Finding comfort in discomfort – a journey to career fulfillment
Updated: Oct 13, 2017
I worked in the corporate world for two decades before starting my own coaching and consulting practice in 2017. During this time, there were several instances when I faced a fork in the road in evaluating my career path.
The most challenging moments arose when I stopped to contemplate, "What next?" and "Am I doing what I want to do?". I felt that something was lacking. I didn't feel completely fulfilled or completely unfulfilled. I was confused by this. At times, I was uncomfortable with the idea of advancing in my current role, and when I thought about shifting careers altogether my discomfort level increased exponentially.
My objectives were clear and disconnected simultaneously. I wanted to avoid the discomfort of change while at the same time rise up to a career that would meet an underlying desire I had yet to define. To relieve the pressure, I continued to fall back on what was comfortable and familiar in my career...repeatedly.
Paralyzed by the fear of change
I knew that change was necessary to meaningfully move forward. I knew that discomfort was inevitable in the level of change I was seeking. However, when it came to my metamorphosis, I wanted it to be pain free, easy and immediate.
Below the surface there was a part of my being that was compelling me to change. It was a voice I heard several times prior. Unfortunately, other voices were stronger - the ones telling me to stay comfortable and not move. I would be safer this way. Don't make a sound...don't be noticed...don't bring attention to yourself. These tapes were on repeat in my head.
Fear of change was holding me back. It was stifling me. Both my mental and physical states reacted negatively to the fear. I felt unbalanced and unable to take even one step forward.
Running from discomfort
This internal conflict was not new to me. Regardless, I didn't want to confront it. If there was going to be a career awakening I wanted it to happen without much, if any, inward reflection and reality checking.
I made myself believe that what I needed was a way to tip the scales so that my level of comfort significantly outweighed my level of discomfort. I thought that this was the way around the roadblocks in front of me - roadblocks that seemed impassable and most of which were, in fact, placed there by me.
I felt immobilized for too long and something needed to give. I didn't yet realize the transformative power of discomfort.
Enter a career coach
Several people offered plenty of opinions about what to do next and what would be best for me. Although they had the best of intentions what they didn't understand was my unique experience, and how could they since they weren't me. What an unreasonable amount of pressure I placed on other people to fix me. What an unreasonable amount of pressure we place on ourselves to fix others.
Then, I met a career coach.
I didn't know what she would offer me that was different from what countless leaders, mentors, counsellors, colleagues and others who have tried to guide my career already offered me. My only expectation was that my coach would give me advice about what I should or shouldn't do.
Instead, what I experienced was transformative. For the first time I was in a conversation that encouraged me to surface who I wanted to be without the experience or bias of another person layered on top of my experience. My coach's agenda was always and at all times my agenda. This was a new experience for me.
You're not going to tell me what to do?
My coach never told me what to do. She never gave me an opinion or advice. This was initially extremely jarring and didn't offer me much comfort. On several occasions I begged, "Tell me what to do!", but she wouldn't feed into my historical pattern of staying in a comfort zone. She certainly wasn't going to compromise her coaching promise.
Her coaching promise was to help me realize what I was doing and being in the moment and what I wanted to be going forward. She helped me to see how the two were disconnected. She helped me understand my relationship to the issue of wanting a career change. She helped me identify and manage long-standing roadblocks and limiting beliefs that were holding me back. Most importantly, she challenged and supported me through seemingly endless moments of discomfort. She gradually helped me to find comfort in knowing that in those spaces of discomfort transformation would occur.
Being vulnerable and awakening
Even though I found the coaching process very challenging I came to realize that it was the best way for me to reveal who I wanted to be. I finally understood how my current state wasn't leading me to a better version of myself.
I never wanted to be vulnerable. I never wanted to "go there". Thankfully, I did with my coach.
The process of letting go and opening up led me to an awakening in my professional life. Little did I know that in engaging in a coaching process I was stumbling upon a new way of being and a path that would lead me to where I would end up today.
Your experience is unique...and so is mine
When I reflect on the countless times I tried to help someone through a challenging situation I now recognize how my own agenda and desire to fix the problem impeded my ability to be truly present. I couldn't possibly listen actively when I was trying to impart my experience on the other person. I couldn't possibly be there for someone when my objective was to diminish or eliminate the discomfort in a situation.
In my strong desire to make the other person feel better as quickly as possible I didn't allow that person to be vulnerable and open up. I didn't allow them to reveal their inner critic (that voice that says "don't" or "you can't") and all of the other things that stifle authenticity and awareness. I couldn't put aside what felt like my experience in someone else's experience.
I did not appreciate that although experiences can seem similar on the surface that everyone brings to their experience a unique perspective and way of being. I now believe this must always be honoured if we want authentic connections with each other.
What is a fulfilling career?
As I continue to reflect on my incredibly rewarding two decades in the corporate world and the experiences of my coaching clients, a few points stand out when I consider what a fulfilling career looks like:
Interpersonal skills are underrated - Career dissatisfaction is inevitable if both hard and soft skills are not enhanced and embraced by the individual and the organization. We often focus on the level of technical skills needed and don't spend enough time validating and encouraging interpersonal skills in the workplace. Leaders and teams are most purposeful and productive when their work environments allow the human elements to shine through.
Values and strengths are foundational - We place far too little emphasis on understanding individual values and aligning them to corporate values. We often focus on improving weaknesses to the detriment of strengths. Engaged and fulfilled teams and leaders are those that live their values and strengths on a daily basis. They are allowed to be authentic. They are allowed to take risks and learn from mistakes. They are modelled this at all levels of the organization.
Humans "being" at work - If we all took a little more time to focus on the human being and not just the human doing we would make what is uncomfortable a lot more comfortable. We would create work environments that allow people to thrive in purpose. Ultimately, we would experience the true meaning and value of a fulfilling career.