Can you sit in the tension?
get comfortable here
“Fear, uncertainty, and discomfort are your compasses toward growth.”
I’ll set the scene.
You’re next in line at the coffee shop watching the barista pull the espresso and steam the milk for that perfect cup of coffee. The aroma is getting more intense now, wafting your way while he finishes his chat with the tourists. He’s patient, expertly pouring the milk at an angle. There’s a delicate balance to ensure the foam of the milk doesn’t stick to the jug it’s just been warmed in; but you don’t want too much foam either, the kind where you’re coffee is scorching and burned, leaving the roof of your mouth a large open wound. Remember, you’re eating cherry tomatoes for lunch. You’ve been waiting a few minutes, but you don’t mind because coffee is a treat, one you only drink every so often and only when it’s expertly prepared.
Your relaxing morning is brought to an abrupt halt when the cow of a woman behind you starts getting louder with her huffs and tsks, “This is so inefficient, is there no one else who works here?” She looks over to another man and says, “Hey, excuse me! We can’t be waiting around for him - can’t you see how many people are in line? Can you do your job and get behind the counter?” He dutifully listens to this dictator as panic rises along your spin. Your brain is yelling, ‘Tell him you’ll wait for the other guy to finish. You’d like him to make you your cup of coffee. TELL HIM!!’
“What do you want?”
“A cappuccino, please,” you say.
“And what do you want?”
“Three cappuccinos and an Americano,” the woman behind you grunts.
“That’s £3.50 and £13 for you,” he says as he pours 4 cups worth of milk into one jug and turns on the steamer. The milk is screaming. He then asks the people behind the other woman what they want even though he’s barely finished your drinks. Meanwhile, the man who created the perfect cup of coffee is over at the cash register, taking more orders for Burnt Milkman to complete. Milkman pours the milk in one full swoop over the coffee and says, “Here.”
You look at it. The milk looks like a sad bubble bath that’s very rapidly evaporating. You look up.
You look at the coffee. Then you turn to look at the line behind you. It’s 20 people long as a bus of tourists have just arrived. You look back at the sickly coffee. You know you’re not going to drink it. It’ll just end up in the trash. You notice the woman and her friends have already added sugar and left. You look back at the guys behind the counter, rushing to take everyone’s order.
In this moment, you have options.
1: You can drink the coffee.
2: You can take the coffee and throw it in the trash in the baristas line of vision.
3: You can take the coffee and throw it in a trash can up the street.
4: You can take a sip and tell the barista something’s not right.
5: You can tell the barista to make a proper cup of coffee.
6: You can ask for your money back since you won’t drink it.
7: You can pay for another cup of coffee to be made by the barista who knows what he’s doing.
Your decision depends on how much you can sit in the tension.
(And how important this cup of coffee is.)
Too often we give up what it is we want in order to please others (options 1, 3 & 7). We please others because we want to control the way we are perceived. But that’s a flawed way of thinking.
People see you through their own lens of whatever shit is going on in their lives.
So unless you like going around in circles like a hamster, get off the wheel now. Not getting or asking for what we want breeds resentment which can outwardly mask itself as passive aggression (option 2). “I won’t tell him it’s a bad cup of coffee but I’ll show him and never come back! And their business will die without me!!” This person might also put up a Google review instead of giving the barista a chance to make a good cup of coffee — because public shame is easier than sitting in the tension of asking to be given what we deserve. It’s so much easier to hide behind the screen under a nondescript username.
Why are we so uncomfortable with tension? Especially when tension can be pleasurable… Sexual tension, anyone? It’s the same thing, you just perceive it differently.
In the same way fear and excitement produce the same physical response in your body — you just associate different meaning to each.
What if we could find pleasure in sitting in the discomfort? What if we viewed each of these moments as a game? A way to see how crafty we can be in phrasing things to be — not manipulative, but — persuasive. Or using silence when our natural habit would be to diffuse the situation. Simply setting standards and boundaries for ourselves without apology — remember, you get what you tolerate.