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  • Kim Meninger

Growth & Comfort Do Not Coexist


Growth & Comfort Do Not Coexist

In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we talk about the trap of the comfort zone. It’s all too easy to get stuck in our comfort zones. Each time we choose not to take action, we reinforce the security of our comfort zones, which makes the outside world feel that much scarier. This week, I talk with Aaron Trahan, a former executive leader turned performance coach who now helps leaders reach their full potential. Here we talk about strategies to break free from complacency and the status quo to become the best versions of ourselves.

About My Guest

Aaron has a 15+ year progressive background as a senior-level executive leader within public-company corporate environments & early-stage startups. Aaron’s leadership roles have included overseeing GTM strategy, operations, key growth initiatives, people & organizational development, & performance management. Aaron is passionate about leadership development, and most especially, helping professionals find their path from good-to-great. As a certified leadership & executive performance coach - Aaron leverages his background & training to support leaders with the implementation of systems, mental models, frameworks, growth programs, & external accountability that allows them to accelerate their path to operating as the best version of themselves and reaching full potential.


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Transcript


Kim Meninger

Welcome, Aaron, I am so excited to have this conversation with you today. And I'd love to start by inviting you to introduce yourself.


Aaron Trahan

Absolutely. First and foremost, Kim, thank you for having me. Love what the podcast is all about. And so happy to be here today. And yeah, so a little bit about me and kind of my journey is, you know, it really started at the early age of 23 years old, I was put into a leadership role where, you know, I quickly found out that, you know, they don't teach you in college, how to lead people how to help elevate people, and so 23 years old was my first leadership role. And, while I had some success and was able to further my career in a corporate environment, I did reach a point when I was able to break into the ranks of the executive leadership teams and be a senior-level executive leader of a billion-dollar publicly traded company all before the age of 30. While that's all the highlights in the headline, it was a very look-yourself-in-the-mirror type of moment. And as Marshall Goldsmith says, best, what got me here is not going to get me there, I realized exactly how much I didn't know. And, you know, it was a big fork in the road moment. So what sits underneath that headline for me was, I'm confident I've made every mistake there was to make as a young executive. And that's what was a pretty big monumental shift in my career. From there, I had several other executive-level positions and found myself back into the startup world where I just wanted to build, I wanted to help get the right people in the right place and surround them in a supportive, yet challenging environment that allowed them to do their best work. And as I was working on myself through that journey, and figuring out how to be the best possible leader that I possibly could, I know, the people leadership skills and capabilities I had early on in my career were lacking. And as I was trying to convert that weakness into a strength, a passion began to emerge. We're over the past several years, helping people partnering with high-performance individuals and being that, for lack of a better term springboard that could help them get to their next level, help them go from good to great was where I really found a huge attraction and passion and gave me a deep sense of fulfillment. And so long story short, it was the gravitational pole that effective last year, I could no longer avoid, or resist. And so it's what led me to launching my own performance and leadership coaching firm, where I get to now spend all my time working with high-performance individuals, helping them overcome the obstacles and accelerating their path from their current state to their ideal state.


Kim Meninger

Oh, I love that I share your passion for it. And very experience, I wonder, if you would mind sharing? What are some of the key themes that you see when you think about where people want to be and where they are? Like, what? What are the gaps? Or what are the challenges that they're most likely to bring to you?


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, I think it is a the big component. And what I would say the missing component, in my foundational belief, especially in the professional world, is, every single professional has an aspiration, a desire even to see better results to see better performance. I think everybody knows that the comfort zone and status quo is a is really a dangerous place to be. But the big missing component is not everyone knows how to find that next level where to go, how to invest in themselves, how to properly identify the development areas in the blind spots. And so I think where, where I see the biggest impact that I'm able to have with clients is I help them figure out and create the solution for the how to go from the current state to the ideal state. And if that piece remains, let's just say, noisy or people don't don't have a good understanding of, yes, they want to generate better results. They just don't know how, what I often see so frequently is where that manifests itself is in the form of inaction. And when there's inaction, all of a sudden, we do start to find is a bit more content with the status quo. And without us living, even knowing it, we get further and further entrenched into this into the comfort zone, making everything outside of the comfort zone look very risky, very uncertain, very overwhelming. And the end result is so much talent and potential remains trapped on the sidelines because people don't have the solution to figuring out the how equation. So that's really the big thing that I see is, is people in professionals aren't able to connect the dots on what's the right strategy of how to improve to match their desire and aspirations for that improvement.


