By Tina Checchia, MBA, RT(R)(CT)(MR)
At one point or another, we have all experienced feeling uncomfortable. Although people may define it differently, for me it is simply an intense feeling of uneasiness caused by an environment or a situation that exist beyond the walls of my comfort zone. It’s the grand slam homerun of negative, limiting emotions where all I want is to return to a place where I feel safe and secure.
Plenty of things make me feel uncomfortable. I am an introvert, so unfamiliar places filled with unfamiliar people excite my nerves in an unpleasant way. I attended my first AHRA Annual Meeting this year. I put my best foot forward and gave networking my all, but every day was a battle to silence the physical reaction that my body was having, as well as the negative riff raff that was going on inside of my head. That required a lot of energy, and I felt exhausted by the end of the conference. I am embarrassed, yet humbly willing to admit that I succumbed to my feelings of discomfort at the beach party. I receded to the bittersweet quietness of my hotel room within thirty minutes of “mingling.” Yes, I found comfort in Netflix that night.
Public speaking also turns my stomach upside down. The knots get tighter, and tighter, and even tighter inside, causing my anxiety levels to max out. My voice often cracks when I present which makes me sound like I am about to cry. I also have a habit of talking too fast and forgetting key points that I wanted to make during my presentation.
These are two personal examples of my “discomfort zone.” I have a long list of triggers. There are many common things that lead to that pesky feeling of discomfort for many people such as: starting a new job, losing a job, receiving praise, providing feedback, making a mistake, anything change related, the unknown, asking questions, and even Excel spreadsheets. Of course, there are many more precursors and everyone’s are different.
Many triggers are manageable because they are temporary. They are a brief trip into the uncomfortable, causing a few minutes to a few days of uneasiness. I learned that the combination of starting a new job, in a new role, at a new organization, surrounded by new people, led to a prolonged feeling of discomfort. I suddenly found myself in the “discomfort zone” every day.
Although I had expected things to be different on my new career path, I was not fully prepared for so many changes to hit at once. My management adjustment fostered the longest trip through the uncomfortable that I had ever experienced. In the beginning, it took an unfavorable toll on my identity. I was no longer the guru that I once was. No one looked up to me or respected me. I was literally starting over. I was not sure how or where I fit in. I was very new in my position, and I was vulnerable. My mind conjured up a number of escape routes, from returning to CT land as a technologist, to going back to school. (I now find it humorous how returning to school seemed less stressful than my new job at the time!) My insecurities also generated negative thoughts. Limiting words such as: can’t, failure, insignificant, and inadequate made their presence known, all of which were not true.
I realized that I could not run away from the uncomfortable and still reach my goals, so I embraced it. I listened to enough leadership podcasts and have attended plenty of seminars over the years that I knew every day of discomfort was an opportunity to learn and grow. After all, the real magic happens outside of the comfort zone. I am an avid exerciser and draw inspiration from Shaun T, a famous fitness expert and founder of the “Insanity” fitness program, and his infamous line: “dig deeper.” I can’t hide from my triggers, but I can develop them. I will network at this year’s AHRA Annual Meeting. I am scheduled to give a fifty minute presentation this February. Leadership is resilience and grit, and it requires mental toughness. Perseverance guided me through my career adjustment. Although my time in the “discomfort zone” was long, it was still temporary. Opting for an escape route would have been my biggest regret.
Every day I have a choice to be my biggest fan or my biggest critic. I choose fan. Every day I have the choice to be positive or negative. I choose positive because how I see myself today will shape the person I become tomorrow. Cynical words have no place in my vocabulary; how can I expect others to believe in me if I do not believe in myself? Ultimately, I want to unlock my potential, not inhibit it. I challenge all leaders to embrace the uncomfortable, to seize every opportunity to learn and grow, and to remember: You can! You will! You have the power to make a difference. Positivity is truly a powerful tool.
Tina Checchia, MBA, RT(R)(CT)(MR) is the imaging services manager at UPMC Pinnacle Memorial Hospital in York, PA. She can be reached at Tina.Checchia@pinnaclehealth.org.