The first time I proudly (and naively) declared I would start a business was when I was physically still in China.
It was May 2010, the month my teaching contract ended.
I had already told my boss I would not be returning for another year, but the University offered foreign teachers an option to stay in their humble campus quarters for the duration of the summer.
I was 22 years old with no plan for how to be a productive adult. So I opted in.
During the school year, all foreign teachers and students were housed in one building on campus. None of the University buildings had central heating or air, and hot water for showers only came on during short one-hour bursts, 2-3 inconvenient times during the day.
Foreign teachers were provided “fully furnished apartments”, and though I was grateful to have a paying job during such a tough time in the US job market, living circumstances were harshly different than the life I had previously known.
We had space. Teachers had ample space compared to the students who were packed six deep into one dorm room, one bed on top of each other, three beds on each side like marines on a ship.
Yes we did have space, but the quality of space took some adjustment.
Teacher’s apartments were two connected rooms inside a grey, concrete building. One room functioned as a living / common area, and one room functioned as a bedroom. We each had two squat toilets, two sinks and one shower.
What is a squat toilet? This is a squat toilet.
Our apartments had no carpets and no curtains. We had light grey floors that needed to be swept every day to remove the dust that inevitably crept in. Was the dust a layer of pollution? Or was it particles from the ongoing construction outside?
I guess we’ll never know for sure.
In the common room, wooden benches reminiscent of park benches sat in place of couches. Wooden chairs without cushions sat in place of arm chairs. The mattress I slept on for one year was slim and felt more like a camping mat than a mattress.
The lighting was fluorescent.
We had two 3ft long heating and air units, one mounted in a corner of each room. The units plugged into the wall and worked hard to keep us cool during the sweltering summer and warm in the piercing winter, but alas… comfort became a distant luxury.
The winter I spent in China, it was so cold inside those University buildings that I taught my classes looking like I was ready to climb Mount Everest. My get-up included long-underwear, a heavy jacket and mittens.
MITTENS I SAY.
So the summer of 2010, I opted back in for another couple months of luxurious on-campus housing, refusing to come back to the United States until I could come up with a plan for how to “adult”.
And as much as that year irks me, it was within those grey, uninsulated walls that I sat up on that thin piece of paper mattress and declared out loud “It’s the shoes!”
In that moment, I decided to start a shoe company. And only the dust on my floor and my squat toilets were there to hear me.
So I guess my point is, does "comfort" or better yet... "un-comfort" play a role in growth?
Must we harshly challenge ourselves to step into the unknown? I think so.
Here's to finding out what's on the other side comfort.
Until next time,