For the past three and a half years, I’ve been working on a manuscript. Today, I sent it to my editor to say, “Okay! We’re ready to send it to publishers. (I think.)” It feels like an enormous accomplishment.

And, as I look back, I remember days when the work felt never-ending. It became a joke in our house whenever I would say I was going to take the weekend to complete the book. We knew there was more to come. (I’m laughing now as I try to recall how many times I’ve said that. I am committed to this round of edits before approaching publishers.)

If you are called to take on a colossal project, your task is to learn to get comfortable with discomfort. If you’re called to work for social justice, there will likely still be work to do when you depart this life.

Creative tension comes with the territory.

To get a sense of what I mean by creative tension, I invite you to imagine that you’re holding a rubber band between your right forefinger and thumb. (If you can grab two real-life rubber bands right now, grab them. I’ll wait right here.)

Your thumb represents the present moment—where you are right now, and your forefinger represents your vision—where you want to be. Imagine that you’re stretching the rubber band, each finger moving away from the other. This tension is similar to the tension you feel when reaching toward a big goal. You can clearly see where you want to be, but you’re not there yet, and that’s uncomfortable.

Some facilitators call the space between where you are now and where you want to be the groan zone. When you’re in this space, you’re likely to feel confused, impatient, scared, and many other emotions.

However, the surprising reality is that there’s nothing wrong with this tension.

As Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal discusses in her TED Talk, How to Make Stress Your Friend, how well we cope with tension and stress depends largely on how well we think we can.

In her talk, McGonigal shares that as a health educator, she spent many years teaching people that stress is bad. Then she discovered that the reality is far more nuanced.

McGonigal shares a study that tracked 30,000 adults in the United States for eight years:

“They started by asking people, ‘How much stress have you experienced in the last year?’ They also asked, ‘Do you believe that stress is harmful for your health?’ And then they used public health records to find out who died. 

People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. But that was only true for the people who believed that stress is harmful for your health. 

People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful were no more likely to die. In fact, they had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.”

McGonigal shares that people who believe that stress is a problem are more likely to focus on managing stress than reaching their goals. They are more likely to delay their dreams. On the other hand, people who don’t believe stress is a problem report greater energy, fulfillment, and meaning in work and life.

To see a project through to completion and stay true to your vision, you must not run away from the tension.

Now, back to the rubber band analogy.

I invite you to imagine picking up a second rubber band. You hook one end onto your right thumb (the one that represents your current reality, which still holds the other rubber band). And with your left forefinger, you pull this rubber band back, making it even harder to hold the first rubber band.

Your left forefinger represents all the stories that say there’s something wrong with you or how you feel.

Now, imagine releasing the tension of this second rubber band.

When you let go of the stories that say there’s something wrong with you or how you feel, it becomes much easier to move forward, even in the face of tension.

Now, imagine the first rubber band is still on your fingers. Bring your fingers together so that the tension releases and the rubber band becomes floppy.

When many people think stress is a problem, they lower their sights until they drop their vision.

In contrast, imagine maintaining the tension in the first rubber band, between where you are now and where you are headed. Can you feel how the tension feels like a slingshot?

When you keep your eyes on the prize and don’t flee from discomfort, creative tension can propel you forward.

When you stop trying to get rid of tension, you might still feel uncomfortable, but it will be easier to keep moving forward and pick yourself up when you fall.

Next time you feel creative tension, notice if you start trying to get rid of it. Then, choose a new story. Stay with the discomfort, knowing that it’s an important part of the journey, and take your next step forward.

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Much love,

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