A month ago, I attended the first-ever TEDxGraceStreetWomen conference here in Richmond. It was an engaging and thought-provoking conference produced almost entirely by women with a 13-woman speaker lineup.

Topics ranged from tracing the history of slave houses or species of yeast in Revolution Era wine to stories from an Olympic-level athlete to heart wrenching and powerful stories of abuse and rape.

But amidst all of the ideas spoken that day, a quote that has stuck with me is one from Dr. Archana Pathak, a racial justice activist and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University: “Discomfort is our collective superpower.”

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When I heard Dr. Pathak speak those words, I knew I had to write them down. I had to remember the way she phrased this idea that applies so perfectly to my life as an artist, an entrepreneur, and a human being. She said them in the context of a stirring presentation about her identity as an Indian-American woman, and the issues of prejudice and discrimination that plague our society.

I cannot relate to her experiences. Dr. Pathak and I have lived vastly different experiences. To pretend otherwise would be disingenuous and harmful. But there is value in each human experience. There is value in the story each of us have to tell. And there is comfort in knowing the value of your own story, and of your humanity.

I can speak to my experiences, and what I know of being human and of being an artist. I can relate to her idea that discomfort is a superpower. That finding the thing that gives you chills or a queasy feeling that something isn’t quite right is not just ok, but worth exploring. That in order to grow as an individual or as a society, we all must confront the things that make us uncomfortable.

In order to grow Artstitution, I must work outside of my comfort zone of being an introvert and homebody and go out to make new connections. I must take solace in the fact that starting a first business is hard because everything is new and I’ve never done it before, but other people have and so I can, too. I will know that while I might feel uncomfortable in the moment, in the next moment I will wonder where any of those worries came from in the first place. It will seem so easy.

That’s the superpower that Dr. Pathak has brought to light in me. I thank her for that, and for the impact that she undoubtedly made on others in the theater at TEDx.

That’s the power of an idea. You never know where it will come from, but the impact that it has can be exponential on the lives of others and on the world.

Last week I talked about naming goals. Many of my goals will involve facing a level of discomfort. And that’s ok. I welcome it.

In the past few months, I’ve taken steps to reach out and meet new people in the Richmond arts scene. I’ve interviewed four people for the upcoming season of Artists at Work. Two of them I had never met before. Another one I connected with following TEDx and I’m thrilled to have her on the show. This things are challenging now, but I know when I look back I won’t remember the hesitations and fear, I’ll just notice everything I was able to accomplish.

On artistic and personal levels, I have two daunting goals: to write a full-length musical—book, music, and lyrics—about experiencing and coping with mental illness, and to improve my diet, lose weight, become more active, become more appreciative of the things that I have, and thus become a healthier, happier person. (Those personal goals are in reality going to involve a bunch of smaller goals and steps along the way, which I’ve outlined for myself, but naming them here is an overarching theme for me in 2019—thanks Cortex—and moving forward).

I’m tying in my physical health with my mental health and with my art. It’s going to make things more difficult in some ways, but in others it will be more rewarding when I’m able to make progress. I will confront the things that are difficult until they become the things that were difficult. And I believe I’ll be better off for it.

And that, I think, is the superpower of chasing discomfort.

Thanks for following along on my journey.

Until next time,

Thomas Breeden
Founding Director
Artstitution
tbreeden@artstitution.org

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