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Living In Poverty
A room in a small arena filled with five beds with no springs. The mattresses were made out of straw and covered in thin plastic for durability. Undoubtedly a first time experience.
Laundry washed by hand and left outside to dry. The latter wasn’t a first time experience, but the former was certainly new and unexpected.
The mud-filled bathroom had enough different species of the animal kingdom to qualify for a zoo. Spiders, ants, frogs, crickets, mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, you name it. One year, a snake graced the women’s bathroom with its presence.
Occasionally, the water or electricity stopped running. On these days, we found a garden hose and hung it off of a tree. In hindsight, five to seven teenage boys sharing a garden hose hanging off of a tree was probably a spectacle. We all smiled and laughed. No one batted an eye.
Insanely spicy food to go along with the sweltering heat and humidity.
Torrential downpour every few days.
And yet, there I was at training camp for 40 days the first summer. As the summers passed and competition schedules shifted slightly, training camp continued for a little longer with my last summer at training camp lasting around 75 days.
For many people who live in comfort, these conditions may seem unbearable. During that time, I truly lived in poverty. After a few weeks, however, I embraced it the same way my newfound brothers and sisters had embraced me from the start. We shared everything- clothes, food, money, you name it. To most of my newfound brothers and sisters, this environment was normal. In the beginning, I received many curious stares. By the end, however, I had been welcomed into a new family.
Moral of the Story
Inevitably, you will run into times of uncertainty in your life (though probably not to that degree), and that’s okay. People have a tendency of wanting to avoid uncertainty because they prefer comfort. In the right doses, though, uncertainty is not necessarily bad thing. Ever had a surprise party? Me neither, you fool. As you can see, I already have enough uncertainty in my life.
Serious mental strength and resilience comes from your ability to handle uncertainty. It’s quite similar to pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone. In many ways, uncertainty, risk, and discomfort have a lot of overlap. The ability to handle and mitigate higher amounts of risk lead to the potential to having bigger wins. Increased discomfort leads to an increased rate of improvement, and increased ability to handle uncertainty gives you peace of mind. Hopefully, this post gives you a few practical pointers.
How to Thrive In Uncertainty
First, you need to understand that uncertainty leads to growth, and learning how to handle it and thrive in it will only do you favors. Not all uncertainty is bad.
Your mind and body tends to work on overdrive when you’re trying to handle uncertainty and drastic changes. That fight or flight response is lovely and crucial to your survival, but if you’re perpetually in that state, you will exhaust yourself eventually. As good as you are at dialing up the intensity, you need to learn to dial down the intensity as well. The better you are at dialing down the intensity, the better you will be at dialing up the intensity as you need it. Personally, I used meditation and journal writing.
Creating Your Own Certainty
Sticking to what you’re comfortable with isn’t the solution in itself, but having your built-in certainty is powerful in keeping some sense of consistency. Save your decision-making brain cells for the more important decisions in your life. Decision fatigue is real.
High level competitors in sport, for example, do virtually the exact same warm up before practice and competition. You can mentally condition yourself that way as a way of telling yourself “Okay, I’m about to compete” or “Okay, the intensity’s about to dial up.”
By creating your certainty, you maintain a sense of control over certain things which keeps the “spinning out of control” sensation at bay. The aspects within your control become the foundation from which you thrive, which is why having some structure is important no matter who you are and how spontaneous you’d like to be. For most people will full time jobs, that’s structure that’s already built in. This can also take the form of a morning routine or an evening routine. Collegiate athletes tend to have better grades in season due to structure.
Gratitude For What’s Already There And Good
It’s extremely hard to feel gratitude and fear at the same time, so when you get a chance to sit down and gather your thoughts, think back to those moments or experiences that fill you with the emotion you feel when you say a genuine “thank you.” My personal example through my experiences:
- I made some very close friends several years ago through training camp. This year, I got to see many of them graduate from college. Many of them were first generation college students.
- With all the dust, and dirt, my immune system turned into the equivalent of Fort Knox over that time. Great life skill, by the way. I’m sure there are less painful ways to harness this, but there you go.
- When I returned home, life seemed much, much easier. My perspective had shifted so drastically that I couldn’t live the same way after that. Knowing that discomfort also led to growth was a game changer.
- When I returned to my college dorm room with furniture, consistent electricity, and running water with adjustable heat settings, I was ready.
- My Thai had become very rusty from going to international school (where classes were taught in English) and several years in boarding school where I spoke little to no Thai, so this was a great refresher. Some would call it more of a rude awakening, which would probably be accurate too.
- Training with the Thai National team was the best possible thing I could do for myself at the time for many reasons. As you can see, I still benefit from that experience today!
Implications On The Bigger Picture
The ability to thrive in uncertainty isn’t just a valuable sports skill or business skill; it’s a valuable life skill. Imagine walking through life with the confidence that you have the tools to handle anything that comes at you in life. You learn how much you can truly handle and how comfortable you can really get with discomfort.
How will you revisit your relationship with uncertainty, discomfort, and risk? How will you create your own structure that allows you to thrive under such conditions?