Perhaps comfort is not always an enemy of progress?

Episode 4 April 01, 2024 00:21:14
Perhaps comfort is not always an enemy of progress?
Debullshified
Perhaps comfort is not always an enemy of progress?

Apr 01 2024 | 00:21:14

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Hosted By

Nina Alexander

Show Notes

Here’s your daily dose of logic or anti-motivation, take your pick. In this episode, I put the famous quote, “Comfort is the enemy of progress” by P. T. Barnum to the test and I have to admit – it didn’t pass. Listen Wherever You Like
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Episode Transcript

[00:00:00] Hello and welcome to the fourth episode of the Bolshevik, where we talk about marketing, business and life. This podcast, as always, is for critical thinkers, savvy entrepreneurs, and curious minds of all walks of life. Here we worship no gods nor celebrities. We learn, we love and we think independently. In todays episode, well, step away from marketing and into life, and particularly into cool that I sincerely believe might be harming your mental health and it might be throwing you into emotions or thoughts that are completely unnecessary. [00:00:35] The quote I am referring to is Pt Barnums infamous comfort is the enemy of progress. [00:00:42] Unless you live under a rock for which I perhaps envy you a little bit, you have either heard that exact quote or some variation of it. In either case, there is that unsettling feeling that takes over when most people hear that comfort is the enemy of progress, particularly if you are the type of individual who is biologically predisposed to constantly wanting to improve yourself. [00:01:08] I am sure it has something to do with growing up with a specific trauma and wanting to be a people pleaser or becoming a people pleaser. Thankfully, this won't relate to everyone. Not everyone has grown up with that kind of trauma. But I also know that there are enough people out there whose first thought when they hear that comfort is the enemy of progress is am I too comfortable? Is my comfort blocking my progress? [00:01:36] It is these people, the second bunch that I want to talk to in this episode of the Bolsheviks. If this is you, then go great. I think that I will be able to give you a level of relief by the end of the episode. If you, however, cannot relate and you feel motivated and inspired by this quote, you may still want to stick around because I am sure that I will give you an interesting perspective, some curious facts, and hopefully something that entertains you. So first, who said it? Lets explore the authority. The next section involves a little bit of historic information, but it's quite important so you can fully visualize the person whose quote that is, the kind of life they had, and their right to make that claim. [00:02:26] Although I am a firm believer that we can learn something from everyone out there, there is always a level of skepticism that takes over me when I'm served with a quote that I'm supposed to accept just as valid as the presence of gravity. See, gravity is mostly equal for all of us, everywhere in the world. Quotes, however, not so much. Not because there was any bad intentions when the quotes were said, but because the experience and circumstances that inspire each quote are unlikely to ever be repeated in history. [00:03:01] Neither one of us is going to be in the exact same environment and life situation as the other of any quote. So we should always remember to take everything with a grain of salt. [00:03:13] With that in mind, I would like to tell you a little bit about Pt. Barnum. Perhaps this knowledge will help you understand how relevant this man's words can be to your life. [00:03:25] Pt Barnum, full name, phineas Taylor Barnum, and I hope I'm pronouncing this correctly, was born on July 5, year 810, in Bethel, Connecticut. For context, in 1810, the United States are formed of only 17 states and have a total population of a little over 7 million people, with New York being the biggest city with nearly 100,000 residents. Most Americans in year 1810 live in rural areas and farm their lands at the same time. In Europe, Napoleon was still achieving success, and the american government had to pass a bill in an attempt to motivate Britain and France to stop seizing american vessels. [00:04:10] The years in which Pt Barnum lived in the United States are marked with the beginning of the biggest, perhaps immigration peaking after the 1850s, with over 12 million people moving to North America in the pursuit of happiness. It is fair to say that out of every three people, only one was born in North America, very likely to immigrant parents. [00:04:34] Slavery was first measured in US in 1790, which is 20 years before Barnum was born, and there were over 700,000 slaves. That equates to roughly 18% of the population. [00:04:50] The American Civil War ended in the spring of 1865, and our hero here, Pity Barnum, was 55 at the time, and the war had begun in 1861, which is about four years before that. Although slavery was outlawed in New York in 1827, he was 17 at the time. It took another eleven years for the same to happen in Connecticut, where Barnum lived until 1835. And it took another 40 more years until the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, abolishing chattel slavery nationwide. [00:05:29] If you have watched the film the greatest showman, you may even have an image of Pt Barnum, a charming, well spoken, self made business success story who was once the poor child of a tailor. I had the same sentiment for him when I watched the film. Turns out we are both terribly wrong. The professor and chair of English at Emory University once said for an interview for the Smithsonian that and I the story of his or Barnum's life that we choose to tell is in part the story that we choose to tell about american culture. We can choose to erase things or dance around dutchy subjects and present a kind of feel good story, or we can use it as an opportunity to look at very complex and troubling histories that our culture has been grappling with for centuries. [00:06:23] As it turns out, the professor was quite right. It becomes clear from Barnums Wikipedia article that his father was an innkeeper, tailor and storekeeper. Barnums grandfather was a