Last month I spent nearly three weeks traveling through Morocco, and I’m still trying to process the experience.
Let me give you a few quick examples to illustrate how this trip challenged my conception of what “personal growth” means.
Morocco was beyond anything I’ve experienced before, and I’ve been an international traveler since my early twenties. We visited three cities and then went far out into the rural areas, spending extended periods of time with local families whose lives are so very different from my own. Our group included eight people in addition to a guide.
Just hours after we arrived in Morocco, two people in our group invited us to go to the medina. It's a narrow, walled section of town without cars, packed with people and filled with merchants hawking essentially everything that can be made with one's hands. In ancient times, some medinas were deliberately built to be narrow and winding, so as to slow down invaders.
New experience a mystery
In the medina, with mere hours of firsthand experience in Morocco, I knew nothing. There's a whole system regarding how you indicate to a merchant that you are interested in an item, and how you negotiate; this system was a mystery to me. I had previously been given warnings to beware of pickpockets, keep my possessions secure, and be very cautious. But how can you be cautious surrounded by a sea of people about whose customs and practices you know so little?
In those moments, I couldn't imagine I would want to be experiencing anything different, yet I was also scared.
At one point, my thoughts went to my clients, leaders who sometimes tell me, “I’ve never been here before; I’ve never done what I’m doing.”
In moments like these, I realized, leaders are in the perfect place. They are open to change. Their senses are heightened, they are focused on what's coming at them, what's happening in that very moment.
In the medina, I had moments of thinking “Where are my friends?” and “What if I get lost?” and it was thrilling. I’ve never before experienced that sort of “Oh, my gosh” wonder at the mere act of understanding how the basic reality around me was functioning.
Subjecting yourself to the unknown
When you accept a new job, take over a new division, or merge with another entity, you can find yourself in a similar circumstance. If you’re not scared, you’re not growing. Subjecting yourself to the unknown, taking away the safety net that protects you most days (and years) is thrilling. This is what makes personal and professional growth possible. This is what allows you to understand precisely what you are capable of achieving.
By the way, I’ve only told you about my first few hours in Morocco. Sitting face to face with, say, a single mother raising her son in a tent alone in the desert, I experienced many more unsettling and inspiring moments. Many were difficult, but all broadened my understanding of what it really means to grow.
Demmie Hicks (DemmieHicks@DBHConsulting.com) is a "thinking partner" to both establsihed and up-cand-coming business leaders. She is the founder of DBH Consulting. Opinions expressed are the author's own.