Comfortable being uncomfortable | Marshall Shen

Comfortable being uncomfortable

Comfortable being uncomfortable

It’s my first engineering staff meeting. I am presenting a new sprint planning process. The small engineering team looks at me for direction. I have a vision on how to plan engineering work. However, whether it works remains to be tested, especially in an all-virtual environment. I know that I don’t have all the answers, but I am determined to listen and gather feedback to improve the process.

Such is a typical day for a technical leader. Every day new situations arise, and leaders must make decisions. Every day I stretch myself in uncomfortable ways, and every day I’m trying something or something new. That uncomfortable feeling is a sign of growth, and my attitude towards that uncomfortable feeling reflects my journey as a technical leader.

At first, I noticed the uncomfortable feeling. For example, we need a new security practice for the whole engineering team. It’s a big subject, and I don’t have a methodology to approach it right away. I get that uncomfortable feeling. Another example, I started to tackle a situation, maybe it’s an interpersonal issue. I realized that I didn’t receive the result that I expected. Something is missing, and I’m not sure what. My head tells me that I did the right thing, but my heart tells me something is off. I had to confront a challenging situation but feel unsure about executing what I think is right. At first, when I noticed more of that uncomfortable feeling, and my instinct was to fight it — I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable. The primal survival instinct is to feel comfortable. However, from the lens of a logical self, I also know that the uncomfortable feeling is essential for growth — no pain, no gain. Over time, the higher level me think deeper about those ever more frequent uncomfortable feelings.

Now, I accept those uncomfortable moments and reflect deeper on them. What do those moments have in common? What are the lessons I can learn from them? Struggling is part of being a leader — being a leader is not about trying to be perfect or be right all the time. Being a leader means having a clear vision, communicate that vision, and execute on that vision. There will be mistakes, but it’s about how I respond to those mistakes - being transparent and vulnerable and take action by learning from those mistakes, that truly defines my character as a leader.

The stage I’m working towards is to embrace uncomfortable feelings like an athlete who seek challenging workouts to be stronger and better. It means to be genuinely excited about the opportunity to be uncomfortable and see those moments that shape technical leadership as a privilege, not an obstacle.

To go through these different stages of being a technical leader, I know that I can’t do this alone. I will also turn to my team with a deep sense of gratitude, treasure the opportunity to work with a great team and keep growing by learning from each other.