How To Embrace Discomfort In Your Career

“I think it’s fine to be comfortable. But I think you probably want to keep it to about 20% of your life.”

And with that, the gauntlet is officially thrown.

The person throwing said gauntlet is Penny Locaso, founder of BKindred, an organisation dedicated to helping women make positive change in their lives and their careers.

She knows how easy it is to get comfortable, having scaled the corporate ladder in her former life as a high performer in the oil and gas industry. Indeed, comfortable can feel great initially, especially when you’re on a career path that seems like it’s heading in the “right” direction and your monthly salary rolls in. No longer do you have to subsist on a strict diet of instant ramen noodles and it’s thrilling. Yes, you can buy your ramen fresh and hot. From an actual restaurant.

But sometimes, sticking to your comfort zone can lead you somewhere you weren’t intending. “So many of us are brought up to believe that our happiness will be found in a societal definition of success,” says Locaso,

“What I have learnt from everything I’ve done,” she counsels, “is happiness is never found in material things. Happiness is found in human connection, it’s found in experiences and it’s found in being present in the current moment.”

And the way to get there? By embracing discomfort.

Recently, Locaso walked the talk in a very public way, giving a keynote address in front of 100 women in just her bathers. In terms of making a point, the bathers stunt was effective. But Locaso hastens to add that discomfort is relative. “All you’ve got to do is find some small way to make yourself feel exposed or vulnerable,” she says. “For some people, that can be as simple as going to a networking event and walking up to a stranger and introducing yourself.”

Locaso embracing discomfort

Penny Locaso embracing discomfort

The question is, why go there at all? It seems counterintuitive, like playing an existential prank on yourself. The thing is, when you’re comfortable in your career, it takes effort to wake yourself up. Even when you’re ready for change, you can feel paralysed to act.

By embracing discomfort and making yourself vulnerable, you can shake off the comfort rug. More than that, “being vulnerable makes you true to who you really are,” says Locaso. “I find that when we are being vulnerable we are being who we really are. There’s no mask, there’s no facade, there’s no pretending.”

Another surprising benefit is how it can connect you to the people around you. Locaso’s own experiences have helped her understand who’s there to support her – although she adds the effects can be quite the opposite when those people aren’t right for you.

This element of chance can at times burn you, but Locaso sees everything as an experiment, with both positive and negative responses feeding into the plan to get you where you want to be.

If you’re ready to get a bit uncomfortable, here are four tips to get started:

#1 Accept there’s no perfect plan

Human beings generally suck at change. So crafting your perfect career change plan can feel like an important risk management strategy. I mean, it’s a big change you’re contemplating. But then nothing happens. The time is never quite right. One more promotion would look good on your CV et cetera, et cetera.

If you wait for your perfect plan to come together, it’s just never going to happen. This is the first truth about getting comfortable about discomfort.

#2 Feel your way forward

Instead, plan just one action you can take. And then another. “Action breeds clarity”, says Locaso. What she means is that with each action you take, you get a chance to learn something.

Take the networking example from earlier. If you head to a gathering for people in a field you’re interested in, you’ll get the chance to find out how you feel talking to those people. You might feel exhilarated! Or you might feel nothing. Either way, you’ve got a little piece of information to feed into your next action.

#3 Make friends with discomfort

Or at least with people who are also willing to get uncomfortable. Often, part of being comfortable is hanging out with people who are also comfortable. So while Locaso doesn’t advocate ditching everyone in your current social circle, she does suggest making new connections and networks who can support you.

#4 Own it

A lot of people Locaso works with fear failure and it can stop them from taking that first step. Those pesky societal norms come screeching out at us again and they add another layer of discomfort to an already uncomfortable situation. But again, re-framing how you think about these things can help.

And while it’s easier said than done, switching your mindset around failure and owning your actions as, at the very least, useful data points, can unleash you. “I think failure is one of the most positive things that can happen in your life,” Locaso enthuses. “Because again it’s discomfort. You always learn from failure and it’s how you build resilience.”

Kate is a Melbourne-based writer with a mild podcast obsession. She’s awful at social media, so don’t go looking for her there.