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life

If Work Feels Comfortable, You Are Doing It Wrong

. 5 min read .
Art: Pontus Ullbors

We have all heard this phrase a million times:

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I certainly did. But it wasn’t until I tasted comfort while lacking discomfort that this resonated with me hard.

I am at this point in my career where I feel like I am just not growing fast enough. The tasks that once fascinated me have become uninteresting, what was once a challenge is now just another routine task, what I used to find complex is now simple. I am just… comfortable.

But prolonged comfort -contrary to popular belief- is not such a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t be more fortunate nor more grateful for where I am and what I have. But that doesn’t stop me from seeking more of the good stuff in life; and most of them can only be achieved through one avenue only: discomfort.

Most people think it is like this… when in fact it is the opposite.

The Growth Machine

Imagine your growth working in the same way as extracting energy to then utilise to fuel your growth machine.

Just like one can extract energy in many ways: solar☀️, oil⛽, gas💨, hydroelectric🌊, nuclear🧪, in the same way there are many many types of ‘growth fuel’. For example: Online/offline mini-courses, masterclasses, formal teaching via academia, talks, projects, job responsibilities, reading books/magazines/online articles, mentorship etc.

All these provide fuel to your growth engine and that engine is what is pushing you higher and higher to becoming the best version of yourself.

Growth Fuel Depletion | Diminishing Returns of Learning

When growth starts stalling…

So in search of growth fuel, you decide that you should drill in search of oil⛽. You find grounds rich in oil and start extracting and feeding your growth engine. But the more you repeatedly do this extraction activity, oil reserves start depleting in a diminishing returns fashion.

In the same way, the more you repeat one activity the better you become at it. More effort initially gives more gains but eventually, with time of repeating the same thing at the same level of difficulty, the curve starts flattening asymptotically. More effort gives you less and less gains and your growth starts stalling.

What 1 hour of reading Financial Times articles might have offered you a month ago you now need to invest 10 to get the same upside. You have extracted most of the knowledge to be extracted already.

S Curves of Growth | Kickstarting Stalled Growth

The S curves of Growth

The answer to avoid being trapped under that asymptote and continue the upward trajectory can be illustrated by S curves -typically used to illustrate innovation over time-.

Jumping on a new S curve is the same as tapping onto a new source of growth fuel. The learning cycle restarts and growth kickstarts again.🎉

The 3 Growth Levers

🔥Similar Activities but harder

The minute you identify that your oil reserves are depleting, you have to start drilling deeper.

You have to turn the difficulty level up a notch: take some advanced training, ask for more responsibilities, move to a different industry or different geography in the same role.

✨Brand new activities

Out of oil in that plot? Maybe it is time you start checking other plots in adjacent areas for more fuel or if there is nothing, maybe it is time to completely switch to a different energy source.

These might be brand new projects in your organisation, a brand new role in a different function, training or courses for new skills, starting to read about brand new disciplines and industries, a similar role but with vastly different responsibilities, switching from a startup to a mature player etc.

👯Working with new people

Maybe the problem is not that there is no more oil but that you need more techniques and equipment in order to extract it.

The most effective way to learn and extract growth fuel, I believe, is via other awesome people. Through them you learn about new ways of thinking, new perspectives, new tools, you get advice, feedback and opinions, you get to see what works for them and what not.

Some examples might be starting to work with different teams in your company, different disciplines, different offices, be involved in projects that involve external teams like partners and agencies. If there is no way to work with more people in your current company already maybe it is time to look into other options.

🦄Dear ambitious person,

If you have been comfortable for too long, you have to change something.

Most companies won’t serve you what you need in a silver platter. They won’t come knocking on your door to take up new roles, projects and initiatives no matter how awesome you are. You have to go out there and grab the bull by its horns.

And here is the first step: email/slack your manager and write these 6 words: “Time for a chat over tea?”
Their first thought will be probably be “Oh snap, they are going to quit”.
But they will surely reply with “Crazy day today but how about next week!”.

Take those 30 minutes to explain how you fell ready for bigger grander challenges. Brownie points if you come in with suggestions as to the projects you would like to be involved in, a new role you are looking for, examples of projects you would like to do more of, people you would like to work with, skills you would like to develop, areas that super interest you and disciplines you would like to learn more about.

Step back and watch how opportunities you never knew existed will unfold in front of your eyes…

👓Dear manager,

If you have ambitious, hungry, driven people in your organisation, consider yourself lucky.

Pop culture calls these people unicorns, Vaynerchuck-culture calls them hustlers, Seth Godin refers to them as linchpins, Adam Grant as originals and academia as intrapreneurs.

However you want to call them; these people are the ones that will go above and beyond for you. They are the ones that will exceed expectations, that will push the bar and break boundaries. Nevertheless, there is a price to pay for you to keep them: these people are high maintenance. You have to give them fuel; non-stop. If you want to keep these people, you have to (amongst other things) give them opportunities to grow.

And not only make those opportunities available to them but proactively point them to the those new pools of growth fuel🔥, the new energy sources✨ and the new tooling they could be working with👯 in order for them to extract as much value from their work as possible and stay as long as possible.

You won’t only get to keep them longer but see them flourish and add more value to the business than you could have ever imagined.