Uncomfortable? Bear with it

Image: Ann-Marie Duff (as Violet Miller) in the movie Suffragette.

When one winter Tuesday at rush hour the PATH train arrived in the WTC station more than 20 minutes late, the hundreds of passengers crowding the platform quickly filled it up. We all made our way into the cars the best we could, adapting our bodies, coats and bags Tetris-style so that everybody could leave the station.

A woman in her 30’s was standing next to me. She faced her partner, a tall man who was leaning on the wall between the door and a seat. He was holding her arm. She wasn’t carrying any purse or bag.

When the doors were about to close, a young woman with a bulky backpack entered the train. I moved aside to make room for her. The doors closed and the woman aimed at a pole to secure herself before the train started.

Her arm brushed the head of the woman standing next to me, who, in order to avoid the other woman’s arm, needed to cock her head forward. She said, “Ouch!” and looked back at her. “Take your arm off this pole! I can’t move my neck!”

She could. Only she was uncomfortable. Like everyone else on the train.

I’ve seen women display this type of behavior many times and I believe this low tolerance of discomfort gets in their way to leadership.

Here are five reasons why.

1. It takes pain to grow

Lobsters know they need a new shell when the old one is so tight that it hurts. They then shed it and grow a new, larger one.

You can’t grow unless you’re able to tolerate some discomfort.

2. It takes pain to persevere

You know that the only way to succeed in something is to do it over and over again. How many blank pages must the writer cover and shred before she can publish a good piece? How many ‘noes’ must she hear before she hears a ‘yes?’

But what happens if you can’t endure the pain of hearing ‘no?’ You quit.

3. It takes pain to be bold

The bold are not the ones who don’t fear but those who can endure the pain of being afraid.

4. It takes pain to be honest

Sometimes the truth is ugly and hurts. And sometimes we don’t want to hurt other people and so, we don’t tell them the truth.

But who are we helping? Them, or ourselves?

Are you able to bear with the unease of hurting other people, even if it’s for their own benefit?

Are you able to speak the truth to power even when doing so puts you at risk–of losing your job or losing your boss’s favor?

5. It takes pain to care

When the Deepwater Horizon gushed billions of tons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, or when the oil tanker MV Prestige sank off the coast of Galicia, Spain, people from many different places went there to help.

They put their lives on hold for a while. It was dangerous for their health, it was difficult, and it was painful. And for many, there was nothing in it for them.

But they cared.

0. It takes pain to be beautiful

Unfortunately, women oftentimes focus on the wrong pains.

Society tells them they need to be beautiful in order to succeed, so they get used to taking the pain–consider the high heels, the time spent putting their makeup on and doing their hair, the discomfort of using their hands with long, decorated fingernails.

But taking this pain is not worth it. Nor is it trying to be perfect, pleasing everyone, avoiding disagreements or eschewing conflict.

That Tuesday on the PATH train, the objective was to leave the station. Enduring some discomfort was necessary to accomplish it.

Look at your goals and decide which pains you need to put up with and then, stick to your decision and trust yourself. As a powerful leader told me recently, “Trust that you’re gonna be fine.”

She was a woman.


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