Not Comfy, Feeling Uncomfortable?

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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