Date: April 17, 2012

Author: JT

Tags: , , , , , ,

4 Comments »

Not Comfy, Feeling Uncomfortable?

jtpedersen_uncomfortable_risk_successWhen was the last time you felt uncomfortable? I mean, seriously uncomfortable. And not because your bum itched. Uncomfortable because of a new change at work or being asked to think differently than you have before.

Many of us have areas in our lives where we are very comfortable. It’s a nice place to be.  And, there are other places, outside our areas of strength or proficiency, that make us want to skirt them, fly past wherever possible, and return right back to our comfort zones.

As Laurie Hayes points out, “One of the biggest obstacles to succeeding in business or achieving what you want in life is setting the bar too low. Most people don’t like feeling uncomfortable…”

Discomfort, feeling uncomfortable, is one of life’s absolute necessities if we are to continue growing, to succeed.

What has kept you from succeeding, from accomplishing, more than you have already? What keeps you in place where you are? Is it comfort? Or fear of discomfort?

This is certainly something I have dealt with numerous times over the years. If you are struggling with moving yourself forward, leaving your comfort zone for something better, something more, there are two stories I want to share.  These two stories led to some of the greatest professional growth spurts in my career.  Both involved sizable amounts of discomfort and risk.  And, these two cases (not always, unfortunately) also provided great rewards.

The first, involved my becoming a consultant.  A Fortune 20 company wrote my CEO a nasty-gram. In short, it said, “…assign a dedicated account team to us, or we’re going elsewhere.” 3 business days later, I had a new role.

The issues in front of us were big. The customer was big. The $$ revenue impact was big. The pressure was big. There was nothing small about the problems in front of my partner and I.

To say the least, my level of discomfort was high as well. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being ‘found out.’ Fear of failure.

One of the major issues to be addressed, required selecting an engineering database as a core solution component.  It needed to have the necessary features while also being scalable enough to support ongoing development. There were two in consideration: our own offering, and, a competitor’s.

It was my call…

It was my call which to use. It was a huge risk, not just for me but for all involved: I chose our competitor’s solution. What followed was a short, quiet phone call with my Exec. VP.  As he spoke, his tone confirmed the weight I felt, “…are you comfortable with your decision? [pause…] You’re going to own it.”

That moment, and others since, defined for me what it is to be a consultant, an entrepreneur. You work with your team, pull together the information you have time to gather, clarify your understanding and thinking, make a decision, and execute. Every decision is a risk–you can never know it all–and move forward. Being a consultant is to live with significant discomfort at key moments…because your decisions are never ‘absolute.’

Even if you’re a solo entrepreneur, you’ve likely got people you talk with, a ‘team.’

The second lesson (this one’s far shorter): Deciding to leave a ‘Cadillac’ of industry in search of new challenges. After a long career there, consistently growing in my roles, I came to a point where further growth was getting harder. Talking with my wife, I made the decision—not knowing what the future would bring—to leave in search of something new.

That something new turned into a senior product management role in an organization where uncertainty reigned supreme. Not only did I need to ramp up into a new role and new responsibilities, my new home was an organization fresh out of bankruptcy with no time for anyone (let alone the new guy).

Despite, or perhaps because of, the cultural challenges, it was the most uncomfortable I had felt since first starting as a consultant. In some regards I felt more alive than I had in years. I stumbled in places.  There are areas I would have liked to have tackled better. The learning curve was incredibly steep—I learned developed more professionally than I had in the prior 5 years.

If I had not chosen to leave a comfortable spot and—gone for it—I would never have reached the new highs that I have attained for myself today.  Hopefully, these simple stories will encourage you, if you’re not comfy about being uncomfortable, to take a risk.  Put yourself out there, and Go For It!

image credit: Amir Darafsheh

4 Responses to “Not Comfy, Feeling Uncomfortable?”

  • Andrew Stein April 18, 2012 at 8:09 am

    For me, there are two factors to managing the stress that being uncomfortable creates is to realize two things. The first factor is that it is really the other guy’s issue. Whether it’s a hiring manager, an HR screen, or your boss doing it to you. One’s uncomfortable feeling is a function of worrying that the other guy is thinking, grading, judging you. If you have made the right choice or decision, go forward, execute, learn, and if you fail, learn from that. Forget about the judging, that will happen no matter what decision or choice you make.

    The second factor is confidence, and this is key. The difference between an average leader and a great leader is the confidence they have in their direction, the trust around them that builds from that confidence, and the willingness to course-correct as soon as necessary – and fully accepting the responsibility for the course correction. Average is to be tentative, make excuses and pretend that failure didn’t/doesn’t ever happen.

    Great leaders and people are always confident and never tentative. They appear to others as being comfortable, with being wrong, unsure, or uncomfortable. Inside, they may be deeply uncomfortable, but on the outside, they know that people are looking at them for leadership. Their confidence is what sets them apart when in an uncomfortable situation.

  • Alan Shelton April 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    To me the important recognition in this piece is that there comes a time where growth is harder to come by. Once we have learned our skill sets and our leadership becomes more internal. We trade the discomfort of not knowing our stuff for the discomfort of not knowing ourself. Many never recognize this distinction. But if we do, as JT did, we begin to seek to stand in the unknown. For we see that our ego definition, the who we thought we were, is now an impediment. Our wisdom needs to come from a bigger version of ourself that includes the unknown.

    And this is where Andrew Stein hits it on the head. Great leaders are confident. Not just in their content knowledge, but in their ability to stand in the unknown and lead with that vulnerability fully embraced. So on the inside they are indeed uncomfortable, but much like all who charge into the unknown they actually have been there before.

  • JT April 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Andrew, Alan,

    I appreciate your both sharing your insights.  Your comments help expand the base premise in productive directions.  Andrew, your comment on thee Leader being stable externally, the guidepost for those around them regardless their internal turmoil, is important.  It becomes easier as one becomes more experienced dealing with uncertainty.

    Alan, the need to see beyond ourselves is important.  Reflecting on your comment, I have to agree.  I think one’s ego is definitely an impediment. Viewing one’s self as a pinnacle of achievement, precludes the desire, the necessity to go beyond.

    Thank you both,

    JT…

  • JT April 18, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    Andrew, Alan,

    I appreciate your both sharing your insights.  Your comments help expand the base premise in productive directions.  Andrew, your comment on the Leader being stable externally, the guidepost for those around them regardless their internal turmoil, is important.  It becomes easier as one becomes more experienced dealing with uncertainty.

    Alan, the need to see beyond ourselves is important.  Reflecting on your comment, I have to agree.  I think one’s ego is definitely an impediment. Viewing one’s self as a pinnacle of achievement, precludes the desire, the necessity to go beyond.

    Thank you both,

    JT…

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