Get Comfortable with Discomfort - Chuck Garcia, Climb Leadership

Get Comfortable with Discomfort

Hiker on top of mountain

Think about the things, relationships, accomplishments that have meant or mean the most to you.  Did they come easy? Were they just given to you without work, sacrifice, or emotional investment?  Chances are the things that you are most proud of and care most about have been difficult, challenging, or hard to achieve. 

Easy doesn’t typically yield much. Why?  Things that are easy don’t force you to use strength, knowledge or require much investment of anything at all.  The hard things in life though – those things promise growth, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable it can be in the process.

That’s just it, anything worthwhile as they say will be difficult, take effort, and will be uncomfortable at times.  There just aren’t any shortcuts to true success. That applies in every aspect of our lives from the personal to the professional. 

I recently shared what it was like to climb a mountain on Mind Your Business with Yitzchok Saftlas.  He asked me, “So, what’s it like to climb a mountain?!”  The answer to that is just what I said to him, “indescribable.”  It’s hard to begin how to explain what climbing a mountain is like – it’s hard to really have an appreciation of so many fundamental aspects of living and surviving until you do something like climb a giant mountain. 

But, that’s what all of us are metaphorically doing each day, isn’t it?  If someone were to ask you, “What’s it like to live life, to have kids, to become a CEO, to accomplish x, y and z?”  How do you begin to answer? It’s a process, one that requires a lot of work and dedication.

Just like climbing a real mountain, achieving the things that matter most requires setting a goal, working with those around you and focusing on each step in the process.  I’ll tell you what, there’s no easy path for arriving at the top of any physical mountain… it’s hard – the same goes for anything in your life.  Many of my students are in such a hurry; “I want to be CEO by the time I’m 25!” There’s so shortcut to achieve that.

One of the experiences I have provided my students over the years is climbing to the highest peak in the state where I am teaching, whether it’s New Hampshire, New York, etc.  It’s an incredible experience and life-changing for the students who join. 

Part of the reason why I take students is, I want them to truly experience the metaphor of a mountain climb in relation to the career climb that they are about to embark on.  I want them to feel it, be a part of it, and realize the difficulty that comes as you progress up the mountain. 

We start our climb well before the sun rises, waking up at 4:45 AM, which for college students can feel brutal; but that’s just the start. The purpose of the climb and trip is to help them get comfortable with being uncomfortable – to realize that climbing a mountain is hard and so will climbing their careers.  Why do it if it were easy? What I hope for all my students is that they will look to their futures, not trying to spot the easy path, but to recognize that true, lasting growth occurs in the struggle. 

Many of my students will recall that the hardest part comes just before achieving the goal of summitting.  About 200 to 300 feet from the top it becomes the most difficult where you find yourself on hands and knees for a good 30 minutes as you try to stay focused on what you initially set out to do.  Many look up and come close to feeling like they can’t do it. At that point, the importance of working together to achieve success becomes that much more crucial as they empower each other through the struggle. To see the exhilaration, satisfaction and pride on the faces of these students as they summit is amazing to watch and be a part of. 

What Will You Do When the Going Gets Rough?

We will find ourselves in that same state as my students – 200 feet from the summit, down on hands and knees, crawling to complete what we set out to do.  In those moments that feel impossible and like we can’t go any further, what will you do? Just as communication is critical to our success, so is our emotional intelligence in times of challenge and difficulty.  Sometimes we’ll keep trekking, slowly placing one step in front of the other. In some cases, we might fail. 

On a climb in the Andes, my team and I were on our ninth day of climbing. Less than four hours from the summit, I fell through a crevasse. While everyone on the team was safe, this eliminated our opportunity to reach the summit and caused us to adjust our methods to continue climbing safely. Not unlike our careers, we sometimes fail to reach the goal despite our best efforts. We are vulnerable to events we can’t always control. Also, it’s the great leaders of the world that are able to show some vulnerability and say, “It hasn’t always been easy.”

Many might shy away from this level of vulnerability, fearing that it will inhibit people’s belief in you and your ability to succeed. That’s not actually what will happen. Consider Alec Guettel’s approach to business, a serial entrepreneur who co-founded Axiom Law and redefined the practice of law. When it comes to dealing with investors, Guettel subscribes to a single golden rule: he never leaves a meeting without divulging— in one way or another—some of his own personal weaknesses. He’s upfront about what he doesn’t know or has struggled to do well in the past. In fact, he makes it a priority to show people his vulnerabilities, knowing that his honesty builds trust and long-term relationships.

Axiom embodies what Robert Kiyosaki, an investor and self-help guru said: “The keys to success, in business and in life, are truthfulness, the ability to take and give, honest and well-intentioned feedback, strength of character, and conviction in one’s principles.” 

The Key is Embracing Change

When it comes down to it, change or the unexpected in life is what makes most things difficult or uncomfortable.  How we respond is what will determine the trajectory of our course. Change, as we all know, is inevitable and those who succeed are not only resilient through change, they help others transition as well.  From the earliest records of mankind to the leaders of countries, corporations, and communities of today, people have looked to those in power to effectively lead through transition. Consider Abraham Lincoln’s plight throughout the Civil War and in the days of its conclusion. A country that had been divided and experienced great loss at the hands of one another needed to unite again as one country – perhaps one of the greatest examples of leading through discomfort and the epitome of true change management.

Ultimately, our success as individuals and leaders will be judged by our ability to communicate, collaborate, and connect through change.  Our overarching goals will often require the repeated transformation of processes, priorities, and opinions of those we are charged to lead. 

An article published by Harvard Business Review’s blog address four key principles to successful change management initiatives and highlight what is absolutely necessary.  “While other factors certainly exist that can affect the outcome, the leader’s role is primary. The leader’s ability to communicate relevant ideas, motivate team members, and be an inspiring role model throughout the change transformation can make or break its success; the leader literally bridges the gap between the organization and its desired outcome.”

Unfortunately, according to Deloitte Consulting, the majority of change initiatives in corporate America fail.  Their conclusions underscore the fact that most approaches to managing and communicating change are all wrong. They assert that most companies and leaders do not:

  •       Motivate employees enough to sustain lasting change
  •       Sell the need to change in a way that connects to employees
  •       Create emotional triggers necessary to get “buy-in” from stakeholders and employees

If leaders can’t accomplish this, the future of their departments and corporations can become bleak.  Ultimately change and temporary discomfort is necessary for future growth and reaching new heights. Without strategic transformation, businesses can become obsolete.  Consider companies that didn’t change and innovate as needed – Nokia, Kodak, Blockbuster, Toys ‘R’ Us, among many others. 

Don’t spend your time and energy looking for the easiest paths and short-cuts; they won’t lead you to where you ultimately want to go.  Those things in life that are of greatest worth take time, effort, commitment, care and resilience – don’t cheat yourself from the summits you’re capable of reaching.

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