We all make choices when it comes to how hard we push ourselves in life and work. Sometimes obstacles blindside us, and other times we intentionally place step into them in an effort to strengthen our already amazing superpowers.
Personally, I’ve faced some positive challenges (aka change), such as job promotions and becoming a family of 4. Mostly, though, they’ve been unplanned and unexpected. Hurdles I’ve faced range from difficult conversations that came back to bite me, a corporate structure that was hard to navigate, and figuring out how to stay relevant in an increasingly digitally focused world. The list goes on. As Murphy’s Law would have it, things tend to happen all at once. It’s natural to want withdraw in hopes that you’ll wake up and POOF, you have all the answers. However, when I decided to invite struggles in and embrace them for what they were, I overcame and learned something along the way.
By intentionally forcing change, it’s my experience that we improve our ability to face what comes at us unexpectedly. Struggle doesn’t have to be perceived as negative. While it can be uncomfortable, time consuming, or at the bottom of your “to do” list, when you take the reins intentionally, you get to write your own story.
Here are five ways to invite struggle in professionally.
1.    Challenge yourself to learn something new. COVID was destructive for so many reasons, but one thing it improved was our ability to take advantage of digital learning. I learned that there is an online certificate program for just about anything you don’t know. Think about which course will benefit you most, ask for your company to pay for it, and find the time to crush it! When my company began to focus on becoming a digitally enabled consulting firm, I was initially paralyzed by my lack of digital IQ. I could barely spell “cloud,” and please don’t ask me to write a line of code. My fear stemmed from what I didn’t know. After wasting too much time wondering what would happen if I didn’t get on board, I signed up for MIT’s digital business strategy certificate and absolutely loved it. The course was something different than my day-to-day, I got to meet some incredible people, and I learned enough to be confident in my ability to lead in this digital revolution.
“Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.” — Chinese Proverb
2.    Schedule a meeting with someone you’ve wanted to meet or have been avoiding. In our world, networking is of utmost importance, but it can be daunting. Over time, I’ve gotten more comfortable reaching out to strangers simply because I’d like to meet them and letting them know I’d like to learn something from them. On the other hand, there are people I’ve avoided for various reasons, but when I finally sat down to talk, I felt lighter. Human connections are key, yet putting yourself out there can be a struggle, especially when you’re an introvert like me (introverted extrovert to be exact). I challenge you to reach out to one new person each week, or even month, and see what happens. If someone doesn’t respond, that’s their loss. Alternatively, reach out to a friend in accounting just to see how they are doing – you never know how a simple “hello” can positively impact someone.
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
3.    Take a hard workout class. Ok, ok this might not appear to be work related, but if there’s one thing I know: what I do on my Peloton translates into what I do at work. Every Monday, I take a 60-minute tread bootcamp class because it is the hardest workout that they offer. My ability to complete that workout gives me confidence to crush my week. Finding the time to push myself to try something hard is daunting, but I promise you it will be worth an early wakeup time. Start small, 15 minutes a day, and see how your workday mindset improves.
“We don’t get better at what we don’t attempt” - Robin Arzón
4.    Listen more. “Listen” is a word that can be a real effort. As powerful women, we know a lot. We’ve learned a lot (see #1 above). We’ve been through a lot and naturally have a lot to say. But over the past year, I’ve learned that by intentionally switching gears from know-it-all to a learn-it-all is powerful. CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella’s philosophy on a growth mindset is, “If you take two kids at school, one of them has more innate capability, but is a know-it-all. The other person has less innate capability but is a learn-it-all. The learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all.” This resonated with me because while it can be hard to silence yourself, listening and learning will push you so much farther at times. Take the time to figure out when you need to use your voice and be comfortable in knowing that silence really can be golden.
“The learn-it-all does better than the know-it-all.” – Satya Nadella
5.    Take risks and fail forward. I’m lucky to work at a company that encourages failure. Taking risks is better than never trying, but it’s a mindset that you must work towards. If you are in a position to positively impact culture, I encourage you to create a culture of failing forward and embrace this concept yourself. When you’ve been so successful, risking that success can be scary. Start small – propose an idea you’ve had on your mind for a while, apply for the job you may not be ready for, or sign up for that morning workout class even if you have to walk instead of run. Your failure is your gain – you will always learn something about yourself in the process.
“Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success.” -Dale Carnegie
One last Peloton quote – “You can be a work in progress and a masterpiece at the same time.” Push yourself and scare yourself a little bit each day and before you know it, that intentional struggle will produce a beautiful diamond (ok, corny references done for now). Share the one thing you tried with me on LinkedIn!