Leadership: Being Comfortable With the Uncomfortable

Life on a Boat

My husband and I recently decided to change our lifestyle quite dramatically so we could live the life we wanted to live. We’d been talking about it for quite some time, but thought it was impossible.

And then we realized that until we committed to it fully, it wasn’t going to happen just magically. Once we got clear about what we wanted (which wasn’t easy at first), everything began falling into place, which is no mean feat when you include a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old dog in the mix. We simply gave up trying to control how it came about, but never wavered on our intention. And we made sure it worked for all of us.

A few weeks later, we found ourselves living half time on our sailboat in Sausalito, and the other half in a cabin in the redwoods near Mendocino. “Wow,” our older friends said with amazement and wonder in their voices. “Cool,” said our younger friends, and they meant it. Not one of them told us we were crazy even though we thought they might (and we secretly suspected we were). One friend even said, “You’re designing your life,” and she was right.

In each case, we could hear in their voices that they wanted the courage to do just that.

It never occurred to me that it would take courage, but it did in the end. We needed courage to give up some things in our lives to gain others (like the convenience of having everything in one place so we could live in two). It took courage to face up to our consumption patterns (there’s only so much room on a sailboat). And it took courage to change our comfortable daily routines to ones that were new and unfamiliar (like filling the water tanks on the boat with a hose so you don’t you run out of water in the middle of a shower). But we needed something more than just courage; we had to become comfortable with the uncomfortable to actually live the life we really wanted.

For deep insight into how we all struggle with uncertainty and discomfort in our lives, and what becomes possible when we accept it, you may find Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty an inspiring read.

So, why did we do this? Why did we put ourselves directly in the path of uncertainty and discomfort? What did that make possible for us? And what, more importantly, did we learn?

Compelling reasons for change

Four reasons compelled us to find the courage to make this change:

  1. We wanted to live closer to nature so that all of us, including our seven-year-old, would feel more connected to what naturally gives us life and energy, and to witness strength in adaptability.
  2. We wanted to live into a smaller footprint and be more conscious of being a part of something larger than ourselves, to which we can contribute in a positive way.
  3. We wanted to access our creativity and a state of being where we could be most productive simply by clearing the noise from our heads and simplifying the world around us.
  4. We wanted to live more economically and learn to live with less so we could have more of what we wanted from life.

Learning from our discomfort

Our courage and our direct encounter with the uncomfortable taught us four principles for not just living the life we really want, but for living into that intention in our work life as well.

  1. We get more of what we actually want, often more quickly, by being clear about what we want and yet adaptable about how we get there.
  2. We can make decisions that are good for the whole and still get what we each need.
  3. We can go slow to go fast. When we slow down and simplify complexity, we see more clearly, and as a result we do better work and are more creative.
  4. We are more connected to, and in relationship with, each other when we focus on what really matters and not on the material aspects of life.

And, as we reflected on these principles, we realized that they apply directly to successful leadership as well.

Leading (and living) in this fast-paced, chaotic world of ours far too often becomes a struggle, and a juggling act, to just get things done. We suffer from what Greg Hicks calls Leadershock. When we’re fixated on the doing instead of on what we want to create, we can’t see clearly beyond the next task (or the next crisis); we lose our ability to adapt and be creative; we default to command and control (in an attempt to have certainty, which, of course, fails); and in the end, we, and our organizations, don’t perform at the level we’re humanly capable of.

When leaders are aware of their larger intent, when they act consciously on that intention, and when they stay open to uncertainty, they and their organizations not only succeed, they thrive.

Leadership questions for reflection

As a leader, you may want to reflect on these three questions:

  1. Beyond your organizational goals, what do you care about and want to create as a leader?
  2. What are three reasons you want that for yourself and your organization? Knowing this will help you get even clearer about what you want.
  3. What are the three to five actions you can take that will make what you care about happen?
  4. Can you see yourself acting on your intention, and holding that intention, even when things get uncertain and uncomfortable?

If you want something more for you and your organization, find the courage to get really clear about what that is, and then get ready to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. Then you’ll be well on your way to designing the organization you want, and to being the leader you really want to be.

Do you have an example of when you showed courage in your personal life? In your leadership? What can you do to encourage courage in your staff? Please share your courageous experiences. I’d love to hear them.

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Nicole Gnutzman, Principal at Innate Strategies & workshop leader of Effortless Leadership.
She can be reached at nicole@innatestrategies.com.

Image Source: Nicole Gnutzman’s Wedding

7 responses to “Leadership: Being Comfortable With the Uncomfortable

  1. Nicole
    Wow, great story, I can just hear all the readers worldwide agreeing but also groaning in envy. I have been described by many for going where even angels would fear to tread because I have learnt to live my dream and passion. It took some serious incidents in my life to make me leave the security of the corporate and trade it in for the entrepreneurship roller coaster we now live on. But the freedom of being able to be me. Be fully who I was designed to be and to live that out through myself, my family and my business makes a huge difference in the way others see me and how I feel about myself.
    I try at all times to live the authentic life that I encourage others to follow as I lead by example always doing first then leading second. We often see this kind of change as a sacrifice but when we move we see only blessing and opportunity. Well done on your move, inspirational for all of us.


  2. Hello Nicole,
    Thanks for sharing your story here. I know it takes a lot of courage to make even a small change in life. I’d been thinking for years to change my career, but I just didn’t have the courage to take such a big step, especially since my job was providing me good money and was making me comfortable. Well, recently I did decide to step out of my comfort zone, I quit my job and started to do what I always wanted to do, and even though it doesn’t offer me a lot of money it does provide me with a lot of happiness and satisfaction.
    It just takes one bold step, the rest of the way becomes easy once you take the first step.


  3. It’s inspiring to hear your stories of courage. There’s definitely a life balance theme there that resonates deeply with me. Thanks so much for sharing and for being so courageous.

    It’s that first step and each step along the path of courage, and even the stumbles that we recover and learn from, that make life worth living or work worth doing. Being stuck in the comfort zone or finding yourself out of integrity with what you really care about is what makes life a struggle each day. Taking the first step into uncertainty is scary, but so worth it. What scares and excites me the most? The same thing–living the life I want to live. And being fully who I am.


    • Hi Nicole,

      Wonderful story of courage and tenacity! I just looked at your website and realized that Lili Lambert had tried to connect the two of us a while back. I also write for this blog. Small world.

      Best wishes,


      • Hello, Ashley!

        It is a very small, interconnected world, isn’t it? I do recall Lili wanting us to get together, so, we should definitely fulfill her wish. I would love that. There’s a lovely French bistro in Sausalito that I’m sure you and Lili would enjoy….




  4. Nicole, I couldn’t agree more about Comfortable with Uncertainity. I believe it’s our willingness to courageously embrace those uncomfortable changes that fuel personal growth, that enable us to become more self-aware and to lead more authentically. Great stuff!


    • Thank you for your kind and wise words, Dan. You speak from a place of deep knowing, which deserves to be acknowledged and honored.




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