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351: Seeking Discomfort in Life and Business

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Buck: Welcome back to the show, everyone, today. My guest on Wealth from your podcast is Sterling Hawkins. Sterling is an author, speaker and an entrepreneur. He is the author of Hunting Discomfort: How to Get Breakthrough Results in Life and Business No Matter What. Sterling, Welcome to Wealth Formula Podcast.

Sterling: No matter what. Thanks for having me on.

Buck: No matter what. That’s the keyword, right?

Sterling: Yes, exactly. That’s how we unlock growth for all of us. 

Buck: There you go. So you have an interesting story. Why don’t we start there, because, you know, obviously this push in to discomfort and no matter what and all that came from somewhere. So tell us how you got to this point.

Sterling: Well, you know, a lot of people come to me, especially when they see the book called Hunting Discomfort, and they’re like, you got to look at my business, my relationships, my bank account. I don’t need to discomfort sterling. I’m surrounded, you know?

Buck: Or they say, You can guess what? I already found it.

Sterling: Right. You go, Yeah. My answer is always the same, which is you’re not hunting discomfort, you’re living with it and probably rationalizing why you have it. And that’s really where my journey started. You know, this is early 2000. I’m right out of college. I start a company with my dad, and we sell it to a group in Silicon Valley, and we become part of this huge behemoth that was like the Apple Pay before Apple Pay.

Yeah. And everybody, especially investors, looked at this thing and said, Oh, yeah, biometrics is the future. We raised 550 million USD cash, multiple billion dollar valuation. And I was very much in a space of who needs discomfort. I got this whole business and life thing figured out. It’s just a matter of time till I crown myself the next Steve Jobs, you know?

And things went really well for a while. You know, not only did we grow to 700 people and offices all over the world, but then there were things. Have you seen the Wolf of Wall Street? It was like a scene out of that movie. Like models in the office parties at the Four Seasons. First class, private flight. I won’t get to do more details than that, but you get the idea.

Buck: Sounds fun.

Sterling: It was a blast. It was unreal. And remember, I’m in my early twenties. Yeah. Like I’m living the dream.

Buck: Yeah, totally.

Sterling: And, you know, through a series of missteps, which we can get into, if you like, the housing market collapse comes and our investment dried up. We couldn’t raise any more money, and we didn’t have enough organic growth to sustain the size that we were. And very long, very dramatic story short, the entire thing goes bankrupt. Half a billion dollars cash just gone.

Yeah. I think we license some of the patents or sold some of the patents excuse me from, you know, couple of million dollars, like nothing compared to what we had raised. And it was really then where I made a conscious decision to some degree of avoiding discomfort. Mm hmm. Which is a mistake I think many of us made where I didn’t admit that it was a huge failure. You know, it was all over the news and everybody saw it. But I pretended like I was okay. You know, I had my millionaire friends would invite me on trips, and for a while I’d just keep going spending money I didn’t have because I didn’t have any income anymore.

And then I started to just tell people I was busy. I retreated from going to any of those things, expensive dinners, big trips, any of these things that were doing because I didn’t have the cash, but I didn’t tell them that. Right. Right. And I avoided and hid from discomfort for so long. I end up playing out this, you know, kind of sad country song of a story where I go from a penthouse apartment to my parents house in my early thirties now.

So it’s not a good look in your thirties, at least if you’re forced to go there. And even my girlfriend broke up with me. It’s like I’m hitting every single beat of this thing. And it was in that that really dark time. I make a little bit light of it now, but it was easily the darkest time in my life. Hardest time of my life that I really stared face to face with the abyss. The depths of discomfort of everything. And it was from there, from that rock bottom that I, instead of running from discomfort, started to use it to build myself back.

Buck: So what does it. Tell me what. How that works. I can get a sense of it, but tell me how you used the discomfort to start building yourself.

