The Learning Curve

After stopping in Jima, we finally descended upon a deserted, but paved, landing strip – Gambella Airport, they call it. It was not unbearably hot when we landed in the afternoon on Tuesday, but we would soon know, all too well, the lowland heat of Gambella. After grabbing our bags from a trailer, which had been taxied the mere 20 meters over to baggage claim – a shade tree –  by a Land Cruiser, we headed into town. On the way into town, our driver pulled over and said he wanted to show us something. That something was a 12 foot python. Unfortunately, it had just been shot.

Aaron White of Samaritan’s Purse, Steadman Harrison of the Center for Creative Leadership, and I were in Gambella to conduct a Leadership Essentials for Peace training. A number of NGOs, in conjunction with government officials, are working in the Gambella area to diffuse tribal conflicts and provide relief to internally displaced persons. Staff members from ZOA, Samaritan’s Purse, Pact Ethiopia, the UN, and government officials attended. The workshop was designed by the Center for Creative Leadership as part of their Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative.

On Friday, day two of the workshop, I was responsible for leading a session on the learning curve and what it means to constantly seek, and master, new challenges and skill sets. I used a quote, which I first heard from Ryan McCoy, to get the idea across – ‘There is no growth in the comfort zone and no comfort in the growth zone.’

If you are not familiar with the idea of the learning curve, the following example may help. I’ll certainly not forget it.

After going over the idea of the learning curve, I asked if everyone understood me, and if others had examples to share.  Tesfaye, a Samaritan’s Purse employee, stood up and said he thought he understood. His example (recalled from memory, so not an exact quote) was:

When I was young my parents always told me that I would quit school after the 4th grade to become a farmer. The fourth grade came and I convinced them to allow me to stay in school. By the end of 8th grade, however, they had had enough. They said if I was going to stay with them, I was going to farm and not go to school. So, I decided to leave because I wanted to stay in school.

For me, at that time, home and family was my comfort zone. I had to make a decision to separate myself from my comfort zone to obtain an education. I did this because I value education highly. I know I wouldn’t be here today if I had stayed in my comfort zone in the 8th grade.

Wow. What an example. And what guts that must have taken to make such a drastic decision at a young age. Think of what you were doing in the 8th grade. I sure was not setting out on my own in order to pursue an education, I was fortunate enough not to have to.

Let’s all take a lesson from Tesfaye and continue to challenge ourselves while seeking and mastering new skills, and frontiers. There’s certainly no comfort in the growth zone, but it’s the only place in which we may ever hope to realize our potential.

Gambella, Ethiopia

For more information on the Center for Creative Leadership’s Leadership Beyond Boundaries initiative visit: