Be uncomfortable – moving to a new city, cold calling a client, meeting new people, doing a new presentation, or venturing into new sectors. There is a fine line to being uncomfortable. If you are over-challenged, stress and anxiety cause you to shut down. If you are under-challenged, boredom takes over. You must find the line between the two for a happy place of discomfort.
This sweet spot varies for each individual, but consistency and volume are important. Being uncomfortable for short bursts is not as effective as being consistently uncomfortable. Focus on improving every day steadily, not intensively.
Now, let’s figure out how to become better at being uncomfortable.
Start, and don’t quit
A black belt is a white belt that did not quit. This adage is thrown around on social media and a very basic way of breaking down the journey to a black belt in any martial art. The folktale of why black was chosen as the color of the highest rank is because the white belt became black from dirt and use.
Also, the hardest belt to put on is the white belt meaning starting the process is the most difficult. How many tasks carry over day-to-day from your to-do list? Rather than taking action and crossing them off, they continue to be pushed to the back burner.
Tomorrow you will call the vendor. Tomorrow you will reach out about a new opportunity. Tomorrow you will talk to your boss about a raise. Next thing you know, it has been a year since you had a raise. That vendor you are frustrated with continues to work with you. Your business stays the same size because that email never gets sent.
Once you start, become the white belt that never stopped. Every day you are making incremental progress. One day, you will look back and not recognize the person you are today. Compounding interest is not only for a savings account. Investing in yourself using compounding interest produces exponential results.
Embrace the grind
Daniel Cormier, the light heavyweight and heavyweight champion of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), shares his motto ‘Embrace the Grind.’ Instead of sulking and dragging your feet to never put in the work, realize the daunting task in front of you is going to be difficult, and embrace its ability to kick your butt.
Marcus Aurelius says, “When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: The people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.” Before his two feet hit the ground, he was already embracing the grind of people and their projections. This negative approach is not for everyone. Some never want to struggle and avoid work like the plague. Others do just enough to get by. While some embrace the grind.
Which do you choose?
Don’t compare your chapter two to someone else’s chapter 22. If you are moving forward, who cares? Eventually, as a white belt who does not quit, you recognize the progress you have made. In jiu-jitsu, they hand you a different color belt. In project management, a new title or higher-profile project comes your way. You should recognize each step forward.
Make the work the reward. Recognition is a dangerous game. The more you get, the more you crave. There becomes a point where enough is never enough. More, more, more.
If work remains the reward, as long as you continue to show up and put in the effort, you remain satisfied. The juice is worth the squeeze. Your increase in skill becomes apparent when the work becomes easier. Whenever you first start a new task, it is clunky. Not a lot makes sense. When your progress is recognized, you start to put the pieces together, and things begin to line up.
Celebrate the wins
Celebrate the wins no matter the impact. If one person subscribes to your newsletter, celebrate. If you hire someone to help you, celebrate. If you are awarded a $5,000 project, celebrate. All of these wins may seem small to most people. Who cares?
Someday, that one subscriber will be one hundred. That one new hire will be five. The $5,000 project turns into $5,000,000.
Comparing your $5,000 project to what Elon Musk is doing in California does not do anyone any good. He has his thing going, and so do you. He is on level 100 while you are just starting. Your boss has been in the game for decades. You may have just begun or have half the experience. Of course where the two of you stand at this moment should be different. I would hope someone with a decade more experience is further ahead than you.
Rather than focusing on the wrong chapters, start to enjoy writing your own story.
Making yourself uncomfortable and embracing the grind makes work the reward. Accolades are the cherries on top of the sundae. Without the ice cream, sundaes are whipped cream and cherries. There is no substance without the ice cream.
Think of the land of uncomfortable as the ice cream. You need it to earn the cherries. A house without foundation is one where the big bad wolf comes and blows it down. Being uncomfortable leads to leveling up and creating a stronger foundation for your skills.
Public speaking is an unrealized skill of a project manager. You must be able to communicate with a group of people effectively. If you are uncomfortable speaking in public, the message will not be delivered appropriately and cause more harm than good. Being uncomfortable more often leads to better public speaking which leads to better understanding from the audience which leads to more effective project management.