legislator, landowner, justice of the peace, and a lottery schemer. [00:06:44] Evidently Barnum runs several businesses, having started at a very young age. These include a general store, a book, auctioning trades, real estate speculation, and a statewide lottery network. [00:07:00] Top this with a newspaper he started in 1831 at only 21 years old. [00:07:07] Now I am no historian, but I cant imagine in 1931 a boy whose father couldnt buy him shoes, as the movie will have you believe, was able to pull all of this off without the support of his well off relatives. I also dont claim that he was born with a silver spoon, but I will dare to speculate that he didnt starve either. [00:07:33] And when it comes to his showman career, evidently it is not all flowery and romantic either. He began his journey by renting, and yes, you got that right, renting a blind and almost completely paralyzed slaved woman named Joyce Hetz whom he forced to work for ten to 12 hours a day. When she passed away a year later, Barnum sold tickets to spectators for her live autopsy. [00:08:02] If youre not grossed out yet, you should know that one of his future exhibits included a four year old boy with dwarfism who was presented as eleven years old. Like that would have been okay. [00:08:15] Barnum is also known to have enjoyed, and I quote profitable philanthropy, which is evidently a term used by the wealthy to describe some good works that they do for their community whilst earning a profit. And if that is not the most capitalistic thing I have ever heard of, I dont know what is. [00:08:34] The rest of his story is full of even more absurd, and I urge you to read it. The Wikipedia article is not too long and paints a much more realistic picture than Hollywood does. And whilst I too want to live in fairytale land and wish that people were simply gentle to one another, not being aware of reality is a little bit too risque for my taste. [00:08:59] Everyone will feel different after hearing the story. I know for a fact that there are many wannabe machiavellian princes out there who would happily follow in Barnums example and think him a God of business. [00:09:12] But I dont. Having read his story, I wouldnt ever want to associate myself with the man, nor would ever consider him any sort of idol. That in effect, means that I would instantly disregard his quotes, or at the very least accept them with a certainty in my skepticism. [00:09:34] But wait, wasn't everything ever made in the name of comfort? [00:09:40] Now, having dethroned Barnum, or so I hope, let's get back to the quote and what I actually find concerning about it. [00:09:48] Pause for a moment if you need to, and tell me of an invention that wasn't created in the name of comfort, whatever type of comfort that may be. [00:09:59] See, although in the 1950s most people still used phone boxes to make calls, or most people didnt have phones at home, the phone shoulder rest or that plastic thing that gets attached to the headsets was a standard offering by 1954, or just about four years after the date were talking. So why for comfort? Because the phone handset would hurt your shoulders, especially during long calls. [00:10:25] We drive more comfortable cars. We sleep on orthopedic mattresses. We wear orthopedic shoes. We make almost every clothing item out of a stretchy material so we dont feel suffocated. We have warm jackets and dry shoes, soft and welcoming couches to sit on at night, cashmere socks, entertainment at our fingertips, bills paid electronically. The list is endless. Surely some improvements are made for the commercial comfort of shareholders. Others are made for the emotional comfort of our ego. [00:11:02] Nevertheless, it is all in the pursuit of comforts. [00:11:06] As a matter of fact, I dont believe that a person is capable of remaining uncomfortable or consciously choosing to be uncomfortable if it isnt in the search for a greater comfort. [00:11:20] What I mean is that if a billionaire decides to spend the day as a homeless person somewhere, it still isnt because they are actively looking to be uncomfortable just for the pain of it. No, they are either looking to be entertained or to gain some sort of enlightenment. [00:11:39] And women and people dont choose to be on a diet because they hate the taste of cake. It is because they love their reflection in the mirror when they avoid treats. [00:11:52] We dont purchase ferraris or other fast cars because we love seeing our bank accounts get abused. It is because we enjoy the feeling of empowerment that comes with some goodwills. [00:12:04] Even monks dont go through the discomfort of home in life just because they do it with the belief that this is what their God requires from them and feel the satisfaction of their sacrifice. [00:12:19] So how on earth is comfort then the enemy of progress? Today we are more comfortable than we have ever been, in far too many aspects. Yet innovation is at its peak. [00:12:33] Is it perhaps because some peoples imagination is always going to be a few steps ahead of their comforts? Is it perhaps because although the strife for comfort is in the essence of being human, we can also never truly be satisfied. [00:12:51] The thing is that very few of us go through this entire mental exercise. When we are presented with a quote. It is not because we are lazy or because we are stupid. It is mostly because we are commonly unsatisfied and prone to look for the error in the code of our existence. [00:13:08] Once we find the glitch, we think we will correct it and we will become more comfortable than we ever imagined being until we get to that point. And it turns out that this too is not enough. [00:13:22] But we listen to quotes to become motivated. No, we print them on t shirts, mugs, plaques, billboards. We carve them in stone and we paint them on walls because we desperately want them to motivate us. In the end of the long day, after you have taken the kids to school, gone to your eight hour job, picked the kids up from school, shopped, walk the dog, cook dinner, and done laundry, you really wish that there was something that would motivate you enough to work for an hour on that book youre writing, or this online store that you want to start, or this consultancy business? [00:13:59] Many of us are in that boat. Sure, modern social media will