There’s no need to hesitate. No need to run. Just stay here and sit with the discomfort. Try being OK with being uncomfortable. Many people are not OK with discomfort. They cannot take it. They’re unwilling to take it. They say, “Why put myself through all this?” and they run or they move away from the discomfort. Note this doesn’t just have to be physical discomfort. It can also be emotional discomfort of not dealing with things that have bothered you for a long time. What have you been avoiding because it is hard? That conversation with a loved one? That account? That bad customer? What’s bugging you in your life right now? There’s always something. Maybe a few things. Most of us choose to not deal with these things because they are hard. Better to sweep them under the rug. Let somebody else deal with it. Only good leaders deal with the pain upfront. If you’re fledgling and you’re not being honest with yourself or others, you’re lying. And these lies get to be emotionally exhausting. Isn’t it better to finally own up and face it? to finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief at what those things are that have been bothering you for years? Years!? How much longer are you going to wait? Why not pour on the courage and deal with it now?
Unfortunately, we’re conditioned to avoid discomfort, to not deal with things that cause us pain. We are conditioned to deal with it ourselves, to contain it. And usually by “dealing” with it, we choose to avoid it. It’s too hard for us otherwise. Worse, if we choose to actually do something about it, we almost never ask for help. Please, heed this: Never be afraid to ask for help. Winners ask for help. Leaders ask for help. Top performers ask for help. Nobody gets to the top alone. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Get over yourself and ask for help. Swallow that dang pride and ask for help.
Sitting with discomfort requires courage. It is not easy to do this. Many things in our lives are uncomfortable: work tasks, working out, dealing with the in-laws, getting up early, uncomfortable conversations, eating right, you know, many of the things that you’re supposed to do. But each one of these things done and faced builds up our courage to do more, to be more, to lead more. We get better at dealing with uncomfortable things. We get more aggressive with them. We get mentally tougher. We get sharper. There really is no downside in dealing with uncomfortable things, in facing these challenges, in learning to sit with them and being uncomfortable.
Being comfortable with discomfort is a great leadership characteristic. Leaders have to be honest with what’s going on, and they need to face it head-on or else they cannot lead properly. This isn’t aggressive confrontation. In fact, it is rarely aggressive. It is really about courage: the courage to face what’s bugging you; the courage to face reality in data; the courage to be honest with your people; the courage to be uncomfortable and be OK with that; the courage to remember that you’ve been here before, it is another one of those and that you’re going to come out on the other side just fine. It is the courage and self-belief that you’re confident despite the uncertainty. Then, overcoming each obstacle earns you confidence. The better you get at it with growing competence, the more confidence you earn, too. It is a self-reinforcing loop.
Learn to sit with the discomfort for awhile. Be OK with it. If you’re going to be in a leadership position, you’re going to have to get used to it. Not all leadership tasks are comfortable — far from it. Leaders are often called to do things that no one else wants to do, things that most everyone wants to avoid. This is one of the things that sets leaders apart: the willingness to do these difficult things despite the discomfort. If leaders cannot or will not deal with these festering problems, then the whole operation is at risk. We have to be willing to address these issues head-on, with courage and honesty, despite the discomfort of it. It takes mental toughness and being firm. And like any other activity, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
Begin by stepping outside your comfort zone if even a little. Take on the pitch or presentation. Take on the new project that you wouldn’t otherwise. Note that fear and excitement feel the same way. In fact, you can transform your fear and anxiety into excitement rather easily. You just need the right coaching and reassurance. Each step outside of your comfort zone tests you in new ways you never thought possible before. Never forget that we don’t know what we’re capable of. We have not tested or pushed our limits hard enough. And we are capable of far more than we know.
What will really help you get outside of your comfort zone is regular practice. Make it a habit to do something daily that scares you or tests you in some way. If you’re shy, talk to strangers. If you’re scared of public speaking, take on the next speaking project. If you’re scared of talking to that girl, talk to several girls. If you’re scared of writing, try guest blogging and showcasing your expertise. If you’re scared of your own voice, do podcasts. Anything that you would normally not do is game. Your comfort zone is there to be tested, not to protect you. Pushing against it regularly is how we grow, especially as leaders. It isn’t supposed to be easy. There should be some pain in growth. There should be some pain in practice.
What separates the greats from those who are only OK is their dedication to practicing. They love to practice. They even love the grind of it. They never tire of the fundamentals. They love what they do and they’re 100% dedicated and driven to it. It is almost as if they don’t want to do anything else.
What have you been called to do that no one else wants to do? What was your reaction to it? Did you face it? Did you procrastinate? Did you strategize and take it head-on? Did you practice? If you went ahead with it despite the discomfort of it, how did it feel afterward? Was it rewarding? What did you learn? What’s next? Would you do it again?
What have you done today that scares you? How scared are you willing to be?