Becoming Comfortable With Discomfort

I get a lot of calls from people who I can tell are uncomfortable with whatever they have called me to discuss. I can feel the vibration coming down the air waves.

A year ago, I ended a chat with a client and he said, “I constantly feel uncomfortable in my role as the CEO of my company.”

I let the dust settle for a few seconds and asked him to explain it. His explanation was perfectly reasonable and he knew exactly how he felt and why. Anybody would have felt the same.

We discussed it and then he asked me, “When does that uncomfortable feeling go away?”

I leaned into the second latte, took a sip, confronted his expectant face, and whispered, “Unfortunately, never. Part of being a leader is being comfortable with discomfort.

He was taken aback and raised his eyebrows. We discussed it for a few minutes.

 1. If you are a leader — CEO, founder, take your pick — you will do things that you have not done before. New things push back and make you feel uncomfortable.

Even when you are a salty, seasoned, serial CEO, you will move at a faster pace because you have seen this movie. That faster pace will carry from your comfort zone into the sea of no tranquility.

 2. What you did a month ago won’t cut it next month. You and the company are growing.

With that growth comes a whole new set of challenges. Once you feel comfortable, you grow out of it.

Growth — personal and the company — is not the outlier, it is the norm. Always was.

 3. There is a little juice to the feeling of discomfort and as you understand that, you will stand on the edge of the abyss, look down, and jump.

You will have a love-hate relationship with discomfort. You will become a junkie looking for that rush.

So, what is a chap to do, Big Red Car?

OK, here’re some ideas that worked for me:

 1. Know exactly where you are in the moment and live in that moment.

When I first jumped from a perfectly good airplane there were high winds on the drop zone. I was the first cherry jumper and we went around three times.

Each time, I was sure I could see my heart beating through my fatigues. The moment kept getting worse.

A sergeant, who loved torturing lieutenants, put his enormous hand on my shoulder and whispered (imagine voice like the Devil), “Stay calm, lieutenant. In a minute, you’re going to get your cherry popped and you will be four jumps from your wings.”

For some reason, that calmed down. I was grounded in that moment and knew what the next moment was going to be. My heart was pounding, but I was alive in the moment.

When the winds died down on the drop zone, the sergeant stood us up, we hooked up, we checked our equipment, we passed the equipment check to the front, I stood in  the door with that sergeant’s hand on my parachute, and listened to him say, “Don’t worry, cherry jumper, if you freeze I’m going to put my boot up your ass. You are jumping today.”

I turned to look at him, the light turned green, I didn’t even breathe, and I jumped out the door, leaving my cherry in the plane.

The next four jumps I gave an informed consent because I knew what would happen in that moment.

 2. Take comfort that you did not invent sex or business and that whatever you do is likely to be OK.

 3. Exalt in your growth. Reward yourself.

That first jump is pure bliss. You are swinging under that parachute, can see for miles, all you have to do is stay away from the other jumpers until the ground comes up and smacks the crap out of you.

Folding up my parachute, I felt great.

 4. Learn from the experience. Just like the rest of my jumps were an informed consent as I knew what to expect, know that after you pass through the zone of discomfort and regain your composure, you will never be the same again.

 5. Remember if you screw up, there are 1.4B Chinamen who don’t even know your name.

Bottom line it, Big Red Car

OK, dear CEO, you can do this. In fact, you will surprise yourself at how easy it will be in the rear view mirror.

That is all there is to it. Oh, yes, one more thing — life keeps moving the goal posts for persons like you. You will never feel totally comfortable, but you will become comfortable with the discomfort and that isn’t bad.

But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Have a great week.