Your Discomfort Is Your Path
By Brett Steenbarger
No one has ever grown by staying inside their comfort zones.
If you want to develop as a student—and as a future professional—you have to ask yourself how you want to become uncomfortable.
That’s exactly what we do when we go to the gym. If we keep the treadmill at the same settings or lift the same weight each day and week, we never grow our aerobic fitness or strength. If we want to change, we need to challenge ourselves. And that can be really uncomfortable.
An overseas internship, whether it’s virtual or live, is guaranteed to push our boundaries. Working in a new organization within a new culture means we have to draw on fresh strengths and communicate in novel ways. One reason we put so much effort into finding the right work and cultural placement for each student is that we want to create the right challenges for them. Just as a personal trainer develops the optimal exercise routines to develop your fitness, we help students exercise the competencies that will build their careers.
As Director of Student Development, it’s important that I walk the walk. If I’m not uncomfortable in teaching interns, I’m stagnating—and that would role-model all the wrong things. During this past cycle of live workshops, I asked a former intern, Sherrine Boseman-Rives, to join me as a co-instructor. We had never taught together, but I was convinced that adding a fresh voice to the workshops—a voice from an adult learner experienced with cultures, a female voice, a Black voice—would add richness to the learning experience. I have not been disappointed. Sherrine has brought exercises and perspectives to the seminars that I would have never come up with.
But it’s uncomfortable! Coordinating two voices is a new thing, just as teaching via Zoom and incorporating student voices is quite new. I’ve been on the medical school faculty at SUNY Upstate Medical University since 1985. Nothing would be easier than doing lectures to interns via Zoom. But will I grow staying in that comfort zone? Will the students benefit if my comfort comes at the expense of learning from multiple perspectives? One of the things I love about the recent classes is that Sherrine has been willing to step out of her student role and teach for the first time. Her embrace of discomfort has been an inspiration for me and it’s a great role-modeling for students.
So, how are you making yourself uncomfortable today? How are you going to break a sweat and push your boundaries? In life, as in the gym, if we don’t use it, we lose it. We either move forward in discomfort or stagnate comfortably.