We learn the most when we are engaged in the status quo, the mundane of everyday life. Said no one ever!
It is when we are knee-deep in challenge, controversy, or adversity that we learn the most. As Kouzes and Posner say, “Challenge is the crucible for greatness.” In my work, I continuously hear examples of when people are at their best. Without fail, it’s when they have waded through the muck of a challenge. Here are some ideas on how to surprise yourself and leverage the uncomfortable situations you experience.
1. Put yourself in tough situations. If someone volunteers you for something you don’t think you can do, it’s highly likely that they have the confidence in you. Go ahead and do it! If there is a daunting challenge you think you want to engage in, but are afraid, do it. If you end up hating it, at least you can use it as a learning experience (see #5 below). But, without a doubt, you will grow in the process.
2. Get to know someone you butt heads with. I often hear people say something like this : “I didn’t really ‘get’ what Karen was all about, but spending the day together has really helped me understand her world better.” (Hugs all around.) Figure out a way to be in a situation where you can get to know this person – ask about their family, what they value, what they enjoy. If successful, you will have a much better experience in this part of your life. If not, see #5.
3. Go to that training session or professional meeting even though you are swamped. When you are referred to a great training session or association meeting, go to it! When you get outside of your normal environs, you can bring so much more energy and insight to your team. This is the time and space where you have more than 15 minutes to reflect and contemplate – use it to push yourself and have the courage to implement it.
4. Attempt something you truly believe you can’t. One thing that we know leaders are bad at is inspiring a shared vision of the future. It’s a critical to inspire hope by providing a vision, but we just don’t practice this skill. I’ve seen hundreds say they just cannot (or won’t) do this. And hundreds have succeeded at it when given a few simple tools. (Try this: describe the sights, sounds and tastes of your favorite vacation spot to someone. Now, you’ve used the skills needed to inspire!) Try and fail at something? That’s still a builder of experience, so go for it.
5. Ask yourself what you can learn from the failures and successes in your life. When I was barely 30, I was asked to go to Tokyo to a new acquisition in my company to help assess their leadership training needs. I was terrified about the solo travel and the assignment. When I got there, the leader asked “What the (insert expletive) are you doing here?” They really weren’t ready for the project, and nothing came of my short time in Tokyo. So, what did I learn: when challenged with something you think you can’t do, take a deep breath and go forth (see #1 above). It’ll all be okay in the end. (And if you can access a Japanese bathtub, it will calm you from all the stresses that 1-5 above create.)
You never know what you can learn when you challenge yourself. New experiences, new challenges: take them on and learn.