or romance that swept us off our feet will be replaced by the first difference of opinion and crossed-words with our love. We’ll question our instincts and fear that this relationship will fail like those before it.
It will feel uncomfortable.
Our enthusiastic and regular workouts will gradually become less so. Results may come quickly initially but then plateau, causing us to lose faith or doubt our commitment to stick with the process. An injury may set us back. Our willpower might falter as we overindulge at the buffet table. Whatever the cause, our resolve is temporarily knocked.
It will feel uncomfortable.
How we react to such failures and feelings of discomfort determines whether we learn, bounce-back and then push forward with the resolve and a little more preparedness to continue down the path.
Alternatively we lose faith in ourselves and give in to the pain.
There’s no easy or pain-free path, nor should we want to find one. The teething troubles are a means of learning. They’re the means by which we become callused, developing the endurance to commit for the long term and succeed. They’re how we break in the boots.
My new boots are cleaned and dried after the first outing, ready to be worn again. Next to them are the worn and battered but oh-so-comfortable and familiar boots that have served me well over the last 18 months. Tomorrow morning as I prepare to head out for the trail I’ll be faced with a choice — the boots that are familiar and comfortable, or those needing some work, perseverance and a little discomfort before they’re comfortable too.
The old, familiar, safe choice may represent the easy path, but if it rains I know my feet will get wet and I’ll still need to put in the work if I’m eventually to break in my new boots.
If I put on the new boots it’ll be uncomfortable for a time, but I know the efforts put in this time will make them just a little more comfortable the next.
Sometimes we have to take the difficult option if we want life to eventually be easy.
We have to prepare for and accept the discomfort if we’re ever going to be able to reach the summit of our dreams.