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Preferred Discomfort Part 2: The Power of Uncomfortable Growth in Work and Leadership


What do you dread yet oddly feel a thrill at the prospect of? 

The principle of Preferred Discomfort, outlined in my previous article: “The Power of Preferred Discomfort”, encourages us to purposefully choose experiences that push our boundaries and broaden our horizons. It demands an interrogation of our fears without straying too far from our core and unveils the decay that can occur when we live and work in our comfort zone, particularly for prolonged periods of time. Growth necessitates stepping beyond this zone. Growth demands leaning into our preferred discomfort.


Incorporating preferred discomfort into our work lives and leadership practices not only leads to personal growth but also significantly shapes a broader workplace culture. It encourages a collective embrace of adaptability and the bravery to explore the unknown; all crucial for an organization's capacity for innovation and progress. By practicing this approach, we create an environment where these values are deeply ingrained, paving the way for both individual and organizational breakthroughs and development.


How do we overcome personal and professional barriers so that we can enact preferred discomfort?  

The journey towards embracing preferred discomfort, does not always require monumental leaps. Often, it's the subtle shifts, the gentle nudges, that cultivate gradual yet significant transformation, turning potential shifts from mere concepts into actionable reality.


Refining Daily Rituals


Non-negotiable disciplines that structure the day, undoubtedly ensure productivity and focus. Yet, embracing flexibility within this framework of disciplines, can fuel creativity and adaptability. In my days as a young lawyer working in a rigid working environment, I sought to introduce minor bouts of unpredictability by varying my arrival times to the office and discovering alternative routes to court; this in turn, enhanced my muscle for adaptability and heightened my level of engagement. Such practices are less relevant in today's work environment but we can still introduce flexibility in our schedules by incorporating deliberate breaks or changing work locations, even within a home office. Blending routine with exploration, causes us to shift out of “autopilot mode” and fosters creativity, in a way that resonates with today's professional settings.


Ignorance is Bliss


Knowledge is Power, right? Not always. Knowledge is undoubtedly powerful but embracing the role of a learner rather than always being the expert, can profoundly impact personal growth and leadership. This shift from knowledge-holder to knowledge-seeker, fosters adaptability, reveals one’s strengths and identifies areas for improvement. My own evolution from a lawyer taking a traditional top-down leadership approach, to a leader focused on empowering others and sharing insights on future workforce, has caused me to embrace new learning opportunities within unfamiliar terrain and exemplified the self-discovery that comes from diverse experience. Taking on a new company initiative or stepping into a new role, can develop skill and depth of experience. As always, Albert Einstein offers enduring insight on this ethos: “Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it.”


Facing Fears


Confronting and identifying fears that hinder progress, is essential for personal and professional progression. The reason why we turn down that new project requiring the use of unfamiliar software or the promotion necessitating public speaking, is often due to fear. The hard truth is that we must face our fears to overcome them. My own experience of revealing personal stories to inspire, in the realm of leadership, has been daunting because I am sharing my journey and showing vulnerability.  The reported telephobia that some younger workers, aged 18 to 30 suffer, possibly because they come from a generation of instant messaging, is triggered by their fear of “looking foolish”.  Actively seeking skill development or mentorship, is crucial for transcending these fears and enhancing our capacity for growth.


Letting Go


Relinquishing control and trusting in the abilities of others, fosters a culture of exploration and encourages a deeper trust in collective capabilities. In my own leadership journey, every instance where I've resisted the urge to micromanage, acknowledging my team's competence and ability to operate with autonomy and agency, has been transformative. This approach not only empowered individuals and boosted their confidence but also allowed me to grow alongside the organization.  


Reimagining Success Through Optimism


Confronting the fear of the unknown, requires a shift in perspective; envisioning the best-case scenarios rather than succumbing to paralysis by analysis. Often, the reluctance to embrace new challenges, stems from a desire to mitigate risk, with our minds predisposed to anticipate failure. However, by deliberately focusing on the positive outcomes of our ventures, even those that push us out of our comfort zones, we can transform our apprehension into proactive engagement. This mindset not only redefines our concept of success but also empowers us to approach uncertainty with confidence and optimism. Even the perceived failures that I have encountered throughout my journey in school, work, life, have lead to new experiences and unexpected opportunities. Adopting a mindset that values lessons learned, has proved life changing.   


The principle of preferred discomfort goes beyond mere philosophy, serving as both a pathway to personal growth and a method for building a robust and dynamic work culture. It invites us to confront the unease of the unknown and turn apprehension into proactive action, treating every outcome as a chance for learning and advancement. As we adjust to the shifting landscapes of our professional lives, our collective effort to move past comfort zones, driven by a spirit of ownership and ongoing learning, sets us on a course for significant personal and collective progress.

 

Niki Avraam stands at the forefront of a transformative movement in leadership and workplace evolution. A legal entrepreneur with a rich background in employment and discrimination law, Niki’s journey has been distinguished by litigating high-profile cases and founding the London law firm, Howat Avraam Solicitors.

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