The most wildly uncomfortable, insanely productive advice you’ll ever get.

Be warned. This post is gonna hurt. But don’t worry; it’s supposed to.

In fact, the more it hurts, the more you can be sure it’s working.

Why would I want to hurt you?

Because you need it. Here, I have proof…

Mortimer Feinberg, PhD, and John Tarrant, in their delightfully titled Why Smart People Do Dumb Things: The Greatest Business BlundersHow They Happened, and How They Could Have Been Prevented, explain it like this:

If you are of above average intelligence—and if you have mastered the use of high intelligence to solve problems and achieve goals—it is the premise of this book that you are at risk because of the strength of your cognitive equipment.

Disaster can take one of a number of forms. . . . [Whatever the case], the catastrophe is self-induced. You don’t fail because you weren’t smart enough, but because you were too smart. Your brains have betrayed you.

In other words, we—or, more precisely, our big, beautiful brain—are our biggest problem.

So if it helps, think of this post as a cognitive exercise in “tough love”… emphasis (of course) on “tough.”

Enough pussyfooting. Here it is: the most wildly uncomfortable, insanely productive advice you’ll ever get:

Stop it.

You’re terrible.

But we can fix that.

Okay, breathe.

I know that was rough, but don’t go missing the forest for the trees. The thing to remember is you can trust me and we’re gonna get through this together.

Comfort, complacency, and compliments are absolute growth killers. You’ve heard it before. Nothing inhibits genuine personal development more than a heaping helping of lukewarm porridge. “Just right” is no good.

Knowing that, however, doesn’t mean responding to “the most wildly uncomfortable, insanely productive advice you’ll ever get” is easy. It never is.

So the question becomes, how do we shape our hearts to actually take advantage of this advice?

Three keys: perspective, detachment, and hope.

1. Perspective

This might sound redundant and a bit in the realm of stupid obvious, but blind spots are “blind” spots for a reason.

We can’t see ‘em.

Psychologist call this “confirmation bias.” Our brains focus on evidence that confirms our beliefs and disregard evidence that contradicts them. And they do this without us trying, thinking, or even noticing.

That’s exactly why we need criticsto give us the perspective we simply cannot achieve alone.

Allies are great. But what we really need are adversaries. Loving adversaries (sure), but adversaries nonetheless.

We need people who are (1) better than us and (2) willing to be mean.

And what a gift it is when we find these people. You might not want them to stick around in the moment, but hang onto them. They are gold.

Being told, “Stop it. You’re terrible. But we can fix that,” is incredibly scary, but it’s the only way we get real perspective on how we’re doing.

Plus, if you’re on the other side of the coin and in any sort of coaching, teaching, or consulting role, then it’s absolutely time to get brave. The only thing scarier than hearing those three magic phrases is saying them.

2. Detachment

I teach an advanced communication course here at the local college and my mantra throughout the term can be summed up in one word: detachment.

You have to detach from your feelings, innate responses, and especially … ego.

Burn into the consciousness of your mind: If you stand even the slightest chance of growing (regardless of the area), then you’ve got to redefine the win. That means letting go of looking good, getting ready to suck, and trying your best not to care when you do.

Of course, I don’t actually mean you should stop caring altogether. Detachment and apathy aren’t the same.

Detachment means I make learning my number one goal. I get curious, most notably about my mistakes and failures, and I drink up—I actively pursue—any opportunity I can to develop… especially (and I’m sure you saw this coming) any opportunity that hurts.

3. Hope

Now, this is the good stuff.

Hope is by far the most important of all three keys. Without hope, “Stop it. You’re terrible. But we can fix that,” is absolutely crushing. Without hope, tough love isn’t love; it’s just tough.

But with hope, those three lines are the greatest gift anyone can give you.

This means, you have to believe not only in the person giving you the gift—which is why trust is so vital—you have to also believe in yourself.

I don’t want to get mushy on you, but you’re pretty awesome. I mean, sure, in this one touchy little spot you’re terrible and you should stop (seriously, like right now), but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying.

Far from it. The whole point of “the most wildly uncomfortable, insanely productive advice you’ll ever get” is to use it to move forward—to be catapulted into a fresh, revitalized, and altogether better you.

So let me end with the words of Margaret Heffernan from her outstanding and (again) wonderfully uncomfortable TEDTalk “Dare to Disagree”:

The more I’ve thought about this, the more I think, really, that that’s a kind of love. Because you simply won’t commit that kind of energy and time if you don’t really care.

  • This reminds me of a podcast I listened to today (Ben Settle). Settle’s audience sometimes is afraid to ask him for advice because they think he’ll be too harsh on them. He says he’s not mean purposely, that’s just his style.

    Besides, the thing that helps you doesn’t always feel good. Surgeries aren’t comfortable (I suppose that’s why there’s morphine) and sometimes medicine tastes awful. Another example is the dentist. No one likes being prodded with tools while water and other obstructions are in your mouth.

    But you go through with the pain because it helps you get better.

    • Aaron Orendorff

      Raymond,
      Thanks for the comment.
      Yeah, you definitely have to be careful that you’re not being "mean" minus the hope, trust, and love factor.
      I love the medical illustrations. In Steve Job’s Stanford commencement he’s got this great line about "awful tasting medicine… but the patient needed it" regarding his professional experiences of "love and loss"; namely, getting canned from Apple.
      You’re right. Pain is THE growth agent of life.

  • Andrew McKeen

    I wish more people had said this to me.

    Someone who says "You suck!" but doesn’t offer a way out of your world of suckdom is most likely just deflecting attention away from their own suckiness.

    Someone who says "You suck, but I’ll help you suck less." is a real friend and mentor.