Kim Meninger

I love the way you said that, because I think about that, too. When I work with, you know, I think we both work with high achievers, high performers. And so they're people that have obviously done, you know, they have great track records of success. But when you get to a certain point, you have more agency. And I think it's easier to I describe it as sort of curating your world in such a way that you avoid those bigger risks, and you make your world really small. And in the process, like you said, sort of amplifies the scariness of all the things you're not doing. And so you're just reinforcing your nurturing that comfort zone.


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, you're I mean, you are so spot on. And I like to, I like to share the myths, the message sometimes that look, we're all, we're all chasing success, and we want experience, we never want to feel unsuccessful or inexperienced. No, nobody wants that. But when you achieve certain levels of both of those elements, you've realized some form of success. And you now have what I refer to as domain experience, where whether it's within a company or within a given industry, you start to know things and kind of feel like you've, you've got such a grasp of it, that you lose that learning edge. And so there's a downside to the combination of success and experience. And it's exactly what you said, all of a sudden, it is so easy to get comfortable there, you've got a nice track record and resume to kind of look back on and say, Yeah, I am pretty good. You're in, you're in a field where you've got so much experience where you're challenged every single day, you kind of seen these things before you got the experience. And that's exactly what the, where the cracks and the doors start to open for complacency to sneak in. And once that happens, you know, it's, it's the comfort zone and status quo in become paint such an illusion of safety and security that yeah, everything outside of that little bubble seems very, very scary. But that's where all the growth lives. There's a great saying that I love is that it's a hard truth for some, but the fact of the matter is growth and comfort do not coexist. And I think that's where when people develop that combination of some success and that domain experience, it's hard to, it's hard to leave that comfort side of the equation to go out and find more growth.


Kim Meninger

So what do we do, right? Because I mean, what you're describing is so such quote-unquote, normal human behavior, right? We read so many of us, despite what we tell ourselves, we want, we'll fall into this trap. Like, what how do we break free from it?


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, and it's a great question because that's really the foundation of where I've created my firm. And it's called performance mindset. And, you know, there's a, there's an age-old saying, I think Henry Ford said this over 100 years ago, but it remains true even today. And it's whether you think you can or think you can't, you will always be right. And so when I think about the different mindsets, you know, Carol Dweck from Stanford has done a great job of making fixed mindset and growth mindset easily understandable for all of us. But I started to notice something about those with a growth mindset. And so every room that I speak in or every group I have to do this little exercise that's, that's then given me enough feedback to say, I typically see as a general rule of a 770 2010 mindset that that applies to essentially every team every room, every group 20% are just going to be the let's call them the old dogs who have no interest in wanting to learn any new tricks they their content they may be close to retirement, whatever the reason is, let's just we'll take the fixed mindset group and move them over to the side. Without fail, when you talk about growth mindset, what it means what it what you believe, 70 to 80% of the rooms, hands shoot right up, like, yep, that identify with that. But if we were to able, if we were able to take a microscope and look at their actions, look at their habits, look at their routines, they are, in fact, not putting any action behind that growth mindset. They may believe all the right things, they may think all the right things like sure, with the right amount of time, energy and effort, you can increase your intelligence, improve your capabilities, have a have a grit factor that allows you to overcome the obstacles, but they're not doing anything about it. So I've kind of tried to create this new category of what I refer to as performance mindset. They believe all the things that the 70% growth mindset, people believe, with one big differentiating factor, action, they are constantly taking action, to invest in themselves to take on new challenges to take on some risk, to operate at the very outer edges of their capabilities, because that's where the growth lives. And so long-winded answer, but coming back, I think it's, it's really adopting this mindset of continuous improvement. How are you getting that 1% better each and every single day? Where are you being stretched? Where are you being challenged? And, you know, one of the one of the things that I try to preach to as many people that will listen, is that when you're a lifelong learner, it is a guaranteed sustainable competitive advantage. And the most important thing is, is not allow some of that success and experience to take you away from just being a learning machine. And so when you can continue to learn, invest in continuous improvement, always finding out what you're capable of, and really taking on those challenges. I think it all boils down to into taking action to kind of get out of that rut that will eventually show up when you have success and experience. And never let that complacency to that complacency to sneak in. If you're a learning machine, there's really no place for complacency to come in and take root.


