“I would never just open a door and walk through, I always had to bust it down for the hell of it. I just naturally liked doing things the hard way.”
Edna Ferber, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and the source of that quote, represents a nebulous, undefined philosophy that’s been in my mind for years. I pump sporadic life into it during offhand conversations with my best friends or drunken discussions with people I don’t expect to see again, but mostly, it sits comatose in the periphery of my thoughts.
The essence of the philosophy is simple: doing the worst, or the word I use more often, shitter, alternative makes you a better person. I, along with most people I know, don’t follow it.
We face uncomfortable options every day. They aren’t always big decisions, like choosing between taking a job offer that’s about to expire or betting on yourself to nail the interview for your preferred company the following week. They can be little ones, like eating an apple instead of a Snickers bar or leaving your comfy Collegetown workspace for a stiff, uncomfortable chair in Olin Library. No matter the decision, there is usually one that is more unpleasant than the other. That option builds character, discipline and resiliency.
I can’t speak for all Cornellians, but I think that most would agree that we’ve settled into relatively comfortable routines here. We have cozy beds to sleep in, good food to eat and limitless opportunities for recreation and professional development. That’s all well and good, but our comfort lets us forget the immense benefits of discomfort.
By no means am I saying that I have lived a Spartan lifestyle of pain and discomfort, or lived anything remotely close to what could be considered a hard life. Quite the opposite. But nevertheless, I can’t help but gravitate towards the paradox of the worse option being the best one.
Ferber, in her simple quote, takes that paradox one step further: one must not only choose the more difficult option, but create such an option when none exists. In her example, the only reasonable options are walking through the door or not walking through the door. Both are easy. When Ferber is presented with that choice, she chose to create a difficult path by breaking down the door. She shrouds her philosophy in humility by adding she “naturally like[s] doing things the hard way.”
Ferber’s attitude is something I strive for, but have yet to achieve. , Intuitively, pain and discomfort are things to be avoided. It takes a certain person to embrace them in the pursuit of self-improvement. At this stage in my life, I am not that person. This morning, I took a nap after my morning workout instead of reading for a class (which was my intention). Later, while working in the library, I repeatedly checked Instagram and read my pleasure book instead of focusing on schoolwork.
I don’t embrace discomfort to the extent that I should, but Ferber’s attitude is always on my mind. I’ve found it helps to think of her philosophy as a matter of framing and perspective. We’re told to be grateful for the difficult things in life. We’re told that we’ll learn from life’s tougher lessons: heartbreak, a failed prelim despite countless hours of studying, a job we worked really hard for but didn’t get. If we can see the benefits of suffering in hindsight, why can’t we seem to recognize them in the present?
There’s a reason we shy away from the hard way. Who wants to subject themselves to pain, especially when it’s unnecessary? The thing is, life is filled with suffering, failure and discomfort. Failing to familiarize ourselves with them will only make the inevitable even worse. Our lives at Cornell are incredibly privileged. There are not many truly difficult decisions, relative to those waiting in the real world, that we have to make everyday. But, the little ones still matter. Get up for your morning run when it’s cold and rainy out. Forego that slice of cake for a salad. When your butt hurts from sitting in Uris for too long, stay thirty minutes longer. Those little decisions will make all the difference.
Christian Baran is a senior in the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. Honestly runs alternate Fridays this semester.