I’ve been thinking a lot about discomfort lately – ironically because it’s an exciting time for my business, a time of growth and new developments. I’ve launched a podcast and a Babyproof breakfast event – and they are just two of my ambitious goals this year which have required me to step up and take the business to another level. They may seem straightforward on the outside – but these are challenges and new things that don’t come easily to me. It’s uncomfortable!
But when I say uncomfortable – what do I really mean? Well, for me it’s that all pervading emotional and physical feeling. The voices in my head telling me I’m not good enough and the physical expressions of fear – cortisol running through my veins and nausea rising in my stomach.
Luckily, I’m prepared for it. In my long experience of suffering from Imposter Syndrome, I’ve learned that feeling uncomfortable is a sign that I’m getting somewhere. The louder those nagging voices of doubt, and the stronger those surges of cortisol, the better I am doing! When I have felt the most uncomfortable in life is when I have made the biggest advances – and had my biggest successes. When I started at Cambridge, when I published my book, when I launched my business, when I did my first keynote speech – these were all occasions when I experienced fear and acute discomfort – but these are the key events that have shaped my success. I know from experience, then, that I need to dance in the discomfort to have the best chance of reaching my goals. If I want to continue to build a successful global business while raising my family, be a great example of a working mother and empower other working mums to achieve career success, I must tackle those things that I have been avoiding, try those things that don’t come easily to me, and persist at those things I dislike doing. Bring them on!
If you’re an ambitious female lawyer reading this, the chances are you’re no stranger to feelings of discomfort either. Most likely you already know the challenges you must rise to: growing your network, taking risks, seizing opportunities, putting credit in the bank, learning new skills. Some of these things will come naturally and easily to you, but a lot of them won’t. You’ll need to practise them in order to do them well. You’ll need to experience discomfort. You’ll need to get used to spending time in the Discomfort Zone.
Raising a family whilst striving for career success will also bring a whole new set of uncomfortable challenges. There’s the unavoidable conflict between work and home – the intense periods at work when you don’t see your family, perhaps having to work when you’re on holiday, of having to say no or set boundaries at work when you need to prioritise your family commitments. Perhaps you will feel uncomfortable when you have to leave the office to do a nursery pick up or get back for bedtime, or if you need to delegate or ask for help, or change the way you work to accommodate your new responsibilities. None of this is easy.
If you want to achieve your full potential, however, and successfully balance your career and family life, the question you need to ask yourself is, am I prepared to do the things that are hard? To live in the world of ‘learning’ and ‘practice’ and ‘failure’ until I get to a place where I am doing it well, successfully?
I’d like to show you that taking this ‘harder’ route is worth it. I would like to challenge you to change the way you see discomfort so that you get used to spending more time in the ‘discomfort zone’. So that the next time discomfort visits you, you don’t run from it, but face it, head on. And so that eventually, you deliberately pursue the uncomfortable experiences that will get you to where you want to be, that you choose discomfort, and lean into it.
- Because experiencing discomfort is necessary for growth and fulfilment.
Any kind of progression requires doing things and stretching yourself in areas and ways you’re not familiar with. You will feel discomfort when you’re aspiring to do something, when you’re trying to carve a new path, move up a level, or do something new – it’s a necessary part of the improvement process. So if you want advancement and balance, you will need to actively seek out discomfort – and embrace it.
- Because the discomfort of growth is better than the comfort of standing still.
Not challenging yourself may be easy – you may avoid the stomach churning sensations of fear and the doubting voices in your head, but ultimately you will feel dissatisfaction, disappointment and regret if you do not take action to achieve your potential.
- Because the value of the reward is inextricably linked to the level of the discomfort in getting there.
The more uncomfortable you are prepared to make yourself feel, the more you will achieve. The biggest successes are achieved by the people who push themselves the hardest, risk the most, and challenge their own comfortable status quo.
- Because you will get better at it.
The more you accept that experiencing discomfort is part of a fulfilling life and the more you embrace it as part of the journey, the better you will get at pushing through it to the other side. Things you find uncomfortable at the beginning will become manageable or easy when you do them repeatedly – and those successful experiences will help you to embrace harder challenges later down the line.
I hope I have managed to persuade you of the value of ‘dancing in the discomfort’.
For more thoughts on the Discomfort Zone – and to hear about some of my own life experiences, tune in to this week’s podcast.