Are you uncomfortable?

How would it feel if you are one of only a few males and find yourself surrounded by alpha females in a college cheerleading team, or get a job which you have no idea what you are supposed to do?

We always have to make choice, consciously or unconsciously, whether we should engage in challenges with a hope to make things better and learn something new or stay comfortably in the status quo. Anxious and frustrated, I ask myself what if I fail miserably and embarrass myself when I face such a choice. Indeed, raising my hand in a class surrounded by a bunch of smart people at the Stanford Graduate School of Business never feels comfortable to me. I always fight with a temptation to sit back and stay peacefully in the class. I hear my inner voice telling “get out of your comfort zone!” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Yet, exceptional achievers often tell us the importance of getting out of comfort zone. And I know it is always true. We cannot gain without pain.

Doug Melville, the Chief Diversity Officer of TBWA Worldwide, is certainly the person who thrived in uncertainties by learning to stay comfortable with being uncomfortable and successfully built his outstanding reputation. He was the first guest speaker of the class, “Reputation Management” lectured by JD Schramm and Allison Kluger, at the Stanford GSB. He is a big, confident gentleman and it was no brainer when he told that he used to play football at high school. And he became a male cheerleader at college. Wait,, what?? The story is this. When Doug took a tryout of the college football team, the coach recommended him to play for the cheerleading team instead of football. I can imagine that was a huge disappointment for a bullish teenager. Yet, he embraced the setback and actually joined the college cheerleading team, ending up to become a competitive all American male cheerleader. When he started to work in the music industry by chance, his first job was to work for a teenage girl he had no idea about as her tour manager. Within a few years, she became a star everyone knew about. Her name is Britney Spears. Later, he founded his own company. He got recruited as the president of Magic Johnson’s ad agency. And now he is Madison Avenue’s only male chief diversity officer.

His life is full of unexpected. And our life is also unpredictable too. Then, what led him to such a unique and successful path? Among seven lessons Doug shared with us, “be comfortable with being uncomfortable” resonated with me the most. While this advice was not very new one to me, his words struck me profoundly. Probably, it was because I could see that he stayed focused on the present through difficult times and did not give his way to anxiety to the future or regret about the past. I guess he did not feel 100% prepared when he took next steps in his career. Who could clearly define the job of chief diversity officer of a global advertising agency at the time when he was recruited for the position? Despite the uncertainty, he took the next step and enjoyed his journey. My intuition does not like being uncomfortable because it feels uncomfortable. This would lead me to choose an easier path unconsciously. In order to enjoy my journey and thrive in uncertainties, I will keep a small imaginary Doug in myself telling me that “Man, it’s ok. Just enjoy the ride.”