Comfort kills ambition.

When you're comfortable, you're complacent. And, when you're complacent, you lack the motivation to test the boundaries, to strive for more.

My active desire to place myself in uncomfortable situations has been the most significant reason for my success.

In some sadistic way, I put myself through the most strenuous and stressful positions on purpose. Maybe some of it is to prove to others I can do it, but primarily I've felt that it's for myself.

I've wanted to demonstrate that I have the skills and determination to have a goal and deliver. Though, it’s not an easy process. In fact, it can be incredibly painful.

The reality is you'll likely make it through. In the moment, it certainly does not feel that way.

The reality is you’ll likely fall short at times. You may not be ready and you may even embarrass yourself a bit.

I have. Let me explain .

Nervously, I sat stiff and awaited my turn to give an update to a room of 50 people, local television cameras and all. I was filling in for my boss who had shared with me earlier that day he was not able to attend an MPO meeting. Whether it was true, or a test, I never found out.

It was probably a test.

Written down in front of me were some superficial notes on our most recent activities and accomplishments. I read them over, editing with each pass as I passively listened to the other presenters speak and checked their item off my agenda.

Just a couple more presentations were left, then it was my turn to deliver the update.

At this point, I was hoping that my boss would arrive. I was looking for a savior. A way out.

When I had resigned hope, through the back entrance, I saw my boss scurry around the movers and shakers at the decision making table. Finally, he made it to me. The first thing he asked me was, “You still good to give the presentation?” “Yea, I’m good,” I answered sheepishly. Inside, I was not good.

Anxiety was grabbing hold. My palms were moist, hard to catch my breath. I was afraid I would forget something or look stupid in front of all these people and cameras.

Thankfully, here’s my chance to take the easy way out! I can turn the keys over to him, take a big sigh of relief and relax in my chair.

I didn’t take the easy way out. Remember, I had something to prove to the audience, my boss, and myself.

I was up next.

Wait, now it’s my turn. Wow, that went fast. Too fast.

I walk up to the lectern to give our agency update. That day, I had forgotten that I was the expert..

I only had a handful of sentences, and I am near certain I bumbled them all. Instead of pausing to gain my composure, I tried to rush through it. That made it worse.

Then, I tried to correct what I said, and of course, that didn’t come out clearly either.

I attempted to end on a strong note, but really, who knows at this point. My confidence was in the gutter.

Luckily, the audience took some mercy on me. Perhaps they had some empathy. Or, they just had a difficult time making out the update. It easily could have been both.

As I walked back to the row of seats where non-voting public officials usually sit, I shook my head slightly with a noticeable look of disappointment.

My boss was quick to provide some relief in an uncomfortable situation.

“Don’t let it get the best of you. Next time, take a pause, and restate what you meant to say,” said my boss.

That was easy for him to say, I thought to myself. He’s a pro at giving presentations with charisma for 10 people. (What I later found out was that he learned to do that. Everything is practice.)

Needless to say, I was not high on myself the rest of the day. It hurt most of the weekend, reliving those moments and what I should have said.

The reality is most of the audience probably forgot about my update immediately after the meeting. They had more important things to worry about.

I still haven’t forgotten, and it’s been four years.

The reality is I did embarrass myself a bit. I could have prepared more. I should have led with more confidence. Although, in the end, it all turned out okay.

If anything, my ego was damaged.

I’ve since given countless presentations, and many have gone very well. I’ve had people that I don’t know send me messages saying they enjoyed my presentation. I’ve had some others where I was standing with shaky legs and voice.

The takeaway here is that you won’t improve by sitting on the sidelines. You have to participate. It also takes a willingness to be uncomfortable.

My ambition often outweighs everything else, for good or bad. Comfort kills ambition. Conversely, ambition can overcome comfort.

Even though discomfort gives me anxiety, I'd recommend it to anybody who wants to strive for more. Continue to test yourself and you’ll grow. There is no other outcome if you’re a thoughtful, self-reflective individual.

Be open to uncomfortable opportunities, especially when you're not ready.

by @jlevimccollum

🚍 🗺️ 📊 Geographer working to build better government.