Kim Meninger

Yeah, that's such a good point. And I think about this personally, as somebody who has, you know, identifies as a high achiever has lived with a lot of anxiety throughout my life, there is a part of me that would love to just curl up in the fetal position, take those risks, and just kind of say, alright, I've accomplished a lot, and I'm gonna stop. But there's another big part of me that knows that. That's not what I really want. And so I pushed myself, and I really like Eleanor Roosevelt's quote, like do one thing every day that scares you. Because I know that if I keep doing it, it becomes less scary over time. And it just kind of, it's making me think about the way you describe that continuous improvement. And so the idea of taking action on a regular basis to prevent that kind of complacency from setting in really resonates with me, but what comes up for me are sort of a couple things. Number one, the self-awareness required to recognize this happening in the first place when we live in such a busy demanding time, you know, people don't even know what they don't know, they're not necessarily paying attention. And number two, just the power of fear. And I wonder how you think about those two forces?


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, yeah. I mean, I think when you use the big a word, you know, of, especially with my mythology, and I'm sure, I'm sure you have some type of derivative of this, but a strong foundation of awareness is what's required for next-level growth. And you can simply not enhance or improve something you're not aware of. And so awareness is such a key to always make sure you're, you have a clear understanding of… I kind of like to use the superhero mythologies, but it's kind of like, what are your superpowers? But more importantly, what's your kryptonite? And you have to know these things. You have to have a radar for these things, where are they showing up? What are the situations that are bringing out the best in you and why? What are the situations that bring out the worst in you and why? How can you create and find those common threads and I think it all leads to this exceptionally strong foundation of awareness. And so you can build a house as big as you want to. But if that awareness foundation is weak or has some cracks in it, you'll be rebuilding for the rest of your life because the house will keep crashing down. I'm so I think awareness is such is so key. So yeah, I couldn't, I can't highlight that enough or put, you know, put more exclamation points behind it. And then I think you, you just nailed another big one. And that's the fear of failure. And, you know, I, I like to think of the fear of failure kills so many goals before they even start, because it is the fuel of inaction. And so when we think about inaction, which is the opposite of what we just kind of talked about, if action is going to be where you continue to drive, continuous improvement, more growth, the fear of failure is the thing that is, is the driver of inaction, it scares so many people from taking even that very first step of, you know, going out there and leaving the comfort zone. And so I like to think of, you know, failure doesn't have to be this hot fire that, that you get burned every time you touch, you know, you feel like and I grew up playing sports. And so, you know, failure was this big thing you didn't want to touch, we were kind of taught, it's like, we got to do everything to win. We are all about winning. But I think there's so much more of an underlying story around failure. And it doesn't have to be this, this fire that we just can't touch. Because I'm a firm believer that failure is one of the most valuable and incredible learning feedback loops that we have. If you're not failing, you're not learning. So I think one of the big challenges that we have is changing our relationship and our perspective with failure. And I'll kind of end it with a question. And that is, imagine if we all changed our definition of failure from not achieving to instead not trying, I think we would all accomplish a lot more if not trying became what the universal definition of failure was.


Kim Meninger

I am so glad you said that because I was thinking the same thing that we are so wired to be loss-avoidant, that when we think about taking a risk, we think about what, what will we lose by taking it, we don't think about what we lose by not taking it right. And I think that has been a motivator for me again, as somebody who has a lot of anxiety worries a lot is to say, okay, yeah, this might go wrong, if I try it. But how am I going to feel if I don't? What am I going to regret more kind of a mentality, right?


