Being More IN it: Lessons on Embracing Discomfort From a 17-Year-Old

By Somer Morris

I never get tired of telling this story.  It was the moment I realized the power of Grand Canyon Youth. On this particular morning, on the Esplanade Ledges  at Sheer Wall camp in Grand Canyon, my eyes opened to the important lessons GCY participants could teach me.  


It was the first morning of hot June trip and my first GCY expedition as trip leader.  I had been leading commercial river trips for more than ten years, but was nervous about leading youth trips.  I hadn’t slept much the night before, laying awake on my boat thinking about my responsibilities. I worried about being able to effectively encourage teenagers accustomed to the comfort and convenience of modern-day living to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of a river trip.  


As the light began to appear on the canyon rim, I sensed the coming heat.  I made my rounds, rousing the unappreciative teenagers, until I came to Brandon.  My heart sank as I took in the scene: Brandon was conked out, dead asleep in the sand.  No sleeping pad, no sleeping bag, not even a bundle of wadded up clothes for a pillow.  I was berating myself, wondering how I had missed telling this poor kid that we had packed a sleep kit for him, and instead letting him spend a cold, miserable night face down in the dirt.  I gently woke Brandon and gave him a minute to come to his senses.  I then told him that he didn’t have to be so uncomfortable and assured him that that night I would help him find his bedroll.


Much to my surprise, Brandon, looking a little confused, replied emphatically,

“Oh no, I know where my sleeping bag is. I just,” he paused thoughtfully, “wanted to be more IN it.  So, I didn’t set up my bed and I slept the best I’ve ever slept in my life, and I’m gonna sleep in the sand the rest of the trip.”  (Which, by the way, he did.)

Remembering that moment still brings a lightness to my being. I can’t put into words exactly the combination of joy, relief, and hope that overflowed in my heart at that moment. Here I had been fretting the night away, worried they wouldn’t get it. Brandon’s enthusiasm for embracing every little particle of his experience, down to the millions of fine sand grains embedded in his scalp, ears, and nose, was a potent reminder of the power of discomfort.


When I think back on memorable, transformative experiences in my life, comfort is not an adjective I would ascribe to them. What comes to mind instead is the sheer terror I felt lining up on the bubble line my first time through Lava Falls rapid, and the accompanying exaltation and feeling of being alive that shook me so hard I couldn’t stand up at the bottom. I recall the deep, agonizing tension in my legs and hips as I approached the finish line of my first ultra-marathon, pain I absolutely would not trade because with it came the exhilaration and pride of finishing. I think of dark, frigid mornings and burning lungs accompanied by mountain-top sunrises, or the trepidation I felt boarding a plane to find my mind blown by the vast array of different ways to see the world the first time I left the country.


To borrow a phrase from Brandon, I remember and cherish these times when I was really “IN” it. We do not thrive or grow in the complacency of comfort. I am forever grateful for the experiences that pushed me beyond the realm of security because that is where I have learned the most about myself and the world I live in, about what I am truly capable of and how I can be a better version of myself.


These days, for many of us, there seems to be no shortage of discomfort and uncertainty. Over the last few months we have worried about loved ones, missed friends, hugs, and special places, wondered about what the future holds and felt outrage and sadness about discrimination and injustice in the world. At times all of this has felt really discouraging and overwhelming, but through it all, I am heartened remembering what Brandon taught me that morning on the river.


There really is no avoiding it. Right now we are all IN it. We have before us a rare, wonderful and precious opportunity to embrace the discomfort, to sacrifice and commit to changing the way we live and the way we treat each other, to emerge stronger, unified and more resilient for the experience. Thank you, Brandon, for reminding me of the value of discomfort. Not only is it where we grow and give meaning to our lives, it is a fundamental part of being a human on this crazy, beautiful planet and I am all IN!

Grand Canyon Youth Guide Smiling
Somer fell in love with the magic of rivers as a baby going on family river trips in the Southwest. She can’t wait to get back on the water and share her favorite places - hopefully soon! Photo by Laura Fallon.

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