In my previous posts, I shared the first of several themes that guide my personal and professional life – never stop learning. Today, I’d like to share with you the other that complements it – get outside your comfort zone. If you look up the definition of comfort zone, you’ll find a description along these lines:
1 :the temperature range within which one is comfortable
2 :the level at which one functions with ease and familiarity
In this comfortable state, there’s little stress and anxiety because it’s familiar, and we know what to expect. So why is this a bad thing? It’s not, unless you get too comfortable, and it’s holding you back from learning and growing. I’ve faced several points in my life where I knew I had reached a comfort level, and I had to choose to remain there or face the risk and uncertainty of a new possibility. No matter the uncomfortableness of the process, I knew I had to choose the latter because it would help me reach my professional goals. Most recently, this came in the form of a three-year international assignment to Beijing, China shortly after I joined Lenovo.
Some of my family and friends were supportive of the decision and some were not. Living in China challenged me and my family, especially the first year. I moved from Austin, Texas with a population of 1M people to Beijing, China with a population of 30 million and a place where English is not the primary language. Talk about embracing the unfamiliar – new to Lenovo and new to China.
While painful at times, I grew a lot during this journey. And I learned the most from little mistakes. For example, I assumed the culture I absorbed for 15 years at my previous company would be the same at Lenovo. I thought believing what made me successful in one place would make me successful in my new company. Through this experience I learned it’s ok to leverage past experiences, but not to let it get in the way of being open to new experiences and a different way of doing things.
My colleagues in China gave me some tough feedback. Within six months in the job, I received feedback that I was not a good listener, and I took action too quickly. My excitement to embrace opportunities and fix problems translated to others as dominating and controlling. While difficult to take because you know deep down it’s true, I learned to see feedback as a gift. I took feedback from my mentor Gina Qiao to slow down and build relationships first and then align stakeholders around ideas. I began to see issues from an Eastern lens while at the same time, I had real experiences from my Western lens. I now seek out raw, critical feedback as a way continually being mindful of how I interact with others, from other cultures.
My move to Beijing impacted my entire family, and I’m proud that the men in my life adjusted well. Of course, they faced obstacles in adjusting, but my boys are very competitive and like a challenge. Once we signed up and moved to China they knew we had to make it work for our family. At the end of our time there, we all felt like we accomplished so much – developed new friends in China who we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives, learned to speak conversational Mandarin, tolerated cold, snowy winters (a big adjustment coming from Texas) and broadened our understanding and respect for other cultures through experiencing authentic Chinese food and traveling across Asia.
By embracing risk and unfamiliar situations, I’ve been able to do something I never would imagine. I’ve even co-authored a book that incorporated my experiences in China and developing Lenovo’s culture framework. Despite the struggles and the feeling of discomfort when taking risk, I wouldn’t change my decision. I realize what may have felt like a struggle back then was necessary to get to where I am today and share some of the lessons I’ve learned along the way about getting out of your comfort zone.
- Travel if you can within and outside of the US to gain an understanding of other cultures and traditions.
- Diversify your friend group. I have a diverse set of friends representing various cultures – I partake in their celebrations, weddings, etc. I’ve attended Indian weddings and had so much fun dressing for the occasion. To me it makes life interesting.
- Share your culture heritage with others. My roots are from Louisiana, so I enjoy hosting Gumbo parties at my house with friends who’ve never experienced gumbo or Cajun food
- With risk, you may stumble, so fail fast, re-adjust and move forward.
- Go with your gut. For me, after I’ve analyzed and decided it’s the right opportunity and I still have that tinge of discomfort, I know I need to do it.