I cried after my first interview. It was June of 2011 and I had finally landed an interview after frantically sending out applications to prospective employers. Job-hunting had been a stressful experience as I began to feel increasingly desperate under both family and financial pressure. So when I received a call to interview on short-term notice, I happily obliged.
Without much time to prepare, I went into the interview feeling very anxious. It was a panel interview and for the first time I experienced what it was like to be “grilled” by management. The short of the long of it – it was a poor interview and the program manager scoffed at my level of preparation. I exited that interview feeling relieved it was over but terribly sad, embarrassed, and fruitlessly hopeless. Still, I adhered to interview protocol and sent a thank-you email to management, sincerely explaining to them what had happened.
Allah, the Most Exalted, is the Best of Planners.
The next week I received a call from human resources for a round two interview. Not wanting to repeat myself, I prepared well and felt relatively calm and confident. A week later, I got the job alhamdulillah (praise be to God).
Since then I have had many interviews in my attempt to climb up the career ladder. With each interview, I can sense myself feeling increasingly confident. This is vastly different than how I started out.
What have I learned from this experience? That there is growth in discomfort, uncertainty and unpredictability.
Of course there is a level of comfort in knowing; to be able to predict with certainty how life events will exactly pan out. But then life would lose purpose with no opportunities for personal, professional, and spiritual growth. I have realized that it is difficult to grow when we are in our comfort zone. Many of us prefer to stay here because we don’t want to experience the stress and anxiety of discomfort. But by doing so, we limit our potential for growth.
For many of us, the anxiety and stress is understandably unbearable. Sadly, too many of us have often been scarred in childhood—emotionally beaten down rather than being built up. Experiences in adulthood are a microcosm of this earlier life where we never truly learnt how to carry discomfort, to manage our anxiety and learn to soothe ourselves while moving through life. Consequently, we find safety in avoidance.
It is easy to forget that once upon a time, in our attempts to walk and run as toddlers, we had to embrace falling and bruising ourselves. Instead, the relationship many of us have with our discomforts, as a result of trials and tribulations, uncertainty and unpredictability, is negative. Rather than viewing them as windows for opportunity, we fall into hopelessness and despair.
However, the idea of growth through discomfort is not novel. Fourteen hundred years ago, the concept was revealed in the Qur’an, where Allah, the Most Exalted, says, “With difficulty comes ease,” (Qur’an 94:6). Hence, facing discomfort in this life is inevitable; what is important is how we view this discomfort and respond to it. If a moment of discomfort for a believer brings them closer to Allah, is that not a sign of growth? It is essential to also mention here that Allah will never burden you with more than you can handle, as taught to us in the Qur’an when Allah says, “Allah does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear…” (Qur’an 2:286).
The reality is that we need to embrace our healthy share of uncomfortable experiences in this life. A simple but effective way of doing this is finding one thing in life that makes us a little anxious and embracing it. For instance, maybe someone is socially anxious and has difficulty having conversations with people. If this is something they want to change, a starting point could be greeting at least one person at the local mosque or in the neighborhood. This is not done with the hope of having a positive outcome (as this may not happen). Rather, the idea is to embrace the discomfort that comes with stepping out of the comfort zone for a moment. With time, the discomfort faced will, God willing, pave the way for learning, reflection, and growth.