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, yeah. And you just set a big word there. And that's, that's regret. And I think if you, if you fast forward your life 20-30-40 years in, you want the bill for regret to be extremely high in action is exactly how you're going to get there. There's this great book that I read, that was such a mindset shift. For me, it's a bit a bit of a dark title, but hear me out here for a second. And it's the Top Five Regrets of the Dying. And long story short, this woman found her calling in the hospice space. And so she had this unique gift to be able to significantly increase the quality of life for those and their last weeks and months of their life. And over hundreds of different encounters. She was able to piece together, what were the top five regrets that all of them had. And the number one may surprise a lot of people. Sure it's all the guesses are, oh, they would have spent more time with family, they wouldn't have worked so much. But sure that was in the top five, but it wasn't number one. Number one, the biggest regret of people at the very last stages of life was being able to look back and say, I never truly lived my most authentic life. I never chased after the goals that I always knew were important to me, I I played too small, I played it safe. I just kind of adopted into the external and social environments that I were in. And that was never I never lived what was authentically true to me that more than anything else is what sat most heavy with those people at the very last stages of life. And so it's just a great reminder of Yeah, I mean, if you think the price of, of going out there and taking that risk is too high today. Wait until you get that bill for regret way later on in the future from not acting to the point that you made.


Kim Meninger

I love using that wisdom or insight as a driver to overcome the fear because if we can reasonably predict right that we will have some Lower regrets when we ultimately hopefully weigh in the future features. But I wonder how do we, and I'm just kind of thinking out loud here, I don't expect you to have the magic wand solution. I wonder how we keep that front and center when we're just in a constant state of fight or flight or just, you know, just kind of reacting to the world around you. I think this comes back in large part to the awareness piece. Are there, are there practices that you recommend or things that you think people can be doing on a regular basis? Just kind of always keep that on their radar so that they're not reflexively making these decisions. They can make more intentional choices.


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, yeah, I've got, I've got two things that really come, come to mind. And they're, let's just call them mindset tools that I use with my clients. But one of which that I've kind of posted a little bit about is kind of an advice on advice. And I think we're so quick to want to pull in advice from a lot of different places. And especially, there's a lot of people out there who are who is more than willing to share advice around, here's how I became so rich and successful. And I think it's important to realize sometimes that you almost have to take all external advice with a grain of salt, we may be at risk of just listening to someone else's winning lottery tickets that may not apply to us whatsoever. So one of the tools that I like, and you mentioned, it's all around awareness. And to generate that awareness, we got to zoom out, we almost have to say, alright, we're deep into the weeds of our everyday life. So our hands are dirty, we're in the thick of it, we got to zoom out to get perspective, I know, of no better way to do that, than to seek advice, not from others. But what would our 80-year-old-self tell us, if we could just fast forward and think about our 80-year-old-self or 70, you pick the number, but somewhere deep into the deep into the future, with all the wisdom and the hindsight that our future selves would have, combined with a lack of time and ability to create change? What would they tell us we should be doing right now around taking action or not taking action? So I think that's the that's the first thing and that for me, I tell people don't, don't take my advice. I don't know all the facts of your life, your journey, but you know, who does your future self, they're always going to know what's, what's most important, or back to the story from the book, what's most authentic to you. Listen to that person. Because at that stage in your life, you want to be you want those to be your golden years, you don't want to you don't want to be consumed with the thoughts of what if, or I should have done that. And then the second thing that I have is really what I call, you know, my success, happiness audit. And to really be able to kind of level set on all these things. It's just three simple questions. And it really highlights the awareness and clarity around the things that are most important to you. And the first one is, is how are you defining success for yourself? Not external standards, not how it looks on an Instagram or LinkedIn feed. But what, what truly defines success for you? Then ask the same question about happiness. What is happiness look like for me? And to avoid this big regret factor or finding the things that make the most meaning for us? There's a third question that follows up those first two that brings it all together. And can you achieve your definition of success and your definition of happiness at the same time? So do those two things align? Or are they in conflict with each other, and you would be surprised due to the lack of awareness that people are chasing this definition of success without realizing they're giving up all of the happiness side to get it only to think that once they achieve it, that then they'll be happy. Spoiler alert, it never happens. And so when you can calibrate those, those things and ensure that your pursuit of success and happiness, and happiness is aligned with each other, it gives you the clarity of knowing what the priorities are making it more easily to take action because the why behind it is now stronger and when you've got a strong enough why you always figure out the how.


