The Value of Being Uncomfortable
As I have progressed through my career there are definitely moments or periods when I could feel myself growing and learning. I have made a concerted effort at pushing myself beyond my comfort zone as much as possible because I truly believe it leads to more growth and learning at a faster pace. For example, I have volunteered to look into problems that I wasn't sure I could solve at the time, which can be an uncomfortable feeling. The problems have ranged from high-priority issues to long-standing bugs that required another set of eyes. Ultimately I don't think I gained the most from actually solving the problems themselves, more so from the journey to the solution. Putting myself outside of my comfort zone and committing to solving a problem that I needed to learn about to solve has led to two outcomes in my experience.
- I'm surprised by my ability to solve the problem successfully
- I learn a lot along the way
Let's talk about each of these outcomes in a little more detail. The first outcome of being surprised by one's ability occurs in situations where previous experience or knowledge contributes to developing a solution. This may not be direct experience or knowledge and instead the ability to effectively piece adjacent tidbits together to form a solution to a completely new problem. I can't say this outcome is the most common, but it has happened to me on several occasions.
The second outcome of simply learning a lot along the way is a little open-ended. In this outcome, a solution isn't guaranteed. We may come up against a problem that is out of our reach or requires contextual domain knowledge that we don't have yet. Even in cases where the problem isn't solved, so much can be learned along the way if approached with the right mindset. Getting outside of our comfort zone and into a situation where challenges are being faced at every step will inherently lead to learning new things. This new knowledge and skill can then be applied to the next problem and so on.
The main point I'd like to call out here is that neither of these outcomes is negative. Feeling uncomfortable isn't always fun and it can be challenging at the moment, but no matter the outcome we should be equipped with additional knowledge or skills that we didn't have before stepping out of our comfort zone.
A lot of this may seem obvious so far, but I can tell you that it is easy to get overly comfortable in a role to the point where challenges seem like roadblocks instead of hurdles to be overcome. With that being said, I think there are times when stepping out of your comfort zone may not be the best idea for the given situation. For example, in times when tight external deadlines or pressure are being placed on the team or individual. While I think there is still a lot of room for growth in this situation, it may be best to take a supporting role especially if there are others who are well-positioned to tackle the problem. In a case where others are well suited to take on the project, it may be best to view it as a learning opportunity. How does this experienced engineer approach these problems and what leads to their success and failure? These can all be learned along the way in a supportive role. In cases when there aren't others well suited to take on the problem, that is when we can step up and take the risk. As I said there are likely two outcomes with this risk-taking and neither of them is negative.
The world of software and technology is expansive and offers endless opportunities for us to learn and grow. This is what I love about my career and the best way that I have found to take advantage of this fact is by operating at the edges of my ability. Continually be willing to feel uncomfortable to grow personally and help the teams that I work with achieve success in whatever challenges we are facing.