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January 19, 2020

How Doing the Hard Things Propels Growth

Lately, I’ve been reflecting on the last few years, thinking through how I got to where I am today. It was in this reflection that I realized that the biggest periods of growth for me were when I did the hard things, the things that were challenging and scary and uncomfortable.

There were situations that I let the fear get to me and I chose comfort over doing the hard things. It’s those situations that also stand out to me when I’m reflecting but it’s both the comfortable situations and the hard situations that I’m learning from so many years later.

First, I’ll share an example of choosing comfort. Where I grew up going off to college when you graduated from high school wasn’t a given or an expectation. What was more common was sticking around for a few years, maybe getting a 2-year associate degree or going straight into working at the mines or one of the local businesses and eventually moving out but remaining in the general area. I knew this wasn’t for me, I didn’t have much of a plan but I knew I wanted to go away to college and work in the business world. I ended up moving nearly 1,700 miles away to go to an aeronautical university for aviation computer science. I loved being on my own, living somewhere different, and figuring things out for myself. It wasn’t all great, I didn’t make many friends and I hadn’t quite figured out how to be a college student yet. The internal questioning started to come up during Christmas break. Coming back home for break I saw all my old friends living the same comfortable lives they were living when we were in high school. It all seemed so easy. I started to think that I could be happy doing that too. I didn’t have to push and work so hard to make it so far away, I could move back, transfer to a local university, get a job nearby and be comfortable. So, I let the fear and desire for comfort drive me, I transferred to a school closer to home. Shortly after doing this I knew I’d chickened out; I’d caved to my fear. But I don’t regret the decision, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I’d done something different.

On the flip side, there are many instances where I did the hard things and really grew from them.

In my mid-20’s I decided to get my pilot’s license. The bug hit when I was attending the aeronautical university in Florida and was surrounded by pilots and aviation. I loved the mechanical aspect of it, learning about the physics, weather, and regulations, and the freedom flying can bring. There was also the idea of seeing new places and traveling that was appealing. A lot that was tough about getting my pilot’s license though. It took me longer than most to get it and I had a few barriers to work through like motion sickness, fear and being a female in a male-dominated field. There were setbacks too, learning to land was difficult and failing at my first attempt at obtaining my license was devastating. I stuck with it though and didn’t let the fear or setbacks prevent me from eventually getting my license. While I no longer fly, I still love it and will eventually get back into it.

Another example of choosing the hard things was when I was in the corporate world. I’d started off in analytical roles where I lived and breathed data and spreadsheets. It was great, I didn’t have to deal much with people and wasn’t influencing or selling them on something. But I realized that by only focusing on the analytical side I was holding myself back from climbing the corporate ladder. It was at this point that I decided to step way out of my comfort zone and become more well-rounded by moving into a position focused much more on the people aspect. Becoming a project manager, teaching, and coaching others how to manage projects put me directly in touch with working closely with individuals and groups. My family thought I was crazy to take on this role, they questioned my decision and were certain I would hate it. But I was determined to do this and while I struggled at first, I believe this is what eventually led me to my purpose and passion, life coaching.

One final example of where doing the hard things propelled growth is starting my own business which so far has been the biggest and most rewarding challenge I’ve experienced. There was so much self-doubt and uncomfortableness taking this leap. What if I fail? What if people give me negative feedback or don’t like me? All of these things came into play, but I persevered and kept going because I knew in my heart this is what I wanted, this is what I was meant to do and how I was meant to use my gifts.

What I’ve taken from both the times I’ve chosen comfort and the times I’ve done the hard things are these things:

  • Practice fear-setting and really examine your fear. This is something I wished I had known about when I was at those critical decision points in life. When you’re choosing comfort it’s oftentimes because you fear the discomfort. The fear-setting exercise is something Tim Ferriss, the highly successful author and podcast host, had practiced when he was at a pivotal point in his life. You can learn more about the exercise here however the basic idea is that you define your fear, consider all the benefits of taking action and all the consequences of not taking action.
  • Take the first step, just the next immediate step. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by all you need to do or all the things that could go wrong. Just get started and once you get past that first step move to the very next one. This can help you feel like you don’t have to take on everything at once. It can also build up your confidence and resiliency.
  • Without the downs, there can be no ups. Realize that you will have ups and downs, it won’t all be amazing and forward progress. Learn to persevere and keep your focus on the ultimate goal. Examine what you learned from the missteps and stumbles. How can you leverage that later or elsewhere in your life?
  • Find a community of people you can lean on. Leverage those that are either going through what you’ve gone through or have been where you are. Your family and friends may be able to help but by finding people in similar situations you can learn from each other and have people to look up to. I’ve found this especially important when I was learning to fly and starting my own business. While learning to fly I joined a women in aviation group and had also had supportive pilots around me that took me under their wing (no pun intended!). When starting my business had coaches and aspiring coaches to help guide me, make suggestions and just listen to me.

I think if others reflected back on their lives, they would find the same things too. Where have you let fear hold you back? Where have you pushed through that fear, put yourself out there, done the hard things, and grew?

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Leah Masonick  |  Contribution: 340