Kim Meninger

And I so appreciate that perspective on using your, your self, your future self as the, the guide or the mentor in this situation because that why is unique to everyone. Like you said, right? Your experience is based on your values or your own definition of success, not necessarily mine and so I can learn a lot from other people's experiences, but if I tried to just copy and paste, then it's not going to be a fit. And so I feel like, you know, it's always great to be out there trying to learn from each other. But I also think there's a lot of just what's the magic recipe or some magic formula for how to do this, when in actuality, it's exactly what you're saying, which is to really look inward and to take that time to, to not just define those things once right, but to be looking at them over time and iterating on them as you grow and as your values change over time.


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, and I think it's still all comes back to awareness of, of, then whenever you start seeing the thread that emerges itself to know that it's there and start to be able to pull on it and see what happens and then follow it. And, you know, your, your description of that basically explains my career, where if you would have told me 10 years ago, I'd be sitting here talking to you about this doing what I'm doing right now launching my own, you know, coaching firm, I would, I would emphatically tell you that there is a 0% chance that that would happen. But it took a, let's just call it an internal crisis, where I realized I had to reinvent myself, I was not nearly as great as I thought I was. And I've got to change essentially, everything that I'm doing, I had to identify my weaknesses, I had to convert them into, if not strength, just at least not, at least not things that were going to bring me down. And it was only then it's developing in going through those experience reps of if I wasn't aware, I could have just continued on and continued in this unoptimized state, but by going there getting the experience reps, all of a sudden, that's where that passion jumped up. It's like, oh, there's, there's something here. Let me follow that. What, what does this look like? Okay, I'm starting to develop a skill here, I'm seeing the impact starting to happen. I really enjoy this. This is what gives me purpose and fulfillment. So yeah, I think it's just being open to those things, having the awareness. And if there is, if something emerges, that starts to become of interest, of purpose of fulfillment, let's not let our day jobs get in the way of us chasing that. I'm not saying you have to burn the boats and go all in. But I'm also saying inaction will be a 100% guaranteed way for you to have more regret in the future.


Kim Meninger

Yeah, it's such a great way to put it. And I think to what you said too about reaching a crisis point in order to get here is such a familiar story. I hear that all the time. And what if we didn't have to reach a crisis first, before we got to this point, right? I think that's what you're talking about is really paying attention proactively so that you don't have to deal with that feeling of hitting rock bottom before you end up going in the direction that you really want to go it.


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, no, it's so true. I was having a conversation with someone and they said, if you can, if you can summarize why and what you do today, what how would you summarize that in a sentence or two, and it hit me like a ton of bricks, it was like, I created something that I wish I would have had free that internal crisis moment, it could have accelerated my life by years, instead of me spending so much time going through the trial and error, and at times, it felt like trial by fire. What if I had a more optimized way? What if not saying it would have avoided all mistakes, we're gonna make mistakes, and there's gonna be setbacks and failures along the way. But if I had a system that can help me avoid the most impactful, self-inflicted errors, you know, how much faster and how much accelerating? Could I have got to an optimized state? And so, yeah, I mean, it's, uh, you, you just said something that really struck me because that's exactly what I'm doing now and why I'm doing it because I have created something based off my own trial and error and experiences that did not give me the results I was looking for to create systems. Now. That is exactly what I wish I would have had along my journey, but didn't have. So yeah, so, so important.


