You may remember Frank McKinney’s story from Message #1194 . How, having little experience with real estate and almost no money, he started small, buying, renovating, and selling foreclosures in the poor parts of town . . . and eventually became the most renowned creator of luxury oceanfront homes in the world.

But Frank did not achieve his phenomenal success overnight. In fact, before he was able to effectively grow his business, there was a major impediment (see “Word to the Wise,” below) that he had to overcome. Because even as he gained experience and had the opportunity to take on larger projects, he found that he was shying away from them. “You’re doing fine with the smaller jobs that you understand and are very comfortable with,” a conservative inner voice was telling him, “so why take on the risk of something bigger?”

I knew Frank back then in the days when he was a fledgling real-estate entrepreneur. I had rented space from him when I first moved my personal office from Boca Raton to Delray Beach. I remember how surprised I was when, having notified him that we needed new light bulbs in my office, the landlord himself came in to do the handy work.

We talked for a while. He was already doing very well and was excited about the prospects for making a real-estate fortune in our town. I remember thinking, “If you are so sure about the potential of real estate here, why are you wasting your time changing light bulbs?”

It’s clear to me now that one reason was the desire he had to stay in his comfort zone — to keep doing the things he’d grown accustomed to doing. But it was not long before that changed.

One day, Frank realized that he was never going to achieve his ambitions unless he “stretched his risk muscles.”

He sold his house, moved into a small apartment to keep expenses low, cashed in his life savings, and invested in a $775,000 building – a much larger project than he’d ever even contemplated before. The result of that venture was a $900,000 profit and the beginning of a new stage in his career – building and selling mega-mansions.

And that brings me to the point I’m trying to make today: I don’t think it’s possible to accomplish anything substantial without experiencing a significant level of psychological (and maybe even physical) discomfort.

When I look back at my own career, I can see that every new phase (getting into publishing, mastering the skill of copywriting, starting new businesses, etc.) was – in the beginning – very stressful. And when I think about the people I’ve mentored – friends and family members who changed their careers and achieved wealth and success – I recognize their early struggles to push on when problems seemed insurmountable.

These days, I’m involved in three major projects: a new book, a new conference, and a new real-estate project. Each one has its own bundle of questions, deadlines, and headaches. Taken together, they are making me very uncomfortable.

And at this stage of my career, I’m asking myself why I’m doing it. Even though I know the answer. In his e-mail advisory “Reality Check”, Gary North said that there is a natural conflict between the comfort we seek as consumers and the comfort we want to maintain as business operators.

Consumers want the comfort of knowing they are getting the best product/service at the best price. So long as their faith in what they have been buying isn’t shaken, they are not inclined to change their buying habits. Because buying what they’ve been buying is comfortable.

On the other hand, to keep his customers happy, the business owner must constantly put himself in a position of discomfort. He doesn’t like being uncomfortable but he realizes that to fend off the competition, he must always be improving his product/service. That takes a lot of hard work. And hard work is uncomfortable.

The top 20% in any industry are willing to be uncomfortable, North says. They “are open to suggestions, which is the main reason they are in the top 20%. They see their comfort zones as temporary. They know that they are under the gun of rivals who seek to take advantage of any weakness in order to lure away their customers. As consumers, nobody is shooting at us. Someone new is slapping us on the back and telling us how great we are. As [business owners], lots of people are shooting at us. Someone familiar is shouting in our ear, ‘What have you done for me lately?'”

“It boils down to this: If [business owners] seek to create comfort zones for themselves, the only way they can do this is by creating discomfort zones for consumers — zones in which no one is hustling to serve consumers well.”

Nowhere is this fact of business truer than in the personal-service industry. I’ve recently become involved in a property-management business that includes a bed-and-breakfast facility. It was being run by a man who was very competent in many ways . . . except one: He didn’t want his customers to make him or his staff uncomfortable.

To make “things run smoothly,” he established all sorts of “rules” about when guests could get their services, how they could get them, when they could ask for changes, and what kind of changes they could ask for. These “rules” were prominently posted and enforced with military rigidity.

This manager did manage to increase the comfort zone of his staff. After all, they seldom had to go too far out of their way to accommodate the whims of a guest. But business was faltering and the owners were getting complaints. I fired that manager — and now we have one in place who understands that his job is to endure a certain amount of discomfort in order to make his customers a lot more comfortable.