ChangeLeadershipReflectionSeptember 21, 20163Pain for a Purpose

Some people leave jobs that aren't comfortable for them. That can be a good thing - or not so good.

I was talk­ing to some­one the oth­er day about the will­ing­ness of many mil­lenials to leave jobs where the cul­ture is bad or the expec­ta­tions are unre­al­is­tic or con­fus­ing.  We both agreed that, in gen­er­al, we find it refresh­ing — and that we believe it will force many com­pa­nies to think more deeply about how they oper­ate and the cul­tures they create.

At one point, though, my col­league said, “But it can go too far.  Some­times you have to suf­fer — there can be a pur­pose to pain.”

I watched my imme­di­ate men­tal response: That’s not true — think­ing that we have to suf­fer con­demns us to suf­fer­ing.  But instead of say­ing that out loud, I kept lis­ten­ing and ask­ing ques­tions. After a few min­utes, I thought I under­stood what she was real­ly say­ing, and so took a stab at sum­ma­riz­ing.  “You’re talk­ing about pain on the way to improve­ment, vs. just sub­mit­ting your­self to ongo­ing suffering.”

“Exact­ly,” she responded.

Then she told me a great sto­ry about two senior exec­u­tives she knew, both of whom had rep­u­ta­tions as tough, some­times dif­fi­cult and demand­ing boss­es. How­ev­er, she went on to note that many peo­ple she knew felt their time work­ing for boss A was very valu­able, and said they’d work for him in the future, if they had a chance — while most peo­ple had real­ly dis­liked work­ing for boss B, and would nev­er want to work for him again.

The dif­fer­ence? Boss A, while tough, demand­ing and undiplo­mat­ic (to put it mild­ly) real­ly focused on devel­op­ing his folks.  His tough­ness was in the ser­vice of their get­ting bet­ter, think­ing more deeply, being able and will­ing to embrace new pos­si­bil­i­ties. Under boss A, peo­ple grew. In con­trast, boss B was tough because he could be; he was just mis-using his boss pow­er.  There was no gain from the pain.

And I think this is a les­son mil­lenials need to learn (and one I see my mil­lenial chil­dren and col­leagues learn­ing as they get old­er and work longer).  Some­times, you have to do things that aren’t very com­fort­able, in order to get what you real­ly want.  And if you bail at the first sign of dis­com­fort — whether you’re by your­self, try­ing to learn some­thing; or in an orga­ni­za­tion, hav­ing to put up with some com­pa­ny BS; or deal­ing with a boss who may not be the most skilled or emo­tion­al­ly intel­li­gent, but is gen­uine­ly try­ing to help you improve — you’re nev­er going to get very far.

shutterstock_242603200It’s anal­o­gous to try­ing to get in bet­ter phys­i­cal shape, where the price is the bod­i­ly dis­com­fort of sore mus­cles and the men­tal dis­com­fort of feel­ing like a klutz.  If you real­ly want to get in bet­ter pro­fes­sion­al shape — to find out what you can love and be great at doing, and then to become excel­lent at doing it — the price is always some degree of men­tal, emo­tion­al, and even phys­i­cal discomfort.

In oth­er words: if you’re entire­ly com­fort­able, you’re prob­a­bly not learn­ing any­thing. And if you want to become world-class at doing any­thing, you’ll have to learn to be com­fort­able being uncomfortable.


Read Be Bad First — Get Good at Things FAST to Stay Ready for the Future for more insights about being use­ful­ly uncomfortable.


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