In the past year, I have worked in Edelman offices in New York, Mumbai and Abu Dhabi. While each city is vastly different on the surface, one constant has been the experience of discomfort, whether it’s navigating new cultural norms, learning patience with the varying pace of business, and of course, sweating on hot, humid, traffic-snarled streets.
Discomfort forces confrontation with the unknown, which is entirely where new opportunities live. Comfort ignores confrontation. It pulls up the covers and goes back to sleep. My experiences have shown that it’s necessary to embrace and even seek out discomfort to be successful.
Here are three examples:
- Path of most resistance: When the opportunity arose to apply for the yearlong Daniel J. Edelman Global Fellows Program, I casually skimmed the email and promptly filed it away. Not possible. I couldn’t leave my established, happy clients, a supportive manager and close-knit family and friends based in New York for a stint in a new city, rebuilding my personal and professional lives from scratch.
But a nagging feeling kept me wondering: Was I coasting? What would happen if I seriously asked “Why Not?” It wasn’t going to be easy, but it certainly wasn’t impossible to do what the program asks – to build the firm’s global culture and share knowledge around the world. Soon, the unknowns became less daunting and enduring discomfort came to look increasingly like a ticket to success.
- Don’t be a piece of mail: Mumbai is notorious for having confusing (or no) street addresses. I received directions for a meeting with a CEO: “10 a.m. at CCD in BKC above the petrol station.” I was often lost and sweaty and had to rely on street vendors to get to important meetings. While this was certainly uncomfortable, embracing the discomfort helped me to quickly learn about Indian culture, language and work ethic.
This system creates chance encounters that while uncomfortable, encourage exploration and interaction. People are not mail, and they shouldn’t simply be ferried along to their final destination goes the thinking. We should similarly endure discomforts to discover more inspiring approaches for our clients.
- Discomfort with purpose: The sweating continued in Abu Dhabi, where I arrived at the peak of summer with highs well into the 100s. Not only that, it was during Ramadan, when observant Muslims fast, and eating and drinking in public are seen as rude and could even result in disciplinary action.
At first, I saw this as a huge inconvenience, but after talking to Muslim friends about fasting, I learned that one of the reasons people fast is because it breaks daily habit, sharpens willpower and stir the emotions, particularly with respect to the poor and hungry. It is a strong reminder that discomfort can be meaningful and even rewarding in life and work.
As Prakash Iyer, executive, author and my former client has written, “Leaders are like teabags. Only when you put them in hot water do you know how strong they really are.” So, let’s put our kettles on the stove and get uncomfortable. Forget what you’re used to; forget what’s easy. Explore your fears and seek out what you don’t know how to do. It’s the only way to move ahead.
Darius Razgaitis is an account director for Edelman who specializes in communications strategy development, stakeholder engagement, global communications and cross-discipline coordination. He recently joined Edelman UAE from the Mumbai office, where he was a Daniel J. Edelman Global Fellow. You can follow him on Twitter: @mrdarius