Sterling: Yeah, well, the first thing is coming to terms with what is exactly how it is, right? So I called people up and I said, Listen, I don’t have anything. In fact, I’m in six figures of debt right now. Like, I need help. Not only could I not go on your fancy vacation, I don’t have money to pay for dinner. Right. And it wasn’t easy. It was uncomfortable. But that at least gave me some footing to continue moving ahead. And some people were offering help in different areas. And all of a sudden I started to build a community of people there where I wasn’t trying to, like, keep up a facade. Mm hmm. But people started to pitch in to help and say, Oh, well, I know this person or I know that person or here’s some options. Or do you need a loan like those kinds of things? People were offering help once they admitted went through the discomfort of admitting that I needed it. Yeah. And have you ever heard that quote? The way out is through. It’s a Robert Frost quote. My mom used to say it when I was a kid growing up and it came back to me and it was kind of in that debt abyss, that rock bottom. I just say, you know what? I’m going to test this thing out. Like, if the way out is through, let’s see. And to me, it means go through with the the uncomfortable, the uncertain, the things that are embarrassing or you experience shame or you have a lot of fear, like go through those things and what you’re finding, what you want to find is on the other side.

And so that’s really what I started doing everywhere I could. I started to find places physically, mentally, emotionally, where I could kind of push the edges of myself. And it was from gripping on to those edges. I was able to, you know, build myself back.


So when you think about discomfort now, how do you determine, I guess, you know, you’re yeah, you brought up earlier when somebody says yeah you know I, I’ve got a plenty of discomfort. How does one determine what type of discomfort is impeding them and you know which is potentially something you need to confront and, in order to help themselves or to move ahead.

Sterling: So it’s a good question. And I think the first thing to understand is that discomfort is all the same from a mental physical standpoint. Research is actually at the University of Michigan, and they were studying discomfort, scanning people’s brains and their bodies as they went through different kinds of physical discomfort, like somebody stubbed their toe, emotional discomfort. Maybe somebody lost their job or an investment went south or they lost a job, broke up with a loved one.

And what they found is no matter what kind of discomfort somebody was going through, physical, mental, emotional, the brain and body processed it almost identically. Now, maybe you know this because you’re a doctor. I didn’t know this, but so much. So you can take acetaminophen and it will help you with emotional pain.

Buck: I didn’t know about that. I should start cracking that bottle right.

Sterling: Well, all the disclaimers go with that, right? Not a doctor. That’s not going to suggest you do that. Right. But what I do suggest is that we could take the next step, which is if how we experience discomfort is the same anywhere, we can grow our capacity to deal with it everywhere. Everybody knows if you want to build your biceps, you go to the gym. Well, if you want to build your resiliency, your courage, you break breakthrough results. You start hunting discomfort. There’s just no other way that makes sense so far.

Buck: Yeah, absolutely. So what how does how do you hunt discomfort?

Sterling: Well, there’s two aspects to it. And I think about my mom being right, Like the way out is through. We just need to have the courage to go through no matter what. And that’s really the point of the book, right? The steps to go through that discomfort. And I’ll offer you two components of it here. The first thing is meat that discomfort everywhere that you can, you know, if it’s a difficult kind of conversation with a particular person, go after it. Start to notice how you’re being in those situations. How do you feel? Where is that feeling in your body?

Buck: So are you saying start with the things that you know you might be avoiding? Yeah. Okay. Exactly. So, okay, so like, you know, a conversation that you’ve been avoiding or, you know, something more practical, like, you know, I really would I really can’t swim and I really need to learn to swim. Let’s go do this kind of thing. So finding out what you’re avoiding and stop avoiding it. Is that how you hunt?

Sterling: That’s a piece of it. And find it as much as you can. You know, like you said, if you’re afraid of the water, get in the water as much as you possibly can. Yeah, right. Piece one The second piece is once you do that, you start to understand, Well, where did that originate? Right. Nobody came out of the womb afraid to swim. Nobody came out of the womb afraid to have difficult conversations like doctors. Again, you would probably know doctors aren’t announcing to these newborn babies. Hey, this one’s scared to speak in public. Like, it just. It doesn’t happen that way. Yeah. Those fears, that discomfort started somewhere. And the more that you meet it, the more you can kind of trace back some of those feelings to see. Well, when did that start? What is that really about? And as you can get to the root of it, that’s where you can dismantle it from the source and become free of it.

Buck: Right. Let’s talk about, you know, how is it more natural to think about failure rather than success?

Sterling: Well, so biologically, it makes a lot of sense to deal with discomfort. Right? Our ancestors, if they were feeling cold, they figured out how to get themselves warm. If they were feeling the discomfort of being hungry, they would go hunting or pick berries. If they were feeling scared, maybe they would, you know, set up a new home or something. They were dealing with the source of discomfort. And what happens today is, you know, modernity for many of us affords us a lot of luxuries. Right? Like, I can work on Zoom and through email, I can be entertained through Netflix, sitting on the couch, and I can eat with Uber Eats, delivering me food. Right? So I no longer from a survival standpoint, am I forced to deal with the source of the discomfort. I can run from it. I can turn away from it. And what that does is it leaves us forever dealing with its effects.

