Every year starting in the 3rd grade my 4-H club and FFA chapter took a trip to rural Wasco County, Oregon for the Mid Columbia Junior Livestock Show. The primary reason for being in Tygh Valley in June was to show our pigs, sheep, and steers, but the best part was camping with our community.
My mom being the teacher meant I got to hang out with the high school kids. We'd go on early morning hikes, play football, make s'mores, and I'd spend an uncomfortable amount of time daydreaming about my first ever crush, Stacey.
Stacey was a sophomore and I was, well, a 3rd grader. Most people thought she was out of my league, but that didn't stop me from telling people I thought she was great.
One afternoon before the rodeo the high school boys catch me staring at Stacey and suggest I ask her out. My heart begins racing and I mumble, "I've never done that before." Being the mature, kind, thoughtful teenage boys they are, they tell me that if I want a chance that I've got to get out of my comfort zone. Then they let me in on the fact that Stacey speaks Spanish and loves hot foods. They give me a line to say in Spanish that includes the word "caliente" and tell me it means something along the lines of, "I like hot food. Will you go out with me?"
As I make my approach, I glance back at the boys for reassurance and find they can barely contain themselves. I naively think, "They must be excited for me."
I tap Stacey on the shoulder, she turns and my tongue feels like it weighs a thousand pounds. I quickly blurt out the phrase we'd rehearsed and she stares at me for a split second... and then slaps me across the face. It turns out that whatever I said to Stacey was NOT about hot food.
Growing up I was constantly encouraged to get out of my comfort zone, but not every "uncomfortable" experience proved valuable. That day in Tygh Valley it seemed as if all I did was offend someone I cared about and felt the literal pain of rejection.
From the perspective of the high school boys, it's not necessarily a bad thing for them to have encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone, but as the person of influence in the situation, they should have also set me up for success.
Unfortunately, in today's world the phrase, "I won't ask you to do anything you're not comfortable with," is becoming more and more common. We should be encouraging uncomfortable experiences because we know that is where growth occurs. However, before doing so we should ensure they are set up for success.
As a manager, teacher, parent, older sibling, or friend, we should be saying, "I will ask you to get uncomfortable, but I won't ask you to do anything you aren't set up to be successful at."
Are you pushing discomfort and challenge on those you're influencing for the sake of discomfort and challenge? Or are you giving them the tools to succeed and THEN pushing discomfort and challenge?
I still don't know what hurt worse, the sting of the slap or the betrayal I felt that day in Tygh Valley. What I do know is that if someone comes to me for advice on a crush, they may still get rejected, but they will at the very least be set up for success (and speak a language they understand).
Before encouraging discomfort, establish a definition of success. Before encouraging action, provide tools to help them succeed.
What experience do your kids, students, peers, or employees have coming up that you can equip them to be successful at?
"You cannot have faith in people unless you take action to improve and develop them." - Sumantra Ghoshal