Growth

A series on the Faithlife core values: Honesty. Openness. Awesomeness. Growth. Initiative. Elegance. Shipping.

We spend a lot of years preparing to be ‘all grown-up.’ Childhood is focused on learning and growth and experiences in preparation for becoming ‘an adult.’

The artificial milestones of graduation ceremonies and significant birthdays at 18 and 21 only serve to reinforce the bright-line distinction between ‘growing child’ and ‘grown-up adult.’

And all too often there is a huge distinction. After two decades of constant growth and learning, some people pass a milestone like graduation and immediately transition into a completely different life as an adult: they not only stop growing physically, they stop growing intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally as well.

Why? Why would people spend 20 years in constant growth and learning and then stop suddenly?

Because growth hurts. It hurts our minds, like how you felt your brain was being physically stretched as you tried to master a new type of math or science. It hurts our bodies, like when you fell while learning to ride a bicycle or breathed-in water while learning to swim. And it hurts our pride, like when you were laughed at while struggling with a foreign language or learning a new sport. We all suffered trauma in our childhood that shaped who we are today. We jokingly call much of that trauma ‘a learning experience’, but the strongest lesson taught is ‘avoid that pain.’

As children, we can’t avoid the pain of growth: parents, teachers, and the world-at-large all conspired to force us through an endless gauntlet of painful learning experiences. Until suddenly, one day, we walk across a stage and are handed a diploma and freedom, and realize that no one is going to daily force us through uncomfortable growth experiences any more.

And so we seek comfortable positions, in our lives and careers, where we know the rules, can get along easily, and can generally minimize the pain and embarrassment of learning new things.

And that is okay.

You don’t have to learn everything. In school you have to learn what someone else decides is important. In life you can choose what you want to learn, and can even choose to quit a job that would require an uncomfortable amount of growth.

I have chosen not to learn another language. I took a language in high school; I tried to learn a few on my own. But I was unwilling to put in the effort and pay the price in time and discomfort. So one day I explicitly chose to take it off my list of goals.

I did choose, intentionally, to learn to appreciate as many ethnic cuisines as possible. I’ve repeatedly eaten some unappetizing things. I’ve developed a taste for things I once found disgusting. But I have chosen to draw the line at insects: I am confident I could learn to appreciate the grilled skewers of insects in the Chinese food market, but I don’t want to suffer the discomfort of getting there; I don’t value the resulting growth enough.

All our fears about learning and growing are true: It does hurt. It does take time. It is uncomfortable.

But there are great rewards for suffering the pain: A sense of accomplishment. Recognition and respect from others. Enjoyable experiences. Richer relationships. Better financial compensation. Superior skills and abilities.

I travel a lot, and I know that speaking only English means that I am missing out on some great experiences. My business and personal relationships with people in other countries are not as rich as they could be. But in light of what my business is, where my travels are, and what I enjoy, I am okay with that trade-off.

I do, however, want to lead a business. From early on I wanted to be an entrepreneur. And I didn’t know how to do it. And I saw that it required skills I didn’t have. And I realized that business is something that is constantly changing, and that leading a business would require not just mastering a fixed set of skills, but continually learning and trying new things over and over. And I signed up for the hard work and the pain.

I still read and study. I attend educational events. I take factory tours, interview other business people, and force myself to grow through uncomfortable experiences like learning to speak in front of a crowd and to ask for a sale – things I was terribly afraid of at the start.

Growth is not a job requirement in many jobs. Many businesses want employees to do what they’re told, and to do it exactly the same way every day. They value consistency over creativity, and need only a small number of growth-minded individuals to staff occasional openings in management.

Faithlife is not one of those businesses. We value growth, and we are constantly growing as an organization. We need growth-minded people every day. We don’t have a business where consistency is more valuable than creativity.

McDonald’s wants the same fry, cooked the same way, with the same potatoes, every day, everywhere, forever. Faithlife is a technology business; we need to be improving constantly.

I could extol the benefits of growth in general – it really is great to enjoy a dozen exotic cuisines! Learning another language opens up a new world of experiences and friendships! But the growth that Faithlife needs and expects from you is specifically related to our business.

Faithlife is a growing business in a changing market. Next year we will need different skills than we need this year. We will need competency with tools and technologies that may not even exist yet. We will need people who understand our customers, products, and company and can lead others. We will need new ideas for products and services to offer our customers, and we will need new customers.

I hope you are one of the people who will be able to help us grow and continue to do excellent work at the next level.

Are you?

Are you growing? Are you learning new things? Are you developing new skills?

Most importantly, are you uncomfortable? Because that’s the real sign that you are growing. And once you understand that the discomfort is a normal, natural part of growing you can learn to embrace it. You know that it’s uncomfortable when you try to do or learn something new, and you know the discomfort goes away once you master the new thing. Then you can seek out a new level of discomfort in another area of incompetence, knowing that the satisfaction and relief of competence is sure to follow. It’s a virtuous set of stair-steps up towards higher knowledge and competency – and, in the workplace, promotions, advancement, and better compensation.

How to Grow at Faithlife

  1. Are you reading a book a month? If not, your career prospects are dimming. Top leaders average at least a book a week. (Seriously. See http://www.n2growth.com/blog/the-learning-ceo/ and http://lgdata.s3-website-us-east-1.amazonaws.com/docs/2215/699282/CMC-White-Letter-4-12.pdf)
  2. Write an email or blog post in which you teach something. You’ll learn, too. (That’s one reason I write these commentaries on our values.)
  3. Ask “How did you do that?” Ask how they made the sauce. Ask for a tour of the factory. Ask “Why?”

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Thank you for investing so much of your time and career here at Faithlife. Let’s keep growing together.

(See also: http://www.slideshare.net/BobPritchett/if-you-are-not-growing-you-are-shrinking)

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