The U.S. Navy SEALs have a saying: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” If you can be comfortable being uncomfortable, you’ll be prepared to handle whatever situation comes along in your life.
The point the SEALs are making with this saying is this. Stay focused on what needs to be accomplished, despite how uncomfortable you feel. The sooner you can find a way to stay focused—no matter what situation you’re in—the better. Life will make you feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t ever have to stop you. As I tell clients when we starting working together: It’s a good thing to feel uncomfortable. It means you’re moving forward and exploring new territory.
CEOs in interviews by Adam Bryant for his New York Times column the Corner Office reiterate this message. “The biggest piece of advice I would give [to college students] is that life is just uncomfortable, “says Jane Park, chief executive of Julep. I hate when I feel too comfortable (that’s generally when I get myself in trouble) but I understand her point: If you’re not thinking about all the things you could have done differently today, then you’re probably not as engaged, or learning as much, as you could be.
Uncomfortable is the norm
Remember the first time you tried eating raw fish. The thought of it was kind of icky because it was unfamiliar but it was love at first bite. That’s what Julie Myers Wood, chief executive of Guidepost Solutions tells college students: eat the sushi. In other words, be willing to try the unfamiliar, or as Jon Bischke, the chief executive of Entelo advises, take as much risk as you can as early as you can. You’re in your early to mid-20s, a perfect time to take risks and when you do, you will have some failures and defeats. Learn from them. “An examined experience is the best teacher,” says Sharon Sloane, C.E.O. of Will Interactive.
Paula Long, chief executive of DataGravity, advises graduating students, “It’s O.K. not to know what you want to do. Don’t beat yourself up about it, and don’t cut off the ability to explore.” Don’t waste the opportunity to explore careers, gain experience, develop skills and learn what it is you want to do. Probably the most uncomfortable aspect of this strategy is telling your parents but remind them that it’s harder to explore options as you get older because you have different commitments, different levels of expertise that pigeonhole you.
Dreamers and big thinkers is who Brian Chesky, chief executive of Airbnb looks for when hiring because as he says,” …[they] see the world as it could be rather than as it is and are willing to challenge the status quo.” Challenging the status quo, something I’ve also been proud of doing throughout my career, has labeled me a contrarian. I know this often made my bosses very uncomfortable mostly because surprises don’t work for those who prefer the status quo. To get them more comfortable with the uncomfortable I overly communicated to keep them very well informed.
Get out of your comfort zone to conduct your job search
In order to grow you need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable. In Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he writes that everyone has three zones: their comfort zone, their growth zone, and their panic zone. To grow, you must leave your comfort zone.
You are in a job search comfort zone when your primary or only strategy is watching the job boards and applying online. There’s no risk and likely no reward for you. What I suggest is move into a growth zone and start conducting an intentional job search.
An intentional job search looks something like this.
Develop a list of potential employers you want to target. What are your talents/what are you good at? What do you want to do? Where do you want to live? Which companies are in that field and in the area you want to live? Some of the questions you need to answer.
Learn everything you can about each of the employers on your list. From your research, which of the employers at first glance will value what you have to offer? Align with your values?
Now start moving into the growth zone.
Know what you want when you start connecting with people. People really do want to help but they can’t if they don’t know what you want. For example, if you are looking for a job in a public relations firm, what kind of firm, which firms, doing want. Be specific. Ask for what you want.
Develop an informational interview script. Don’t waste anyone’s time. Having your questions prepared in advance is efficient and will get you the information you need. Aim for a 15-minute call.
Look first at people you know. Networking is not synonymous with stranger. Start by leveraging the relationships you have for example professors, friends who have graduated and are working in the career field you hope to be in, former bosses, family friends. This will help you get out of your comfort zone in a more comfortable way.
Just do a little networking at first. You don’t have to attend networking events to be successful networker. I’m shy (surprising to most people I know) and have always preferred a 1:1 approach to start. When I have a grasp of the information then I branch out to people I don’t know at all or to bigger groups.
Pick up the phone. Email can work to make an initial contact but email is easy to avoid. Pick up the phone to break through to the hiring manager or HR person. If this is too uncomfortable, call well before or after business hours to get voicemail, and then leave a scripted message.
Your job search is just the first of many uncomfortable situations. You will be uncomfortable the first day of a new job. You will be uncomfortable assuming the leadership of a mission-critical project. You will be uncomfortable giving the opposing point of view. The more you expose yourself to uncomfortable situations, the more comfort you will have when making the uncomfortable choice. It will be difficult at first, but don’t get discouraged. Being comfortable with the uncomfortable will grow with time. Once you take that first, scary step, you’ll likely discover a trove of untapped potential.