Wandering the Aisle: Learning How to Navigate Your Discomfort


Written by Nathan Hall |


Several years ago, I made the sudden decision to go vegan. I went from never even thought about it to going cold turkey within about a week. I vividly remember the first time I went to the grocery store after making my decision. I walked in excited about this journey I was setting off on and was eager to jump right in. As I began doing a tour of the store, it slowly dawned on me, “What am I going to buy?” I had absolutely no idea what I was going to cook. To this point, I was never much of a meal planner. I would typically walk into the grocery store and let the aisles speak to me, freestyling my way into a menu for the week. But here I was, standing in front of a shelf, looking at the back of a box containing all the things I just committed myself to not eating, and it hit me that I no longer speak the language that I had grown accustomed to being spoken to by these aisles. I was lost, overwhelmed and confused.

I started wracking my brain for all the things that I knew to be vegan. “Oh, veggie burgers!” I thought to myself. So I quickly rushed over to the frozen section to pick up some burgers. This store did not carry any. This was 2007, where these items were nowhere near as accessible as they are today. Feeling defeated, but still wracking my brain, I remembered soy milk. I scurried to the refrigerated section – nothing. I remember getting hot, almost perspiring, from being flushed with panic. I walked aimlessly through that store for hours, until I stumbled upon a small section I had never sought to enter before. That was where I found tofu. I had heard of it before but always kept a healthy distance from it. I had never eaten it, let alone cooked it. And remember, this was 2007, weeks before the original iPhone would be launched. I had no smartphone to look up recipes, tips or get any kind of help. So I simply cobbled together a bunch of foreign grocery items, put them in my cart and ventured off down this physically, emotionally and mentally uncomfortable path.

I was in over my head, completely overwhelmed. It took months for me to become somewhat acclimatized to navigating in this new world. It took extra time in the grocery store. More preparation before I even stepped foot in the shop to think about what I was going to cook. Instead of one grocery store, I started frequenting four on a regular basis. I had to be more intentional about my food decisions. I had to research, experiment and plan.

I was used to shopping a certain way, cooking a certain way. I was used to having the food on my plate look a certain way. All of that was challenged with my change in direction and my change in values. I had deeply entrenched ideologies from childhood about food, grocery shopping, cooking – ideologies that had never been challenged before I went vegan. Everyone around me always shared the same ideologies, so they were completely invisible to me.

Walking the Aisles

This is exactly what I hear from the leaders that we coach and train as they venture into becoming inclusive leaders. It is jarring. On one hand, they feel a sense of duty, commitment and passion for the work. There is a sense of purpose that motivates them to action. But then, they start walking the aisles and are flushed with a sense of panic, insecurity, unpreparedness – feeling totally out of their comfort zone. When you begin adopting and walking in values that challenge previously held beliefs, there will be a period of mourning, a period of feeling lost in the wilderness. 

“What was I thinking?” 

“This is too much.”

“This isn’t going to work.”

“I don’t know what I am doing.”

Suddenly, things that you thought you thought, you no longer think. Things you used to do, no longer work for you. Suddenly, things you did effortlessly are not only taking much longer, but they require so much more from you. The extra load is overwhelming.

It is in these moments that we need to ask ourselves: Who am I going to be?

Crossing the Chasm

When you find yourself at the crossroads of who you were and who you want to be, there are a few things you need to hold on to to get you through it.

1.    Trust the Process. These types of changes will always feel uncomfortable. Author and Psychologist Dr. Susan David says: “Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life.” We have been conditioned to see discomfort as something to be avoided in life, when in fact discomfort is life.

2.    Lean into Your Values. In times of discomfort, our natural instincts are to alleviate that discomfort as quickly as we can, which typically translates into falling back on your defaults, your old way of doing things. It is in these moments that we need to remind ourselves what is important to us and why, and choose action that aligns with those values.

3.   Find Your Tribe. Change is always hard, but even more so when you’re surrounded by individuals who do not share your vision or values. Find a community that understands what you are experiencing, who can give you tips and tricks, who can lift you up when you’re down and remind you of who you are trying to become. 

All these years later, vegan grocery shopping is second nature to me, what was once uncomfortable and hard is now effortless and pain free. It is to the point where if I go grocery shopping for someone else, who eats similar to how I used to, I end up feeling just like I felt all those years ago. 

If you feel lost, wandering the aisles, overcome with uncertainty, you are not alone. Moreover, what you are experiencing is not a bad thing, it is necessarily part of the journey of inclusive leadership. But if you need support on how to navigate and make sense of all of this, you have found your tribe right here. 

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