Kim Meninger

Yeah, that sounds so much like what I always say that my mission is to be the resource to others that I wish I had during that point in my career. percent. And I wonder what you think about because there's a very internal process to what you're describing. It's a very individual experience. But I also go back to the beginning of what you shared around that, say universal gap that leaders face of not having the kind of training thing and support that we know is needed in order for them to be the most effective, most confident versions of themselves in those roles. And so is there anything that you think we can take from your work or your sort of philosophy around this will help us to not just support ourselves, but also others as they're going through their like, as leaders? Can we be more mindful of these gaps and do anything to try to support people along their journeys?


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, I think so. And this is a call out from a recent, actually last week's mastermind, where I kind of bring some leaders together. And you know, we do kind of a group, group program. And it's amazing what happens when you get a lot of smart, talented people around a digital table. And we're sharing ideas. And, you know, leadership is such an awesome privilege. And the moment that you figure out, it's not about you, or the me, and it's about we, the easier your life is going to be. Again, one of the things I had to learn the hard way that me being promoted to higher and higher levels, it wasn't all about me, it was it was about the structure and the environment that we created to generate results. And when you think about I heard this interesting survey that it was a global survey that was done to senior leaders across the world that asked them, what percentage of your full potential are you expressing in your day-to-day role. And the responses in aggregation was, I don't know, shocking, maybe not so shocking to some. But some of the biggest and brightest leaders that we know, we're only applying roughly 30 to 40%, of their full potential to their daily work. And, if you think about the role that leadership plays in helping people express their full potential in reaching their best version, one of the common themes of why they weren't expressing more was usually poor leadership that sat above them. If you feel you don't have a leader that is invested in you, and is going to help support you and is really challenging you to take on, do your best work, that percentage of your full potential is going to plummet. You're not going to show up and wanting to do your best work and you don't feel supported or invested in or you're getting poor leadership. But what happens on the other side of that, if we've all had probably bad and great leaders, and for those great leaders that are always setting you up to be your best version and take on new challenges to maximize your potential. That's always going to be in an environment that brings out the best of you. And so instead of us as leaders looking most immediately up, what happens if we now look down? What type of environment are we creating for those around us to show up and deliver their most full potential and deliver their biggest impact and be the best versions of themselves? That's our challenge, right? And I think when we, regardless of what's happening above us, we as leaders, when we can create that type of environment below us, or even around us, I think that's where we can dramatically increase the type of culture and environment that allows people to show up deliver their best performance be the best versions of themselves, and increase that percentage of their full potential from these way too low numbers of 20-30-40%, to something much higher. To close out on that thought, the brilliant quote from James Clear, your environment is the invisible hand that shapes behavior. So as leaders, we need to then shape the environment that shapes the behavior of other leaders, that helps them show to help them show up and be great.


Kim Meninger

And what I love about that is it's a very empowered viewpoint because we can't control what we can't control, right, and I can't control my own manager. But I can control the environment that I create for my own team. And so I think that's a really great way to think about it, especially if you're feeling stuck, or feeling like you don't have a lot of influence and really thinking about what can you do within your own environment. 100% Yeah, wow. Aaron, this has been such a fantastic conversation. I've just, I feel so in sync with you. Keep talking, but in the spirit of time, what where can people find you if they want to learn more about your work?


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, two places. First, my website which is performance mindset, coaching.co c-o, no “m” and then on LinkedIn, feel free to reach out, let's connect, I try to think I challenge myself with my LinkedIn account to deliver a 10x value. So whatever amount of time that you're going to listen to one of the messages that I'm all always posting or putting out there on a near-daily basis, I'm trying to extend the impact that I'm having with my clients through my community and building that community, creating that environment that we just talked about that leads to impact and higher potential. And so if nothing else, let's follow me. Let's engage on, on LinkedIn. And yeah, I try to always give back to that community by posting mindset-related messages and frameworks that, that adds significant value. So those are the two best places.


Kim Meninger

Well, thank you so much for this conversation and for all that you do. It's really important work.


Aaron Trahan

Yeah, thank you so much for having me. It was a great conversation. I feel like we could have went on for hours.


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