Trying Something New? Deal with the Discomfort

uncomfortable business peopleExperiencing the discomfort of trying something new is not fun. Surely you can think of numerous times you have avoided doing something because you didn’t want to feel the discomfort. For example, it is not easy to fire someone. It’s heart wrenching to discipline your child. It’s scary to go away to college. We sometimes find ways around doing what we ought to do to avoid the discomfort.

We ignore bad behavior, invite others along to accompany us, or decide we didn’t really want to do it anyway. We conclude the person’s performance wasn’t really that bad or choose to go to college closer to home. By doing this, we limit ourselves (and others) to being dependent and accomplishing less.

It takes courage to break through the discomfort. Bill Treasurer describes three primary types of courage in his book, Courageous Leadership. One of them is particularly important in this context: “try courage” (Treasurer 2011). We need courage to try new things. It may be scary, but we need to be brave to be independent.

“Courage is acting on what is right, despite being afraid or uncomfortable, when facing situations involving pain, risk, uncertainty, opportunity, or intimidation.”  —Bill Treasurer

How do you develop the courage to try new things? I know a child who is afraid to try new foods. She’s more afraid than the average person. She will avoid it if at all possible, even if it means missing out on a treat or a meal. When the consequences get so grave or the incentives so great, she might venture out to taste something new. She starts by portioning off the smallest morsel she can possibly get onto a fork without it falling through the cracks. Then she sniffs it. She slowly counts to ten, makes sure no one is looking, and trepidatiously puts it in her mouth. She then chews for what seems like an immeasurable number of times before swallowing. It is certainly a sight to see. The fear and discomfort she experiences from trying a new food are impressive. It’s easy to see why she avoids it. Yet if she doesn’t try new foods she’ll have to live in a very small and lonely world.

For some people, trying new things is invigorating. That’s probably why the Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans jelly beans from the Harry Potter series have been successful. There’s always someone who is willing to try the earwax flavor. There is a point, however, where we all experience a certain level of discomfort. There is no easy way around it. Get used to it.

The first step to building independence is to get out of your comfort zone. If you are used to being taken care of by someone (parents, manager, spouse, etc.), that will mean to start taking risks and making decisions on your own. When you feel yourself staying inside your comfort zone, ask yourself what you can do to get out of it.

What Is Success?

measuring successHow do you measure up?

“What’s your number?” One executive asks another, engaging in the not-so-subtle competition of whose is bigger. I am a woman so I don’t get asked this question very often. Rather, it’s about my children. “How [successful] are your kids?” That’s the prototypical question for moms. The list goes on and on depending on who and where you are in life—grandchildren, job title, cars, jewelry, sports, sexual conquests, you name it.

Social Comparison Theory suggests that we compare ourselves to others to evaluate ourselves. That sounds like a reasonable goal, but it often turns into a competition to allow us to feel good about ourselves. We strive for self enhancement by “one upping”—saying that we’ve done something better than the other person. It can be a faster car, a bigger house, a higher salary, or a kid in a better college. The SNL character, Penelope, provides an exaggerated example, which is extremely funny to watch.

What are you measuring?

money weighing you downThe point is not necessarily how you measure on these comparisons, but what measures you are using. More precisely, whose measures are you using? Yours? Theirs? Society’s? Your parent’s? If you’re like most of us, you find yourself getting tricked into being measured on someone else’s scale.

I was in a meeting to plan the next Berrett-Koehler Marketing Workshop and we grappled with the question of what it means to be a successful author. Is it the number of books sold? The amount of money made from book sales? The quantity of business generated as a result of writing the book? The impact made on society from the book’s message? Fame? Or simply the fulfillment of a lifelong dream of writing a book? It really depends on what the author defines as success (which may be different from the publisher’s definition).

How do you define success?

helping holding handsIn the end, success boils down to how you define it. As we progress through life, we tend to realize that other people’s definitions of success don’t necessarily resonate with our own ideals. Laura Garnett asked several successful CEOs to state their definitions of success in a recent article in Inc. They vary widely and include such things as accomplishments, impact on the world, happiness, family, helping others, balance, fulfillment, and legacy. What is your definition of success?

Here are four questions to ask yourself to help you define success in your own terms.
  1. What are your core values? What do you need to do to be true to them?
  2. What’s important in your life?
  3. What legacy would you like to leave?
  4. When you are 90 and looking back on your life what would you like to say? What would you regret not having done?

I’d love to hear what you define as success and other questions you ask yourself to come to your definition.

How I’ve Kept It REAL

Joanie speaking at book release party smaller

Someone asked me the other day how I maintain confidence and treat others so respectfully at the same time. She didn’t say it exactly like that, but the gist of the message was how come I’m not an arrogant snob? Without even thinking, I blurted out, “I work hard at staying true to my values.” Fortunately, one of my values is authenticity, so speaking without thinking didn’t trip me up.

But it’s true. To the best of my ability, I embody the values I teach others. Fortunately, being aware of my imperfections is one of those values. I in no way pretend to be perfect at any of the REAL Life values, but I strive to do the best I can. And that’s all any of us can do.

REAL Life

Someone else said to me just this week that I seem perfect. That shocked me on several levels. First is because it is so far from the truth that I didn’t even know how to respond. The second was that I was so curious how she could have that impression of me. What air was I giving off?

The only thing I could think of was that my resilience was showing through. At least to her, I was staying engaged and maintaining a positive attitude. Then again, she hasn’t seen me at 6:30 in the morning, or when I have really gotten frustrated or down. I haven’t known her that long and I don’t see her that often.

All this is to say that things aren’t always what they seem. Keeping it REAL is hard work, every day. I don’t pretend it’s easy. I have been through the test on all four components of REAL Life over the past several months (not to mention my whole life) as I published my first book. Trust me, I’ve had to overcome numerous obstacles, receive countless corrections, flex in more ways than I had ever conceived of, and work independently as a writer and promoter of my book. It is no easy task.

But that is the whole point: real life is not easy. We need to be resilient, empowered, authentic, and limber to succeed in life, no matter what we do.