Comfort & Growth Cannot Coexist
While reading through Rovelli’s “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics”, (a great read if you’re searching for your next book, by the way), there was a story of the rivalry between Einstein and Bohr that resonated with me. There was a quote that captured the essence of what fueled both men’s success.
“When Einstein died, his greatest rival, Bohr, found for him words of moving admiration. When a few years later Bohr in turn died, someone took a photograph of the blackboard in his study. There’s a drawing on it. A picture of the “light-filled box” in Einstein’s thought experiment. To the very last, the desire to challenge oneself and understand more.”
Despite the momentous success that both men achieved throughout their careers, neither became complacent or lost the desire to continue learning. This is far easier said, than done. It’s human nature to yearn for comfort, familiarity, and consistency. But growth… growth is a disruptive, change agent, forcing you to venture outside of familiar territory and embrace ambiguity.
Professional athletes understand this best. They frequently alter their workout routines to avoid “plateau”, a phenomenon that occurs when the body adjusts to an exercise routine and then becomes unable to continue building muscle mass. The brain is no different, requiring similar stimulation. Career professionals too, must constantly recalibrate and take on new challenges to develop new skill sets. One of the most valuable lessons that high school and college seniors can learn before entering the workforce is that comfort and growth simply cannot coexist. Passion certainly has a shelf life, and no one (those entering the workforce or seasoned professionals) is impervious to hitting a plateau. In fact, I believe that those most at risk are people who have achieved repeated success. The temptation to take a long, mental hiatus begins to tug at you more than it previously did, and if you succumb to this pressure, the danger of complacency awaits. Bill Gates made this very clear when he stated that “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.”
So how do we avoid this plateau? We must continue to ask ourselves the following questions:
- “Am I being challenged in my current role”? If you’ve found that your responsibilities have become comfortable for you, then it may be time to take on new challenges. Seek out challenging projects that force you to learn new skills.
- “Where do I envision myself in five years and am I on a path to achieve it?” Recalibrating your plans from time-to-time and optimizing for success is critical to avoid career plateau.
- “Am I holding myself accountable, or waiting for someone else to push me to grow?” This can be a tough one for recent graduates, but try to take ownership of your personal & career development. There is no time like the present!