Feeling uncomfortable? Good!

Confused and dizzy emojiOver the last few days, I’ve had an extended conversation with one of my clients about what it takes to learn and grow. We started talking about one of his employees, moved into a more general discussion, and then came back to his employee … and him.

The essence of the conversation centered around this reality: if you’re feeling uncomfortable, you’re doing it right.

There’s no such thing as learning and growth without discomfort. Depending on what you’re learning and how you’re growing, the level of discomfort will vary from mild to intense. The fact is, though, that without twinges of “eek,” you’re not making progress; you’re staying put, stuck, sitting still.

Even the most simple of new things – even the things we really want to learn about – are challenging on some level. Being uncomfortable isn’t something to avoid. Getting out of the comfort zone is a requirement if we’re not going to stay stuck in place.

That doesn’t, however, mean that you have to exist in a constant state of discomfort if you want to learn new things and continue to grow your career and your personal life. But it does mean accepting that the discomfort is part of the process, and not something to be avoided!

In some ways, this is obvious. If we’re learning something new, we’re in a place of not knowing the answers, not knowing how, not knowing something we want to know or think we should know. Even if we’re curious and eager to learn, this is typically at least somewhat uncomfortable.

If we’re growing – shedding outdated beliefs about ourselves and the world, working to show up in different ways, trying new behaviors, and shifting our identity, then we’re feeling at least a little (or a lot!) vulnerable … and uncomfortable.

But we try to avoid really seeing this reality. We tend to focus on getting the discomfort to go away before taking action – which, of course, doesn’t work.

This is compounded by the oft-repeated self-help admonition that tells us we’re supposed to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” But as I said to my client, that’s fundamentally impossible; if we’re comfortable, by definition we’re no longer uncomfortable … and then what happens to the learning and growth?

Worse than that, when someone can’t accomplish this feat of “getting comfortable with being uncomfortable,” they tend to feel like they’ve somehow failed – screwed up – done it wrong.

But in fact, if learning and growing requires us to be uncomfortable, then they’re actually doing it exactly right.

The real trick is to accept the discomfort AND make sure we’ve intentionally left time in our days and weeks to be comfortable – to release the tension of learning, to relax the push to grow, and take time to just be where we are.

Or, as I heard someone say on a podcast the other day (and I’m sorry, but I don’t remember whose podcast), we must live in discomfort … and schedule comfort.

What does that look like for you?