Buck: When you get do you think to a certain degree, because you’re talking you talk a little bit about, like, you know, modern living.

Sterling: Yeah.

Buck: Is part of the idea that you have that we’re kind of hardwired to have more discomfort. And not having that discomfort is somewhat disconcerting.

Sterling: I think so, yeah. 

Buck: If we’re hardwired to, like, you know, look for berries and honey animals all day long and we go Uber eats and, you know, it ends up being something that creates some tension within ourselves.

Sterling: I think so. I think it’s almost like an overdose or even an addiction to comfort. And if you think about it from a human level, I work with companies and company leadership to realize their potential, to realize greater potential. And just from a personal standpoint, if you’re only using or willing to embrace half of your emotions, I only want to feel love, joy and happiness or whatever it is you’re actually denying a piece of yourself pieces that you need to realize your full potential. And it could be anger, it could be grief. It could be embarrassed, mean or shame. Those emotions are just as valid and just as necessary for all of us as human beings to live a fulfilled experience. And it just so happens that on the other side of those things are all the results we’re looking for anyways. Be a time better spent, more money, better relationships, you name it.

Buck: So when you’ve worked with people on this company’s kind of give me some idea like if you can, you know, examples of how maybe you know dealing with or hunting discomfort you. Yeah confronting it provided an opportunity for growth.

Sterling: Yeah. Well there was a great example. It’s in the book and I was just writing about it recently and GE Health Care and they were making a new electrocardiogram machine years back. I feel like this is especially appropriate given your audience right now. You know more about some of these things. But for anybody that’s not a doctor and doesn’t know what the EKG is, it’s a machine to basically look at your heart vibrations and see if there’s something wrong with it. Right. I get that.

Buck: Right. Yeah. It’s just a rhythm. Heart rhythm. Make sure you’re rhythm, heart rhythms normal. And if there’s something abnormal, then maybe you get worked up with another test and then another test. And then.

Sterling: Yeah. So these machines were typically very expensive to produce and it was somewhat limited where they could get them. Mm hmm. And the team at GE looked at it, and the typical approach would be throw more money, more time, more resources at it, and we’ll make a better machine. Well, maybe that’s that’s kind of the easy way. And you never guaranteed the result that way.

Sterling: You’re not guaranteed a result, period.But they went the other way. They actually started to hunt discomfort themselves. And they said, well, let’s instead of increasing the budget, let’s decrease it not by a little bit, but by 18 times. And instead of the two year development cycle that we usually have, let’s cut that down to I think it was 12 months or so. And the team, first of all, you got to acknowledge it’s a little bit uncomfortable because they’re looking at that, saying probably initially that’s impossible. How are we ever going to do that? Nothing’s ever been done like this before. But once they started to turn towards that, discomfort, acknowledged some of the shortfalls that they had regarding their resources, regarding their thinking, regarding themselves. They started to be able to take steps forward and lean into that discomfort. And what, you know, those machines are much cheaper, much faster now. They’re available all over the world. Not only did they achieve the result they were looking for, but in a retrospective they were doing, they said they probably would not have achieved it without that discomfort, without those constraints. It’s only because of those constraints that they had and leaning into the discomfort of them. Did that incredible breakthrough result arise?

Buck: How about in terms of a personal story, Not necessarily you, but at an individual basis, Because this is information that, you know, presumably is universal not just for businesses, but can be used in your social life, health and happiness, etc.?

Sterling: Exactly. Well, have you ever heard of William Hung? Does that ring a bell?

Buck: It does. I don’t know where, though.

Sterling: You might know him from its American Idol fame. He’s Ricky Martin shebang. So he really he became a worldwide phenomenon. Right? Right. Well, I had the opportunity to meet him as part of a TED Talk. I gave several years back and started talking with him and got a little bit of the behind the scenes story because I same as you, you know, I saw the meme and I laughed about it. I saw the recordings. Right. And in talking with him, I didn’t think about it from a human level, but he goes, Sterling, you have no idea what it’s like to have the entire world laughing at you, right? Like he thought he was a good singer. He was practicing really not to get up on stage and the world says, No, you’re not. Sterling: 

And he said he just wanted to crawl into a hole like it was the the worst feeling he had ever experienced in an entire life.

