How to Add Rocket Fuel to Your Life

Fifty college students ringed the room as I discussed leadership. As always happens, I was really taken by their passions and curiosity. I realize many college students are not particularly engaged, but sometimes we can see the best of youthful exuberance.

We began the interactive portion of the agenda. The first few questions were not particularly interesting, but then a willowy young woman with red hair and freckles ventured into the fray. “So,” she began with obvious sincerity, “It’s all good. But I want to know how I can grow the most.”

“Do you really want to know the answer?” I inquired.

She was obviously surprised by my question. The room had become noticeably quieter.

“Sure. Lay it on me,” she replied.

I scanned the room because I knew this was for all of them to hear. Then I swung my attention back to her.

“What’s your name?”


“Thanks. Here’s the deal, Gabrielle. If you want to make a difference, to do some things that are far beyond what you imagine, you need to always step into the situations that make you uncomfortable. If it’s not making your palms sweat, you’re not learning anything new. That’s because wherever you feel comfortable you’re safely in your existing aptitudes, talents and skills. But if you really want to add some rocket fuel to your life, go for anything that takes you well outside your comfort zone.”

I paused to see how she reacted. Her head was slightly nodding at me but she did not speak. I could see the information penetrating pretty deeply.

“Gabrielle, this room is filled with people who could make a difference, but most will not exceed mediocrity. And it’s not unique to young people. Organizations in every sector are ripe with people who are simply looking to stay comfortable. That's fine if you have no aspirations. Yet there are a whole lot of possibilities for you and everyone in the room. The question is whether you are willing to overcome your discomfort.

After the session, Gabrielle asked me for my business card. We had coffee a few days ago. She wants the rocket fuel.

So we talked about the people and circumstances that make her uncomfortable. Then we strategized the ways she can step into them despite the feelings they provoke. We played together like it was a game, and she asked me many questions about my learning experiences.

Toward the end of our conversation, Gabrielle boldly asked me what caused the greatest growth and learning for me. I told her the truth.

“Learning to love my ex-wife without condition was game changing. Taking on the leader of an organization who needed to be ousted was another. Both of them felt like high-wire acts that were way above my usual psychological space. The process with my wife was emotionally very, very difficult. The one with the leader was just plain frightening.”

“What did you learn?” she asked.

I laughed at her continuing boldness. “That I could stand in the presence of duress, or even in the face of being attacked, and I could do what was needed.”

She nodded and said, “I want to be able to do that.”

Seeing True

While our comfort zones may be useful for our stability, all notable growth and development occurs beyond them. Once the new possibilities are experienced sufficiently, our comfort zone expands to include them. Then we must stretch ourselves again.

Seeing True in Action

Many years ago, a wise man told me that the absence of growth in a human being is the onset of death.

In what ways can we see that we are still reaching beyond our comfort zones in order to grow?

Updated April, 2019