It’s Monday morning. Tonight, the music director of a community chorus I belong to is taking away our music. We will have to rehearse for the first time without looking at either the words or the music.
I am in a panic. I struggle mightily to memorize anything. Always have. Picturing myself spending the evening singing the wrong notes, at the wrong time with the wrong words makes me extremely uncomfortable: embarrassed, awkward, humiliated, and ashamed. I am not only worried that other chorus members will think I’m a slacker, but also that I might ruin the performance or worse, that I don’t have what it takes to be a chorus member.
Thoughts race through my head. I consider resigning before the rehearsal and not going, but that would mean I’m a quitter. Moreover, I would be excluding myself. Next, I get angry. Why can’t the director give up memorizing so we can use our music—or at least give up a cappella (i.e., no accompaniment to hide behind)? Then, I list my excuses like: I was too busy; my piano is broken; or I lost my glasses and couldn’t read the notes.
Deep down though, I know everyone would see my excuses as defensive, trying to avoid the fact that I let them down. They might write me off as unreliable…and rightfully so. It’s true; I didn’t do what was expected of me. I didn’t practice enough (and/or I’m musically deficient). I think about calling in sick, but then I’d miss a rehearsal and get further away from memorizing the music.
What to Do?
The answer for me, as it so often should be especially in the workplace, is to go and face the music—in this case, literally! I needed to embrace the discomfort of feeling unprepared. Why? Because having to sing without the music will help me memorize and learn the music better.
Notice the process I went through to come to the decision to accept the consequences? It involves the primitive fight or flight reaction (and/or freeze) aspects of grief (loss of comfort/safety) and a decision. First, my brain wanted to flee and avoid the inevitable discomfort at all costs. Then, I froze, unable to make any decisions. Finally, I felt anger and shades of blame at the director, which was followed by bargaining, rationalizing, and making excuses. Finally, I made the decision to engage the discomfort.
Why? I want to experience the joy of performing and the only path to that is going to the rehearsal. The second reason was more basic, even primitive. I needed to feel included—one of the most basic human needs. Once we realize inclusion and mastery can only be achieved by “facing the music,” we open ourselves up to the joy of performing well, whether it’s in a chorus or on your team at work.
Embracing Discomfort in the Workplace–or Anyplace
Physical trainers will often tell their clients, “No pain, no gain.” It’s true in more things than just bench presses and squat thrusts, however. It’s the same in the workplace only more so. Whatever it is that we’re uncomfortable about—feeling guilty for late paperwork, embarrassed about the poor job we did, afraid to speak up in meetings, anxious around conflict, terrified of public speaking—those are the areas where we need to embrace and engage the discomfort.
Embracing discomfort is the path to personal growth. We so often miss this awareness in the workplace. The only path to performing well is moving through the discomfort to reach mastery.
Ask yourself what discomfort are you avoiding and how are you going to face the music? Accept the discomfort for what it is, and you might discover the gain is definitely worth the pain.