And after some period of time doing this, he decided to not avoid that discomfort, but to really lean into it, to say, okay, I have been made a little bit of a caricature. How could I use that to my advantage? How can I lean into that discomfort? And so what he started doing is he started making appearances all around the world. It turns out people would pay him quite a bit of money and fly him around the globe to see his performance of Ricky Martin.

There you go. And he ends up on stage in Vegas with Ricky Martin himself. He’s got record deals, he’s got celebrity deals, he’s got endorsements. Like all of a sudden, the thing that he was most uncomfortable with became the reason for his success. It just took leaning into that discomfort, huge amounts of discomfort to be able to do it.

Buck: Talk a little bit about it’s important to give up the exception to get the results you want. What does that mean?

Sterling: I think when we give ourselves and out, it’s just from a biological standpoint, a psychological standpoint, we’re probably going to take it, right. When you create a safety net, when you already see like, oh, if this goes south, here’s how I’m going to handle it, right? If this investment goes bad, here’s how I’m going to tell my husband or my wife, Here’s what I’m going to do with my portfolio thereafter. If you’re creating an exit strategy before you’ve even started something, you’re probably going to default to that. Just because it’s easier. It’s known and you create some neural networks in your brain that are going to start to orient you towards that path. When you get rid of the exception, you get rid of the excuses. You get rid of the reasons in advance.

It’s going to make it much more likely for you to achieve whatever it is that you’re looking to do. So with companies and with leaders, the companies and something that we can all take from is when you start on a new initiative, you have a new goal. Before you just set out and taking actions, sit for a couple of minutes and write down all the ways you’re going to give yourself an excuse. Write down your exit plan. Write down why you’re going to fail if you fail. And once you write them down, set them aside and say, I’m not going to let myself use any of these excuses going forward. And that orients you more towards towards the goal. And, you know, especially if you’re having somebody holding you accountable to not using those excuses, you’re much more likely to achieve them.

Buck: Make sense. Tell us a little bit about the book. You know, where we can get it. I mean, what are your obviously, it’s about this concept of hunting discomfort. You can get it. You can get it at the usual outlets, I assume, Amazon and all that.

Sterling: I like to say anywhere great books are sold.

Buck: Is it on audible?

Sterling: It’s not on audible yet. Will be later this year. 

Buck: Are you going to read it? 

Sterling: I am going to read it.

Buck: Good. I like it so much better when authors read their books, and it just doesn’t seem right when they don’t. But and then you have you’ve also got you’ve also got I know some some tools that that people can work at home as part of sort of this, you know, idea of discomfort. You want to talk a little bit about that?

Sterling: Yeah, well, this goes a little bit back to your earlier question of how do we find the discomfort that’s in the way? And one is starting to notice it. But we’ve constructed our lives and by extension, our businesses to avoid discomfort because it just doesn’t feel very good. So from a very young age, we start turning away from it, maybe initially, consciously, but we forget over time what that discomfort is that we’re avoiding. So we do have to do a little bit of sleuthing to figure out what that is.

So we put together a hunting discomfort quiz doesn’t cost any thing. People can go to huntingdiscomfort.com and take that free quiz there. But it’s 15 questions and at the end of it it’s going to at least shed a little bit of light on what discomfort is in the way of you using the tools, the resources, the money that you already have, and better yet, a pathway to how you can break free of that. So, you know, that’s something anybody can do. Of course, the book gets a lot deeper into some of the that stuff and a lot of the things we’ve been talking here. But you can find all of it at hunting discomfort dot com.

Buck: Sounds good. And then you also have a website SterlingHawkins dot com. What can we find there?

Sterling: That’s right yeah. Well thanks for the opportunity to plug all my things here. So it’s Sterling Hopkins economy vital by social media. You can find the work we do with companies in terms of workshops, keynote speaking, the deeper work we do around aligning companies to a true mission. That true no matter what and any question you want to get in touch with me, all of that’s there.


Fantastic. Sterling, thank you very much for being on Wealth Formula podcast, very useful information and hopefully people get some benefit from reading the book and exploring the questionnaire and stuff for sure.

Sterling: Thanks for having me on Buck. It’s been a pleasure.

Buck: We’ll be right back.