Suffering. Discomfort. Unease. Even saying the words can make one physically anxious, right? Each of these terms has a negative connotation. As humans, we look to avoid suffering at all costs. Many of us indulge in things like retail therapy and comfort food to make ourselves feel better when something goes wrong, even though that supposed therapy is certainly temporary.
Here’s my question, and really, challenge for you: what if you could change that reaction to something a little more constructive? Meaning, what if you could learn to deal with things that make you “suffer” better so that those things don’t impact you negatively quite as much? Becoming comfortable with discomfort means that we’re perpetually growing and expanding ourselves. For this very reason, I strive to be a creature of discomfort, rather than comfort.
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David Brooks, an op-ed columnist for The New York Times, recently published a piece on his interview with Bill Drayton, who founded Ashoka. Ashoka “supports Social Entrepreneurship in more than 90 countries” and seeks to support what they call “changemakers.” The piece by Brooks defines changemakers as “people who can see the patterns around them, identify the problems in any situation, figure out ways to solve the problem, organize fluid teams, lead collective action and then continually adapt as situations change.”
Brooks continues: “The central challenge of our time, Drayton says, is to make everyone a changemaker. To do that you start young. Your kid is 12. She tells you about some problem — the other kids at school are systematically mean to special-needs students. This is a big moment. You pause what you are doing and ask her if there’s anything she thinks she can do to solve the problem, not just for this kid but for the next time it happens, too. Very few kids take action to solve the first problem they see, but eventually they come back having conceived and owning an idea. They organize their friends and do something. The adult job now is to get out of the way. Put the kids in charge.”
For changemakers, the concept is simple: you see a problem and you organize to solve the problem. Now, you may not be an Ashoka changemaker bringing about social change, but you can be a changemaker in your own workplace and life. When you do, you will no doubt inspire others to transform their own lives. Both require stepping out of your comfort zone and taking risks.
I started studying Buddhist philosophy about 15 years ago, after experiencing a series of personal losses. One of the main concepts within Buddhism is to understand suffering so to learn to live better with it and, in time, even embrace it enough to learn from it. It is so easy to wallow in what we each deem to be our own personal drama. Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh has said, “People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”
This is true in our workplaces, just as much as it is true in our personal lives: it is just plain easier to stay with what we recognize as familiar, even if it is not beneficial to us. Why go outside of our comfort zone if we don’t have to? Yet, ask yourself this: have you ever not grown from a change? From a job switch? From a move? From a major life event of any kind? What about even the little changes, like a weight loss or a schedule shift? Everyone expands in some way in such situations, though it can be very stressful at the time. If you can find a way to manage this stress to your advantage, all the better.
I have had the wonderful opportunity for expansion over the past year as one of five principals of our almost one-year-old company, Trilix. Over the last year, as we have started a new business and worked hard to get traction in the marketplace, I have been pushed out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. It is, no doubt, one of the biggest and most rewarding challenges I have taken on in some time, and I have learned so much about what it takes to drive a business forward. Every day, I practice being comfortable with my own elements of discomfort. I realize how much I have learned and grown in such a short time.
In the meantime, I am also working with clients as they introduce change. Trilix clients look for help in changing processes, building new systems and ensuring that their staff reacts well to the changes with solid user adoption metrics. I have always believed that the key to success in introducing major change, as possible, is to do so a little at a time. It takes a lot of courage to step outside of your comfort zone, but in doing so you set a path. Over time, you become ready for more change. Trilix clients are changemakers in their own right.
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The bottom line: if it’s not working, you have the power to modify it, even your own reaction to change. You just need to empower yourself. Whether in your personal life or at work, if you see a process that is just plain broken or an opportunity to fix something, why not put the wheels in motion? It is not easy. You may need some help. If you can find one other kindred spirit, you have a small coalition. If you are in a situation that is not receptive to growth and change, well, it may just be you who needs to move on because those around you don’t embrace change. That does happen, too.
Suffering, discomfort and unease… still feel like these words are negatives? The first step to assuming control over your own reaction is to bravely embrace change. It may seem even more uncomfortable at first, but over time It becomes easier and maybe even your new normal. Pick small wins first, if you can, to gain some traction and become comfortable in your discomfort. Reward the successes: you deserve major kudos for taking those initial risks. Lastly, recognize what the discomfort can actually bring you: personal growth.
So now, ask yourself. Can YOU be a changemaker? I am betting that you can.
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