Do we need discomfort to grow?

Coaches are fond of telling us that we need to get out of our comfort zone but it’s not always clear why.

At the end of the pandemic Drive Member, Annabel Harper, challenged herself to an extreme physical test of huskie sledding in Svalbard, one of the world’s northernmost inhabited areas, in temperatures of -25 with 24 hour daylight.

It was an extraordinary thing to do, (especially as most of her business is done in the heat of Dubai) and we had many questions about why she’d put herself through this.

There is a theory that we need discomfort to grow but coming out of a pandemic that created more discomfort than most of us have experienced in our lifetimes there was quite a reaction to the idea that we might need to seek out more!

For Annabel it was a very personal challenge to get fit and put into practice the leadership lessons she uses with her clients.

  • Team work was essential as the small group of people and dogs could only live and move together.
  • The group could only move at the pace of the slowest.
  • No-one could be left behind as each one relied on the others.
  • There was no opting out. A particularly difficult challenge of traversing a glacier had to be achieved quite literally by putting one foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
  • Sharing a tiny, flimsy tent with strangers in temperatures of minus 25 puts all thoughts of status into perspective!

Annabel also mentioned that spending long periods of time skimming over the ice alone on the sled with only the sound of the dog harness for company gave lots of time for inner reflection while the beauty of the landscape and the immense never darkening sky gave everything a new perspective as she repeatedly asked herself why she was doing it!

Arriving home with painfully blistered feet took away nothing from the sense of achievement and, as Annabel says, its the sort of experience that will take a long time to absorb but she is, quite rightly, immensely proud of herself for doing it.

It took me  a long time to find my comfort zone and I’m not leaving it for anyone.

This seems like a fair statement! Not everyone is drawn to physical challenges, especially if they’re facing other sorts of discomforts. We all have a courageous side and a cowardly side, a side that does the hard thing and a side that prefers the easy way. The question is, which one is in charge?

When we challenge ourselves to become the kind of person that can do it – whatever it is – we develop confidence and trust that we will be able to step forward when the stakes are high. If we can do the hard thing even when no-one is watching, we can do it all the time.

Whether its dog sledding in the Arctic Circle or surviving a pandemic largely unscathed, proving we can do it is important and something worth celebrating!


Annabel Harper has an MA in Middle Eastern Studies and her research explored women and leadership in the United Arab Emirates.

Her book “Shujaa’ah: Bold Leadership for Women of the Middle East” was a finalist in the Business Book Awards 2021.

Previously a radio and TV journalist, Annabel worked for more than 25 years for ITN, Channel Four News and the BBC. After moving into management at the BBC, she became involved with coaching, mentoring and training, before leaving to set up her own coaching business Change Connections  in 2007.

Follow Annabel on LinkedIn at