This post is one of the first in a new series that I call "Soft Skills for Hard Time; How to be Your Best When the Economy is a Mess". My goal is to get you to appreciate that your security comes from you and you can increase your security and value to the marketplace by investing in your soft skills.
Given the choice, many of us orient to comfort as a primary objective. Our natural tendency is to try to make ourselves comfortable. This is counter to what is actually good for us for our own growth and our own long term job security.
This post is very closely related to my previous (The Sum of All Fears = Stunted Growth). As mentioned in that previous item, I have found that I grew the most when I pushed through my fear or put myself in tough situations. Conversely, when I was comfortable in a job, such as at IBM, I was not learning and growing. And more importantly, not adding as much value to my customers.
So I have learned that for me, feelings of comfort and familiarity are not desirable, in fact, they are dangerous to my career. That is one of the reasons that I grew to love project management so much – projects have a beginning and an end. Even long projects will come to an end and I will need to seek out something new.
Think about what happened with Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars movie. Was he living up to his potential on that remote planet with his Aunt and Uncle? No; he was destined to be a star figher and a Jedi Knight. But what did it take for him to leave his sleepy home planet and join the resistance? He was forced to do this when his enemies killed his family and burned his home. They had essentially burned his boats behind him leaving him little choice but to move forward, out of his comfort zone.
A parallel for me is when I left very comfortable consulting positions because I recognized that I was no longer being challenged. I have done this three times in the last six years. In two cases, I even left those comfortable PM consulting engagements without having another engagement lined up! I literally left the projects without having another job. Here is the irony – in both of these cases, the very next opportunity I landed were the best two opportunities of my career. These two projects remain the highlights of my career and my resume. If I hadn’t quit the comfortable jobs, I would not have landed either of these great projects. This was essentially burning my boats behind me – quitting these jobs without having an alternative.
The choice is obvious then if you want to grow as a project manager and a leader and to become more valuable to your employer and customers. You need to stop seeking comfort. You may even need to push yourself out of your comfort zone even to the point where you are burning your boats boats behind you (though stopping short of killing your family of course).
What is it you are most afraid of losing right now? Do you have a comfortable management position with a safe and stable company? I have come to believe that our security comes from our capabilities and our resume, not from our employers or our stock accounts. Your comfortable position with a large stable company may actually put you more at risk than those of us who are uncomfortable on a daily basis on our consulting engagements.
You may have heard of the list of 100 Lessons Learned for Project Managers that was written by Jerry Madden, former Flight Director of the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. In his list of 100 lessons, Madden makes the following point about comfortable project managers:
“A comfortable project manager is one waiting for his next assignment or one on the verge of failure. Security is not normal to project management.”
Instead of seeking comfort, we should seek our own satisfaction. In every situation, we should be monitoring our own level of satisfaction and using that as an internal gauge for whether we are doing the right thing. My mentor Rich Blue calls this going for our 100% satisfaction. If you seek to get 100% satisfaction out of every meeting, presentation, project assignment, and workshop, you won’t have to worry about feeling comfortable. Being satisfied is a higher value than being comfortable.
- Evaluate, on a scale of 1 to 10, how comfortable you are in your current position? Is your comfort justified? What is the cost?
- On that same scale, what is your level of satisfaction with your current job?
- What are the boats that you need to burn? What is it that you have that keeps you from going for more?