Growth requires a little discomfort

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A long time ago at a base far far away, my chief used to send out daily quotes and excerpts from John C. Maxwell and other famous leadership authors. One day the daily message really resonated with me.

Specifically, the message quoted Ronald E. Osborne: "Unless you do something beyond what you've already mastered, you will never grow."

Indeed, many years before I read that message I was a kid from Fort Wayne, Indiana, who had mastered his high school job working at a small grocery store and sought a more promising career in the Air Force. That required me to leave the comforts of home to positively contribute to our society. There was more than a little uneasiness as I stepped off the bus at basic military training and met my military training instructor for the first time. Six weeks later, I was officially an Airman.  Time and time again my adult life has presented me with countless situations of discomfort, from my first duty station 7,000 miles away from home, to my first college paper, to almost every deployment in the Middle East. Yet, each situation allowed me to grow, as an Airman, a leader and a human being.

So what’s the big deal with the quote? Up until that day I saw change, and the subsequent uneasiness that came with it, as a bad thing or at best, maybe a necessary evil to move up through the ranks. In my mind, change was an obstacle that got in the way of mastering my craft. I was that Airman who didn’t like starting over at a new duty section, felt unproductive and disliked being the new guy. My uneasiness increased as I entered into the noncommissioned officer tier, because “I was an NCO, I should know it already.” I enjoyed being the “go-to” person in the shop and valued being the (self-proclaimed) expert. Luckily for me, my supervision and the Air Force knew better. They always pushed me outside of my comfort zone. They knew mastering my craft was bigger than being a technical expert. Call it maturity or maybe it was my own personal epiphany, all I know now was once I read that quote, it all clicked.

I changed my perspective. I embraced change and those situations of uneasiness for what they really were, opportunities for growth.  That nervous energy I felt starting a new job or position now fueled my desire to learn and master new skill sets. I saw my undergrad degree as a way to better myself, not just as an Airman, but as a man. Getting involved in base and community projects weren’t just enlisted performance report bullets anymore, they provided leadership growth opportunities not available in my duty section. I learned the power of networking and leveraging the strengths of my peers to accomplish positive things for the community.

One disclaimer: I wasn’t always successful. I made my share of mistakes, bad grades or coordinated events that didn’t really go as planned. However, I learned more from the times I “failed” compared to when I succeeded. In fact, aside from a bruised ego and maybe some discussions with management, I came out of those unsuccessful situations unscathed.

Embrace operating outside your comfort zone, you may learn something.