How to Embrace & Use Discomfort for Personal and Professional Growth
At a recent women’s conference in San Francisco, the theme was “Changing the Game” but it could also have been “get comfortable being uncomfortable,” a phrase articulated there by tennis star Venus Williams. Embracing discomfort was a common message throughout the day and for good reason: being comfortable signals we are not learning and growing – whereas working through discomfort can yield positive results.
The natural default for people is to seek comfort, or more accurately, to avoid discomfort. Examples: yoga pants, going to the same restaurant, staying in the same job for too long. It’s easy. It’s safe. But it may no longer be the best choice.
Today, businesses are tossing around words like “transformation,” “innovation” and “disruption.” Companies are not just talking about their products and services when they use these terms: these buzz words have implications for how we work as well. When using them, employers are signaling how they envision their workforce to behave; simply put, they expect employees to incorporate innovation and entrepreneurial thinking into their work on a daily basis.
The business climate has changed over the years. Chances are good that most of us work in industries that will be disrupted. It’s not a word reserved for the technology sector as these current disruptors illustrate:
Network TV: Hulu and Netflix
Somewhere along the line, the workplace evolved from somewhere people stayed for thirty years, to one where a two-year anniversary is remarkable. Those who are not prepared when more inevitable shifts happen will be left scrambling.
Welcoming Innovative Ways of Re-Assessing the Familiar
Many things can make people feel uncomfortable: lack of familiarity, inexperience and “the Imposter Syndrome,” which may make people feel chronically less than adequate. Identifying when you are comfortable and making the conscious decision to do something about it can be scary. The key is always to be brave, embrace the fear and move through it. That said, not everyone can adapt to the uncertainty; however, a good way to think about it is that you have the opportunity to take advantage of an opportunity.
Case in point: recently, I made the decision to close my research business and return to a more traditional work environment. I realized that I had become too comfortable. The work was comfortable; the commute was comfortable (from bedroom to office in one-minute flat!), and my clients were familiar and comfortable. Then I looked up and realized that I was no longer progressing, growing or evolving.
So…shaking things up, I decided to go beyond leaning in — I jumped in! This past year and a half has been a huge adjustment, but has paid off in personal and professional growth. Once you have the confidence to know you can get through it, the next disruption will be easier.
A List of Ways to Leverage Discomfort & Unfamiliarity in the Workplace
One doesn’t need to completely turn his or her life upside down to maneuver this new landscape. However, understanding how to leverage discomfort can help you with being more adaptable:
- Be Solution-Oriented: When faced with a challenge, work through the discomfort, with an eye on a resolution, to find the right path.
- Disrupt Yourself! Try something new, learn a different skill, and re-package and re-invent yourself. Or start small by asking for new projects, and taking on more responsibility.
- Look to Pivot: Pivoting allows you to keep one foot firmly planted in a familiar area while moving toward a new position. Look for common skills between what you know and the new area where you want to move.
- Be Disruptive in Place: Identify innovative ways to accomplish routine tasks, speak up and share your thoughts, or ask to be on a new team. When change happens, be the one with the positive, can-do attitude.
- Cultivate Useful Skills: Creativity, perseverance, bravery, flexibility, innovation, creativity, adaptability, and a willingness to learn are all important skills when faced with disruption.
- Show Leadership: Bring your innovation, determination, and willingness to challenge traditions to the forefront.
- Use Data: Using data can level the playing field, allowing decisions to be made by those newer to an organization. Why? Because bringing in factual information means new employees can make just as much impact as senior staff.
- Expand your Experience: Volunteer and internship activities can provide a safe place to try new skills.
Be bold, break the mold, be audacious! Just remember that you are poised for something great, new or exciting when you get that feeling of discomfort. Work through it to get to the other side, and learn to recognize its helpful, adventure-generating quality, rather than shying away from it.7