5 Ways to Help You Get Out of Your Professional Comfort Zone
Until I graduated from college, I firmly believed that the path one chooses during school years is the path he or she will be pursuing and treading for the rest of his or her life. Eventually, I realized that this kind of thinking was merely the result of having been part of a flawed education system for career pathing. The system forces students to choose majors and class subjects from a list without assessing if they’re suitable for that individual. Inevitably, most people go on to change careers or paths completely down the line with an overwhelming sense of regret, lost time, and missed opportunities. Most get forced into these early decisions without being bold enough to take a step back, evaluate their options, and dare to look for other alternatives. Those who do are few in number, even today.
“Change is the only constant,” as the saying goes. Or rather, it should be. Yet our reluctance to accept change in our lives only intensifies as we grow older. The truth is, however, change is good at every age and every stage in life or work. It is never too late to put that nagging curiosity to the test and decide to see what’s behind door number two. We may have many doors, but it is up to us to open them and find out what could have been and can still be.
Women, in particular, are reluctant to step outside their routines as much as they would like to. The pressures of balancing work and family life are enormous enough as it is, and to even contemplate experimenting or taking a leap of faith towards a new dimension altogether is a tempting, albeit daunting, thought.
Career success consultant and leadership coach Kathy Caprino in her article for Forbes in 2014 illuminates the urgent need to continually push ourselves outside our comfort zones and the damage we cause to ourselves by not doing so. She also talks about her liaison with Walmart’s Senior Director of International Human Resource Strategy David Van Rooy who stands firm with the idea of pushing oneself outside the comfort zone to attain career success. He shared his compelling experience of having to move to Miami – a complete change from the quiet life he was used to in Michigan – and his bumpy ride from teething problems, stressful situations including a stolen bike, struggles with enrolling in classes, and a failed thesis defense to finally settling down, enjoying, and even loving Miami. He earned his doctorate and also met his wife eventually in Miami.
“If you never feel uncomfortable in your life and career, you are undoubtedly limiting your opportunities to do greater things than you might never have imagined,” says Van Rooy. He further highlights the benefits to those who dare to take more risks and break free from what they have always been doing to try to do that which they have never done before. Some of these benefits include letting go of the pressures of perfectionism, getting noticed by others, and inspiring them to take similar steps for growth and change, finally being able to break free from the mold and define oneself as an authentic entity, gaining control of one’s own life on one’s own terms and reveling in the satisfaction and enhanced self-respect of achieving and experiencing “the new.”
A mother knows more about routine and the monotony of it than anyone else – a working mother even more so! What if a working mother decided to step out of her comfort zone at work and try something new – a different career vertical or an unprecedented project or path that requires a learning curve of its own? The decision to take that leap that she knows in her heart is the right one for her – one that will escalate her growth and contribute towards her career success – will be in joust with the fear of things falling apart and upsetting the other aspects of her life. The predicament is faced by every woman in every country today.
Most decide to tread carefully, to go against their gut and let their career-defining decisions take a backseat momentarily – to be addressed at a later date. Many also reluctantly refuse these opportunities. We see very little of women being backed and encouraged by their families and peers to take the leap toward betterment and to choose what makes them happy. Studies and interviews have revealed that women who actually take those leaps of faith are more successful and lead happier lives than those who remain in the ruts of fearful monotony.
A good solution to this problem is to break it down and start with small changes as baby steps towards the big ones. Slowly incorporating small changes that will help you achieve those goals you have only deigned for so far but never could get around to reaching is the best path to reaching your true potential. Here are a few things you can do to slowly tread towards those changes you have wanted to make without upsetting the dynamics of your current life too dramatically.
- Take small steps at work. If you’re yearning to add a new skill or line of work to your current portfolio, but a skeptical resistance to change and anxiety about tipping over the routine in your life is stopping you, take a breath and break it down. Identify the skill set or job criteria that you want to delve into as an addition to your current job description and find out all there is to know about it and how you can contribute toward it. Brainstorm new ideas, perhaps chalk out a weekly or monthly schedule for sitting with your colleagues in that department to talk about how you can be of help, initially in small doses.
- Exercise no matter what age you are. Maybe you neglected the gym or the yoga mat all these years because of a strenuous and ever-maddening work life, or you were too busy raising your kids to have the time to ever put your health first and do something about it. (“Running around with the kids is a workout in itself” you told yourself.) You have passed the 40s or even 50s mark in the calendar of life, and the complacency of your routine is allowing you to carry on without entertaining any thoughts of a change. If the gym isn’t your style, start with pay-per-class yoga sessions. Take an hour from your day when the kids are at school or at play and call an instructor to your home if you must, but ideally a change of scenery is also what you need. Buy a yoga mat and let loose for a minimum of an hour. You will feel your body and your mind changing, relaxing, accepting, and releasing so much that it will baffle you! You will wonder why you didn’t start much earlier.
- Branch out as a freelancer. I know of people who have taken some admirable steps to optimize their potential and “show up for themselves” by daring to take time out for their passion and letting it reach unprecedented heights. For example, a friend (who’s the mother of a toddler) jumped from a nine-to-five job to being a full-time mom, during maternity leave, she felt a strong itch of complementing motherhood with a creative skill that was both fulfilling and yet not all-encompassing. So, she decided to put her creative writing skills to use and started a blog. With a blog to get her going, she started to slowly hone her skills and reach out to publications. Today she is an accomplished author and an entrepreneur. Discover what you love that you haven’t yet had the time to do or the confidence to try, and take the plunge. Freelancing doesn’t take up too much of your time and allows you to work from home and also follow your own time and pace.
- Don’t get stuck in a job that makes you unhappy. In a common conundrum – one being experienced widely across the world today – many people spend half their lives in one profession when their hearts are really in another. As time goes on and passes by, we pass up the opportunity to right the wrongs, to make the changes we should have made yesterday, and to truly recognize our capabilities and allow them to become what we do in life. Happiness is often relegated to the backseat – always possible but being searched for every day. Don’t let time pass by. When your heart is in something else, don’t hesitate to take that leap of faith and explore the unknown. Cautiously at first, dabble a bit and see how you fare. Half the battle is won when you try. If you don’t try, you will never know.
- Let positivity be your constant companion. A negative environment breeds negative outcomes. Some people in your life (or even critics outside of it) will always have their daggers drawn, ready to run you to the ground. Today’s technological age of social media where Twitter trolls, Facebook feuds, and the like leave no stone unturned in attacking opinion and free will. One must learn to hold his or her own and sift through the negativity to find those few positive influences that one needs in life. You don’t need to surround yourself with people who don’t believe in you, however influential or intimidating they might be. A positive, encouraging acquaintance is far better than a negative close friend. The influences in your life are also instrumental in shaping your outlook and lifting your potential.
Whatever is comfortable is always easy, but the uncomfortable can sometimes be the most rewarding. Take a chance at life before you’re all out of chances!13