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Uncomfortable by choice

Anton, our newest intern at TandemLaunch, seems to be everywhere at once. No matter which room I poke my head into, I find him doing something in it. What sets him apart even in a company of multi-taskers is his willingness, even eagerness, to explore just about every functional area that we have: electronics assembly, investment due diligences, selling product and marketing just to name a few – in short, he seems obsessed with constantly finding new opportunities for discomfort. I will let him explain why:

At a recent business conference I sat among eager students and aspiring entrepreneurs as Mark Ruddock and Dan Debow paced the stage presenting tidbits of entrepreneurial wisdom. Naturally I took comprehensive notes, scribing down words as fast as they are both said and projected. Quite predictably I never looked at those notes again, but a single phrase stuck with me: “Get uncomfortable.”

The idea is that discomfort should not be an unintended effect but rather a goal in itself. Therefore it should not be avoided but rather pursued. My minor obsession with self-improvement literature and productivity blogs has filled my head with volumes of clichés and techniques. Not many of them have any value past the initial burst of motivation that one receives from reading them. For some reason, quite possibly a tendency towards masochism, the idea of deliberately pursuing discomfort stuck with me. Not only did the message remain at the forefront of my thoughts but it has actually changed some decisions. Before I dive into the personal stuff, let me answer why I think discomfort is important.

Discomfort is essentially a reaction to the unknown. When you enter a new environment, meet new people and make unprecedented decisions you begin to feel uncomfortable. I have no anthropological explanation but I doubt that there is a need for one. Some of the most uncomfortable experiences could be starting a new job, travelling to a new country, meeting your future in-laws and speaking publically. I’m sure you could have a pleasant enough life while avoiding those situations, albeit it will be a seemingly short life (more on that later.)

In the business world, discomfort is the key to innovation and improvement and is an absolute must. I would challenge anyone to find an entrepreneur who can claim that they sailed through their start-up. After attending numerous presentations, reading blogs and books on the subject, the most common sentiment among entrepreneurs seems to be “I was nervous and didn’t know how it’s all going to end up.” That certainly seems to be the experience of Mark Ruddock, Dan Debow and Helge Seetzen. Through my personal experiences I can assert that I wasn’t really working until I felt uncomfortable. Real work was accomplished when I was given a task that challenged me and forced me to expand the boundaries of what I’m capable of.

During my internship at TandemLaunch I have been immersed in a culture of discomfort. I assure you our building has air conditioning and the chairs are not made of wood. We even have such luxuries as an elevator and ample personal workspace. However, challenges like periodically working in the lab among engineers, attending various networking events as interns, and public speaking put you out of your element.  It’s rare that you are treated according to your title and work description. Quite honestly I was caught off guard but as I proceeded to embrace discomfort I began to feel more comfortable with being uncomfortable. My experiences have developed my abilities and confidence in my abilities. The next step logical step is to ramp it up and find new experiences that will again make you uncomfortable. My first suggestion is to disable the elevator, air conditioning and reduce our ample workspace.

Finally, I’ll reveal the connection between longer life and discomfort. That idea comes from your mind’s perception of time which is not linear as our clocks would have us believe. One period of time could be perceived short or long depending on your previous experiences. New experiences take longer for your mind to process and are thereby seemingly longer as they need to be organized and stored by your mind. Experiences that have a precedent already stored in your mind are processed much quicker and give the illusion of a shorter period of time passing. When you are uncomfortable and place yourself in new environments you seemingly live longer.

Since I heard “get uncomfortable”, not even four months ago, I moved cities, started a new job and began the process of switching universities. You could call it “self-improvement”, a desire for adventure or an attempt at immortality but embracing discomfort has had great effect on my career and personal life.

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