Do We Learn More When We Are Uncomfortable?

Steven Ross

It feels strange writing these words, but I’m grateful 2020 happened.

Not every part of it, you understand, but I have to be honest and say I think I’m a better person; a better boss; a better employee; a better husband and a better dad as a result of making it through 2020 (and it turns out it was a pretty useful training ground for how 2021 is shaping up).

I definitely haven’t enjoyed every step of the growth process, but I’ve learned more in the last 12 months than I think I did in the previous 12 years. Even if that turns out not to be factually true, it certainly feels like it.

The growth from this learning has been technical, psychological and emotional. I’ve grown my IQ through reading and watching more webinars than ever before. My EQ has developed by being around my family a lot more as we navigate the Covid crisis, and all it entails, together and by having different sort of conversations with them both in person and on the phone.

And, from an LQ perspective (click to read this Personnel Today article if you are not already familiar with the concept), I’ve learned how to apply knowledge and skills I already had in a different way – but I’ve also have had to work hard at developing new ways of acquiring knowledge quickly and putting it to immediate use.

So, I sit here at the start of 2021 probably better equipped than I ever have been for the challenges of living and working. Reflecting on all of this, however, one thing is clear – I would never have pushed myself this hard and learned this much if I hadn’t had to.

I’ve been aware for a long time that (unfortunately) I learn the most and grow the most through the things that are uncomfortable at best and downright painful at worst. I’d like to be different – I’d like to be able to learn from others mistakes or by carefully considering my course of action, but …  Maybe that resonates with you too.

However, I’m also aware that I’m predisposed to avoid pain. No masochism here. So, there’s a dilemma – I know that being in a difficult, challenging and sometimes uncomfortable situation is often where I end up at my best … But I’ll strive to avoid that situation.

Thinking about this as I look towards the rest of the year and the uncertainty that still sits before us all, I’m reminded of a phrase that a friend and business colleague used frequently: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable”.  Inherent in that mantra is the understanding that a better version of you can often be found as you go through the learning and growth that difficult circumstances bring.

So, while we shouldn’t all go seeking to make our 2021 any harder than it has to be, reflect on what the challenges of 2020 made you better at.

In January last year, you didn’t plan on any of it. Maybe 2021 won’t be any easier, but you are starting it better than you were last year and with a bit of planning, forethought and embracing being uncomfortable, you could finish it even stronger than you are already.

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