Melinda Gates is a billionaire, a philanthropist, and a striver. She’s constantly striving for more—more influence, more aid distributed, more metrics to evaluate the efficacy of programs, more impact.
The Gates Foundation is a major player on the world stage when it comes to alleviating poverty and funding social good. This is due, in large part, to Melinda’s efforts. And when asked for her best career advice, she said this:
“Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
That’s right: She didn’t talk about technology, or using the perfect words in meetings, or having all the right connections. According to Gates, the most critical skill you’ve got to hone in order to be massively successful is to get comfortable with discomfort.
There’s actually an entire TED talk devoted to this concept. Luvvie Ajayi is both entertaining and inspiring as she outlines all the reasons it serves you to start getting OK with being uncomfortable, especially when it comes to using your voice:
“Your silence serves no one,” Ajayi says. Honest, authentic expression is critical to leadership, particularly when it can create helpful change for others.
The fact is, it’s inherently uncomfortable to speak up when what you have to say might not be popular. It’s uncomfortable to say something in a meeting you know may anger your team or your boss (or both). It’s uncomfortable to say no to a family member who’s pushing you to lend them money when you know it’s not the right thing to do. It’s uncomfortable to have a difficult discussion with your partner about sex.
Yet, as Gates herself says, “[A]chieving something that’s never been done before starts with challenging yourself to do things that you’ve never done before.”
When it comes to your career (or anything else in life), if you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something new. And it’s got to be personal. You’ve got to stretch and grow if you want your business to do the same.
Most of us, when faced with discomfort, do everything possible to numb or end it as quickly as possible. We shut down the difficult conversation, or drink to take the edge off the hurt, or avoid the conversation in the first place.
Gates’ point isn’t that discomfort gets easier—it’s that the thing to focus on is getting comfortable with the feeling of it, to resist numbing out or shutting down, and instead learn to sit with it. Once you cultivate that sense of stillness (even just for a moment), you can make an intelligent choice about what to do next. You start to grasp that discomfort and uncertainty won’t kill you; they’re just information about where your comfort zone ends.
There’s a difference between getting by and living your greatness. There’s an edge you have to walk to truly reach your potential, and it’s not a comfortable one.
Get comfortable being uncomfortable. It could just change everything.
Originally published at www.inc.com