You Will Fail in Your Career If You Don't Experience Adversity

Don’t ask for an easy life - Issue #46

It is human nature to seek comfort. We experience a range of mental, emotional, and physiological signals that drive us to avoid pain and discomfort and find that which will fulfill our needs. Once we secure that source of comfort, we are reluctant to engage in difficult or uncertain activities that risk it. As Neel Burton noted in his book, Heaven and Hell: The Psychology of the Emotions,

In general, people find it painful to expend effort on long-term goals that do not provide any immediate gratification. For them to embark on a project, they need to believe that the return on their labour is likely to exceed their loss of comfort.

Sadly, this very desire to avoid unknown risks and cling to the comfortable will stunt your growth and chances for long-term success in life. Those who seek a familiar and comfortable career path, never veering from the straight and narrow, are not the ones who will be noticed and rise to the top

The people who accomplish the most and achieve the greatest fulfillment in life are those who embrace fear, stress, and even pain. Every moment of growth in my 26-year career has happened when I was very uncomfortable.

Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one” ― Bruce Lee

A strange lesson

Do you remember the Biosphere project? I’m probably dating myself with that reference, since many of you may not have even been born in the 80s. It was a large-scale test to recreate the Earth’s ecosystems in a closed environment. They wanted to discover if people would be able to live in space for over two years.

They even planted trees within this sealed environment. But, the trees grew faster than they would have normally grown in the wild, and they were surprised when they began to topple as they grew taller.

Those trees had led a very pampered life with no adversity. They had just the right amount of water and nutrients. They had the right amount of sunlight. But, there was no wind!

Without the stress of being blown back and forth when they were young saplings, the trees never developed the stronger, resilient structure necessary to stand tall. Instead, they flopped over and collapsed under their own weight.

Plants need stress to become strong. So do human beings.

Every time I find myself stressed out, it’s because I do things primarily driven by growth.” — Tim Ferriss

Don’t become complacent and comfortable

When we feel the pain of hunger, we eat. But, when we lean on the comfort of food to make ourselves feel better in a multitude of situations, it becomes an addiction that reshapes our physical form.

When we feel the drive to satisfy a physical desire, we seek out the touch of another. But, this too can become an unhealthy addiction.

When we start a new job, the unfamiliar and unknown is stressful. This can be exceedingly uncomfortable for some of us. I still remember returning to a corporate job at eBay after several years of running my own business.

I was a bit overwhelmed by all of the new people, unfamiliar processes, sitting in a cubicle, being indoors all day, and having a boss for the first time in many years. Several times a day, I would go outside and call an entrepreneurial friend who was still “free”.

But, the stress decreased as I became familiar with the company culture, people, and demands of the job. It all became familiar. It all became very comfortable.

When I left eBay to join Yahoo, I joked that the only change I noticed was that my cubicle walls were now purple. It was a bit of an exaggeration, but not far from the truth. The work and role felt all too familiar and comfortable.

In order to grow, I had to face the truth that staying in the same profession and role wasn’t going to push me to my full potential. I had to find stress, discomfort, and pain again. So I did, in spades.

Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ― Jack Canfield

It’s ok to be uncomfortable

Actually, it’s more than ok. Discomfort is the only way you will adapt and grow. 

I learned about this with my fitness. I spent most of my life experimenting with training programs but never pushing myself to the point of serious discomfort. Then I wondered why I never achieved any significant results.

When I was convinced to sign up at a CrossFit box (thanks, honey), I certainly got pushed beyond comfort. Way beyond discomfort, and into the land of “I think I’m going to die.”

Our coach used to say, “I’ll make this the worst hour of your day. Get it out of the way first thing in the morning, and the rest of the day will feel like a breeze.” He wasn’t joking.

However, that intense discomfort with no predictability, day after day, week after week, did significantly reshape me. I grew in more ways than just physical. 

When you push yourself beyond the false boundary of what you think is possible, you level up in life. You realize that you’re capable of more than you ever thought possible.

The same goes for your career. Don’t settle for being comfortable. Matter of fact, if you ever feel yourself becoming “comfortable,” you had better figure out how to shake things up. 

The first time I did this was when I left the concept of a 9–5 job behind and started a design consultancy. I was terrified and worried that I wouldn’t be able to support my family.

We had two babies at the time, and I did question the sanity of my decision (other people did too). But, I made it work and actually ended up making more money than I had been as an employee. 

That fear and discomfort forced me to grow, learn how to run a small business end-to-end, and realize that I could make it on my own. I didn’t need a “boss” or a “job.” It was rather liberating.

I’m certainly not telling you to quit your job and start your own business. But, I am telling you that comfort is not your friend when it comes to career growth and personal development. Find a way to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, learn as many new things as possible, and increase the value of the “Product of You.”

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” — U.S. Navy SEALs

Accept that you need some pain

I didn’t understand this when I was younger, but I do now. I think being a parent brought the lesson home. Your natural tendency as a loving parent is to shield and protect your children from all pain and suffering.

But, in so doing, they never fall, fail, or make the painful mistakes they need in order to learn and grow. You have to let some pain through.

There is a fine line between stress that makes you grow and pain that can destroy you. You do want to stay on the right side of it. Anyone who has trained hard physically knows that line.

Feeling the burn, being totally spent, and experiencing some soreness is necessary for muscle growth. But, the sharp, searing, tearing pain of an injury means that you’ve gone too far.

If you’re ambitious and want your career to seriously advance, be honest and ask yourself if you’re being pushed hard enough in your current role. Are you pushing yourself hard enough to personally grow?

I would bet that you have a list of activities and skills that you know would help you grow, but you fear and avoid them. Public speaking is usually high on that list.

Writing and publishing on a platform like Medium to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise is almost as nerve-wracking. Believe me, I know, after I forced myself to write and publish five days/week for months.

A job change is another stressful list item, but you know that it may be necessary. A larger career change is terrifying, but those changes have always forced me to grow in ways I never imagined. 

Moving to a new city, state, or country is unthinkable for many people. But, staying warm and cozy in your lifelong home won’t reveal your innermost strength.

Don’t be afraid of adversity. Don’t fear change. 

Whenever you become anxious, redefine that feeling as excitement because it truly is. Embracing challenges, learning, adapting, and growing will put you on a path to success that most fear to tread.

A ship in harbor is safe — but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd

Subscribers, check out today’s tip to understand why getting your interviewers talking more increases your chances of being hired -> Quick Tip - Let Them Speak

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What I’ve been reading and doing

  • Why should you pay attention to your 5-year job anniversary? According to this article, the most unhappy people in a company are mid-level employees and managers who have been at their companies between five and 10 years. They often feel unappreciated, helpless, powerless, underutilized, and bored. It’s time to shake things up at work or look for a new job if you feel like you’ve stalled, stagnated, and are just putting in time every day.

  • I’m going to be back in the Bay Area of California in December. Sign up for my meet-up if you would like to join us for an evening of drinks, food, laughter, and career-related discussions.

  • In How to Get Noticed by Your Boss’s Boss, the authors share 10 steps that can help you be recognized by senior leadership at work. They also suggest that you should "Look for opportunities to connect and collaborate with other key players in your organization. When you build connections, you expand your network of allies and increase your visibility and influence."