I recently had conversation with a friend of mine who is working her way into the great sport of powerlifting. She is pretty young in the game and is going into her third competition. We were discussing training and different training programs and what I do with my athletes, which led to talking about what I would do for her if I were working with her. Somewhere in this conversation, she asked me about when she should do her next meet. The question was posed, “I know I can crush these numbers and set records at such-and-such federation in November. Or should I sign up for this other meet in December?” The meet in December was going to be a little more challenging and she would probably have to strain a lot more against a higher level of competition. Now, I’ve never competed in the sport, but I do know one thing: I have felt more accomplished after getting a win against a good team than I have after getting a win versus sisters of the poor teams.

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So my argument to her was that even though she may feel accomplished breaking records she “could beat right now,” life isn’t about being average. She could go to the November meet and have an average performance and get medals and records and pat herself on the back, but where’s the glory in that? I told her to do the December meet, and if she doesn’t do well, oh well. Great competitors should always want to compete and test themselves against great competition. I believe the cliché “iron sharpens iron” stands the test of time. In my eyes, winning without having to try is mediocrity, and mediocrity leads to a life unfinished instead of a life complete.

This conversation began a runaway train of thoughts for me. I thought back to the way I coach and the way I live my life. There were a lot of times when I was a young coach that I was described as stubborn, and rightfully so. I wouldn’t change my own personal lifts, I would stick to what I knew best during my coaching, and I wasn’t very receptive to new ideas. But it wasn’t actually stubbornness; it was fear of the uncomfortable on my end. I was dead worried—petrified, even—to try something new and get exposed. I thought that if I delved into something new and failed, there was no going back. I mean, heck, I never wanted to even leave the state of Ohio coming up. It was comfortable and safe in my little cocoon that I lived in. But life isn’t about being comfortable. We didn’t evolve by doing things we were comfortable with. Without moments that take us miles outside the comfort zone, there is no growth.

don comfort

If you would’ve told me four or so years ago, “Don, you’re going to be taking over the program and you have a week to get everything organized” I would have been scared stupid. But I have adapted and grown over the years. I got comfortable doing stuff I was once uncomfortable doing. I would either be thrown into the fire or I would purposely throw myself into the fire to learn how to survive in an uncomfortable or unpredictable environment, whether that be in work or in a social or life setting.

For example, the first time my fiancé and I went to look at wedding rings in 2015, I damn near had a panic attack. I was so uncomfortable with the vultures rushing me trying to sell me, I swear I felt like I was going to pass out. I signed up for a credit card through the jewelry store and bounced. It wasn’t until two years later that I finally bought a ring and proposed. But when I went to get the ring, I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was confident, I knew what I wanted, I knew what to expect, and I knew how to deal with the vultures this time. Why? Because I had been into ring stores many more times since my first experience so I could learn to get comfortable with the uncomfortable experience of buying a wedding ring while being persuaded to spend way more than I wanted to.

To grow, you have to try new things. And you have to challenge yourself. You will only get better when you step out of your comfort zone. Am I perfect right now? Probably not, but I am way better than I once was. I deal with uncomfortable situations probably once or twice a day. Everything is new for me. I’ve never been in this position before, but instead of shaking behind closed doors, I throw myself out there and try to conquer each and every challenge that presents itself. Am I always right? No. Do I always succeed? No. But I grow from my failures each and every time. That’s the great thing about being put in uncomfortable situations: You GROW! You get better! And eventually, you conquer what was once uncomfortable. Then once you have, don’t get comfortable. Go out and get uncomfortable again and conquer more. Don’t rest on your laurels. Explore new territory. Take over more uncharted land.

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I leave you with this: Some of the things that have shaped my career came completely out of my comfort zone. When I was a graduate assistant, my boss Matt Gildersleeve unexpectedly told me I was running the group. This included the warm-up, warm-up stations, and our lift, which was on a whistle cadence. This was something I had never even come close to doing. When I was at WKU, Coach Lovett and Coach Reno sent me to be the strength coach at our satellite camps. This consisted of me running an agility station, running the warm-up, and pretty much getting the first part of camp rolling. I had never even really run a warm-up for a football team besides the one time at Akron.

I’m sure people would laugh at these stories because they are two situations that most of us deal with every day. I run the warm-up every day before practice and it’s a breeze. I set the tempo for our lift groups every day. But back then I had never done either of these things. I was extremely uncomfortable, but I got used to being uncomfortable and learned how to conquer the uncomfortable and move onto the next thing.

I killed it at those satellite camps, but running the group at Akron I would say I did just so-so. In the end, I learned from my failures and thankfully got better over the years. It’s okay to fail. It's okay to be uncomfortable. Defeat can lead to victory if you learn from it and gain experience along the way.

Learn from your failures. Go out every day and conquer the uncomfortable. A life of comfort is a life without growth. A life with no growth is not much of a life at all.