The Value Of Being Uncomfortable

The Value Of Being Uncomfortable

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If I hear the trite phrase, “comfort zone,” my eyes roll up into the back of my head. But my eyes do that when I hear any number of trite phrases. Besides, I rather enjoy being comfortable. Like now that summer has arrived, here in Texas, it means you can go outside and sweat like crazy or get inside where the comfort of air conditioning exists. I enjoy air conditioning. And there’s the rub when it comes to professional (and personal) growth. We don’t naturally enjoy being uncomfortable. 

The reality is, before we were comfortable we were uncomfortable because that’s part of learning. Growth. 

A listener enquired…

I get anxious whenever I’m pushed out of my comfort zone. What do you do to get more comfortable being uncomfortable?

Let’s see if we can’t flip this on its head where it belongs.

Very few of us are comfortable being uncomfortable. But I know people – some whom I’m very close to – who suffer anxiety that I don’t. I have a degree of understanding how crippling anxiety can be. First, I’d admonish people whose lives are severely impacted by anxiety to seek professionals capable of helping. I’m not professional trained, or properly equipped to address that level of anxiety. But since the listener doesn’t provide any more details let’s assume the anxiety is the level that many of us feel – maybe slightly higher. 

For starters, I’d encourage all of us who are on the growth path in our leadership journey to see our discomfort as the possible path forward. Without it, we’re stagnant. If we remain comfortable day after day, year after year, then it’s certain we’re not growing. Discomfort can be a sign that we’re growing…provided the source of our discomfort is because we’re pushing ourselves to learn new things, to develop new skills, to elevate our performance and all the many nuanced things required of growing into great leaders. 

Discomfort isn’t necessarily misery. Every great leader I know though has experienced moments of misery, but each would tell you – just as I’d confess about my own leadership journey – those moments feel necessary! 

Have you ever had to endure physical therapy? Maybe after a surgery or injury? It’s not fun. Sometimes it’s downright miserable, but we do it because we know it’s the way forward to feeling better, getting stronger and overcoming whatever ails us. 

The paradigm shift of seeing the high value in our anxiety – that’s where it has to begin. Otherwise, we’ll resist any change. Any challenge to our status quo. 

Every thought, belief, action and behavior that you currently enjoy in your comfort zone began with being uncomfortable. You’ve forgotten it though. We all have. That’s largely because we forget the pain once we enjoy the mastery. But without the pain there is no mastery. 

Learning to walk, speak, read, do math – or anything else – had lots of pain and failure. But once we could walk, we forgot about all those falls. Once we could speak we couldn’t remember being unable to. The same for reading, or math, or anything else. The resulting success overpowered everything else. The journey isn’t always the reward. Sometimes the destination is so worthwhile we forget about how hard the trip was. 

Everything is hard before it’s easy. Everything is slow before it’s fast. 

Know that your anxiety isn’t a permanent condition. If so, you should absolutely seek out a professional to help you. Confidence demands a degree of comfort knowing “I’ve got this.” But part of building that confidence is the knowledge that you can handle – you even desire – to be tested, challenged and pushed to see how much better you can be. By answering those tests, large or small, our confidence can grow. Confidence is nothing more than belief in ourselves – belief in our competence. The only way we can prove our competence is to test it. I can tell you how great I am at something, but unless I can show you, then there’s no way to prove it. And if I can’t prove it, then I can’t truly be confident in it. Boasting about it isn’t confidence. Doing it – proving it – is. 

Don’t make comfort your sole way of life. Don’t make anxiety your sole way either. We need a mix of both. Moments where we’re honing our skills after a period of being challenged and tested. Then we need to enter a new zone of discomfort where we’re upping our game all over again. 

Life – our leadership growth journey – is comprised of periods of learning something new, entering an area of discomfort – followed by a plateau where we’re increasing our comfort with whatever we’ve learned. Then we repeat that process if we’re dedicated to our growth. 

It’s among the many reasons why so few become great leaders. It requires a dedication to hard work, embracing learning new skills and constant self-reflection. It also requires such high humility you’re open to others who can serve you. 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

The work is about achieving unprecedented success through accelerated learning in helping leaders and executives "figure it out." 

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