I’m not a good athlete. I’ll be the first to admit it.

But that didn’t stop me from participating in a wide variety of sports while I was in high school. I met some of my best friends through sports, and some of my best memories I made were thanks to sports. One of my biggest faults, though, was that I gave up really easily. As soon as something got too hard or too uncomfortable, I’d settle for less than my best performance. One time in particular when I recall this happening was during my senior cross country season.

About halfway through the season, I developed tendonitis in my right knee and running became really uncomfortable. I ran through it for a while, but it started to hurt more and more. Eventually, I just decided to sit out. I was on JV, and I never placed well enough in the race for my time to count toward the team score anyway. I didn’t think it mattered.

My coach, who was also the infamously-stern dean of my high school, let this go on for a few weeks before she decided to confront me about this. There was one race left in the regular season, and she was determined to not let me sit out. One day before practice she sat me down and said, “I want you to run this race. There’s going to be some pain, and it’s going to be uncomfortable. But any time in your life there’s something worth doing, you’re doing to feel some degree of pain and discomfort doing it.”

As lazy and unmotivated as I admittedly was, her words struck a chord with me. So I ran. I don’t want to mislead anyone here. This is not some incredible underdog story about defying the odds. I placed second to last and crossed the finish line in tearsー literally sobbing.

But I finished, and I’m really glad I did.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that would be the last sporting event I ever participated in. For the rest of the year, I took my coach’s advice and applied it to other aspects of my life. I did things I never thought I would. For example, I was on the crew for my school’s show choir and for a musical. These were activities and social groups that I had no experience with, and I had no idea what to expect. By taking a chance, I learned a lot and got the chance to interact with people I wouldn’t have known otherwise.

When we’re faced with difficulties, it’s tempting to take the easiest path. It’s natural to want to stick with what we’re used to and remain safe within the boundaries of our comfort zones. It’s crucial to our personal development to resist that urge. When we leave our comfort zones and experience new things, we learn more about ourselves. If we faced no adversity, we would have no opportunity for growth or change.