have you believe that everyone can start an Etsy store and retire by the time theyre 25, but somehow none of your neighbors has done it. And although we see the occasional people who truly achieve this type of success, it still remains just a dream for most of those we know. [00:14:22] Sometimes, however, we see examples of success bowing to quotes and we think that this motivation is truly effective. The CEO you work for has a quote on their phone screen and they attribute everything to it, completely forgetting about the generational wealth they sat on whilst reading the quote. [00:14:43] See, there are of course, exceptions to every rule. But every time someone tries to tell me that Bill Gates quit college and started Microsoft from his garage, I remind them that he quit Harvard. He didnt quit a university in never been heard of town in Kazakhstan or a poor province in India. He quit Harvard, where the fee per semester starts from $50,000 if my sources are correct. And for what I know, getting in isn't the easiest thing in the world either. [00:15:15] So let me ask you, if you feel that the quote comfort is the enemy of progress should be inspiring. How exactly comfortable are you? Because quite frankly, I believe with my entire being that for most people, the word comfort must be replaced with stress. Because see, I can get behind the concept that stress hinders progress. I can agree that being tired, frustrated, helpless in a system that is designed to squeeze the juice out of you like a lemon and then grate your zest will stop your progress. To me, that's a no brainer. [00:15:52] All I'm saying is if you find a certain comfort in a business that is moving slowly or in a job that may not be your dream job, but it ensures your survival, don't beat yourself up just because of a quote. If you find comfort in a relationship that is safe but perhaps not as exciting as a novelist will make you dream of, don't blame yourself for settling. [00:16:17] Take it from someone who is obsessed with progress and self development. To the extent in which this is an addiction and I must be treating it, sometimes the best thing that you can do for yourself is just chill in your little mud pond until you recover and you're ready to spread your wings. And even if that never happens, isn't that pond at least somewhat comfortable? [00:16:45] And because I like ending things on a positive note, I actually found a scenario in which the quote comfort is the enemy of progress is perfectly fitting if we must believe the film. And thats a huge if. PT Barnum used this quote to convince the men who he was trying to win as a partner in the film, Barnums future partner states that he will suffer exclusion from his current circles of elite friends if he starts working with him. Basically his high profile Barnum is just an entertainer, a joke as society will perceive him at the time. He also admits that he would really want to the partner, that is, he would really want to work with Barnum. And the film director is paint an image of a man whos thorn between his desires and the benefits he has gained in society. He doesnt want to leave his status behind, but also he desperately wants to go into the entertaining that Barnum has created. [00:17:48] If you are in a similar situation and there is something that your heart longs for, but the expectations of others are holding you back, then this quote is for you. The comforts that you are finding and feeling happy for satisfying the world when your heart is rotting is false. It is the fake plastic apple in an Ikea bowl. It looks great, but if you try to bite into it, you are in for trouble. [00:18:16] I am not saying that you should abandon your responsibility and go be happy. Thats another topic that we will explore later on. But conforming only to your impulses in search of instant gratification is not what Im talking about. But if you for instance, have at your disposal an opportunity that you would like to commit to and youre holding back because oh what they will think of me. Please dont. [00:18:41] People will judge you no matter what. [00:18:45] With that in mind, let me leave you with a little story from my national folklore. [00:18:51] A young family once visited the village market. Oh, how thrilled they were when they found a donkey for sale. For just as much as they could spare, it would help the wife fetch water and a husband gather wood. [00:19:07] Their joy was all consuming. The family bought the donkey, named him Markle, and began the long journey back home. Realizing how long they must walk, the loving husband helped his wife get on the donkey's back and they continued their way. [00:19:24] As the family walked and people passed them by, the men heard whispers. Look at the poor schmuck, people would say. He is so young and already whipped. With his wife on the donkey and him walking. [00:19:37] It wasnt long until the young man felt frustrated and I asked his wife to swap places. [00:19:45] They continued their way, with the wife leading the donkey and the man riding on its back. Look at this monster, passerby would then whisper. He is riding the donkey and his poor wife is walking. My, my. [00:19:58] The family got home disheartened by the commons and committed to finding a better way. When they embarked on another trip a few days later, they both climbed on the donkey's back, but the comments came swiftly. Look at these torturers, people would say as they passed them by. How cruel is this poor donkey. Upset with the new comments, the family decided to walk on the way back. So no one rode the donkey. Sure enough, the comments were swift. Look at these losers. People said they have a donkey but they're walking. [00:20:33] I guess the only option this family didnt try is carrying the donkey. But wouldnt you agree that comments would still be made even if they did? Yeah, I think so too. So if something makes you happy and the only reason youre holding back is peoples opinion, then do whatever it takes to get rid of the fear of disapproval and go be happy. [00:20:58] My name is Nina Alexander and it was a pleasure. Remember, the world is full of mysteries and so is your potential. Keep exploring, stay curious, and as always, thank you for debulsifying one more topic with me.

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