Sunday, August 31, 2014

News Flash: It’s Uncomfortable Outside the Comfort Zone

I toyed with word choice, searching for the smallest, most watered down way to tell a boss whose insecurities kept us all on eggshells that I’m pursuing an MBA.

I settled on “I’m in school, this is where I attend.” Basic. No flair. Humble. And most importantly -- non-threatening. After all, with my networking activities ramped up (because I do, eventually, plan on taking my skills elsewhere) and our mutual contacts, it was going to come out and it needed to come from me.

What’s the big deal? People go back to school all the time. Heck, if you’re lucky, companies pay for it. Well, advanced degrees aren’t appreciated, or necessary, in every environment – particularly ones where nobody else has one and where applicants have been passed over because of them.

The discussion started well. Then I delivered the package. It did lead to the inevitable follow-up questions that lead me to reveal more details of the degree. I was prepared for that.

I was not, however, prepared for the look.

Furrowed brow. Wide-eyed. Shock and…awe.

I saw in my boss’ eyes that the picture he painted of a young writer with lots to learn – the one whose opinion was often quickly dismissed because she means well, but heck, what does she know and the one who was surely fulfilled proofreading product sheets for construction materials the rest of her career -- had been destroyed. 

Maybe it was akin to the way you feel when you're walking to your car and bristle up because some grungy dude is headed in your direction...and jumps in the Maserati next to your Hyundai. It can be unsettling knowing you assumed a person to be one thing, and not only is he more than that, he may even have one up on you.

Everything my boss thought he knew about me changed right before his eyes. I could feel the dynamic shifting. Nothing was going to be the same. *cue Drake*

He leaned back in his chair and just stared at me. I looked right back.

He said the obligatory, “I’m happy for you,” drizzled me with smile-less praise, the discussion was over, and I headed home for the day.

Then came the second thing I wasn’t prepared for – guilt. Self-inflicted, all-encompassing, tear-inducing guilt. Even with his flaws, I liked my boss and I didn’t fit in the box he needed me in and I felt I…let him down. He needed someone to stay in her lane and do as she was told, not position herself to lead.

What in the world? Yeah, surprised the heck out of me too. Where were these stupid feelings coming from? I’m too confident for this. Why should I feel bad for being more educated and knowledgeable than somebody thinks I am? Why should I be apologetic for dreaming? Why was I so, so…uncomfortable?

It took me back to the first week of eighth grade, telling my mom I wanted to leave the gifted program to take regular classes. I was tired of feeling bad every time I had to confess to being in gifted to some neighborhood kid. Apparently, I thought my very existence in the program made those who weren’t in it feel inadequate, and I didn’t want that responsibility. Didn’t want to make anyone feel awkward.

Thought I was over that mess.

This experience has made me realize all that “fear of success,” “takes courage to live the life you want” mumbo jumbo isn’t mumbo jumbo. While I’m not afraid of achieving my brand of success, this scenario showed me I have to get use to the repercussions of progress. 

My gain may be someone else’s loss. Moving to another company for a better opportunity may drive the previous company into chaos. I will need to constantly choose my priorities over other people’s – and that’s not always going to feel so hot. Yet, if I strive to ensure my decisions are convenient for everyone along the way, then I might as well stop now.

People will be disappointed. Goodbyes will be said. Tasks will be left undone. And not everyone will be supportive. Or care.

Growth is uncomfortable; that’s why they call it growing pains. I gotta get used to this.

Time to suck it up.

“Your playing small does not serve the world. 
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. 
You were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. 
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.”
 – Marianne Williamson, from "Our Greatest Fear"

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