Have you ever found yourself standing on the precipice of something new and exciting, only to be held back by the unnerving discomfort of the unknown? Often, we are our own greatest adversaries, retreating into our comfort zones rather than daring to venture beyond.
How do we defy the status quo, to willingly step into “preferred discomforts,” thereby enriching our personal and professional lives?
What do I mean by “Preferred Discomfort”?
Leaning into a preferred discomfort, is the act of purposefully choosing experiences that push our boundaries and broaden our horizons. It is an understanding of the inherent value in leaning into challenges, facing fears, and emerging stronger on the other side. It demands an interrogation of our fears, an assessment of our bandwidth for discomfort without straying too far from our core. What do you dread yet oddly feel a thrill at the prospect of? Public speaking? Leading a team?
A Life Lived in Preferred Discomfort
Drawing from my own life, I can recall profound instances of growth following considerable discomfort. Here are just a few:
- Being an 11-year-old girl, battling against a gender stereotype. I auditioned for, and secured, the lead role of “Rooster,” traditionally a boys’ part, in our school’s end-of-year production, “Rooster Rag”. This early experience instilled a belief in me – we are limited only by the boundaries we set for ourselves.
- At a crossroads of my life, temporarily leaving law school and boarding a plane to Madrid, alone to teach business English, learn Spanish, and immerse myself in a different culture. It was a journey of self-discovery, as I encountered unique individuals, learned street Castellano, and met my life partner amidst the vibrant Spanish life.
- Upon qualifying as a lawyer, side-stepping the established, safe roles for an opportunity to head up a new department in an emerging area of law. Embracing the discomfort allowed me to build a successful department, helping clients, adding value to the firm, and providing opportunities for others.
- Going against the Firm’s status quo of hosting select events where typically, only male lawyers and clients would attend. I questioned the status quo of ‘men-only’ client events, challenged the norm and attended these events myself, paving the way for future female attendees. The act of standing against inequality resonated with my deeper purpose.
- Starting a new business and showing up as my whole self: business owner, lawyer, ambitious woman, wife and mother. Earlier, I’d suppressed my multifaceted identity to conform to professional expectations. It not only felt healthier but also inspired confidence in those around me.
Embrace Your Preferred Discomfort
Each of these instances of preferred discomfort served to shape me for the better and led to growth, learning, and invigoration. They taught me to listen to my inner voice and challenge norms, pushing my boundaries little by little, without performing acts or tasks entirely outside of my core. With each step, I discovered another piece of my potential.
If we have the privilege of choosing between the roles of comfort and roles of courage, our deepest potential invariably lies in the latter. Embarking on a journey of preferred discomfort requires us to grapple with our fears, face the unknown and in so doing, we give ourselves permission to grow.
So what will your next act of preferred discomfort be?
Author: Niki Avraam
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About Niki: Niki started in employment and discrimination law, challenging the status quo of the legal industry through her own brand of entrepreneurial lawyering. Her unconventional path through law led Niki to build legal divisions in larger firms, before launching her own firm, Howat Avraam, with her friend a decade ago. They had a clear vision not just to redefine how clients are served but to fundamentally reshape how a workforce operates and engages.