When it comes to getting out of your comfort zone, it doesn’t get much more literal than throwing yourself out of a small aeroplane flying at 14,000 feet. Last weekend, that’s exactly what I did. Presented with the opportunity to skydive for a good cause, I decided this might be my best chance to try something I’ve always wanted to do – and which I had previously been terrified of. That fear didn’t disappear as our plane rose above the clouds and I prepared to jump – quite the opposite. But it was a good, visceral reminder that things that push us out of normal patterns and areas of operation are really valuable. The jump was an incredible experience – a few seconds of freefall that felt like minutes, holding my breath for the parachute pull, the slow descent and landing – and one I’m really glad I decided to do. Once the adrenaline wore off, I felt newly confident, and that stayed with me long after the fact. As I carried that feeling into work, that got me thinking about the comfort zone.
Working in the Comfort Zone
When we talk about the ‘comfort zone’ at work, it can sound like not such a bad thing – we all like to be comfortable! If you’re in a job where you have a firmly established routine, you’re always doing the same kind of work with the same kind of approach and working with the same people, it’s not necessarily bad, but it can be easy to slip into a sort of “autopilot” mode. Someone who is never being challenged and never tackling new problems isn’t getting any opportunities to expand their skill set and learn new ways of working. So how can you get out of your comfort zone?
1. Target existing challenges…
It’s vital to a long, successful career to always be learning new things, to remain curious and open to new possibilities. Think about what aspects of your job or your industry feel scary or unknown to you – these are probably something you don’t have to deal with often but dread whenever they come up. Stop running away from those, and start running towards them.
Work out what about it scares you – maybe you feel like you’re not good at a specific irregularly recurring task you have to take care of, like putting together your end-of-quarter presentation or running annual progress meetings with your direct reports. Find out if you can get training on that specific task, research online how other people approach it and the next time it comes up try not to dread it but to approach it as something exciting – an opportunity to see if you’ve gotten better, an experience you can learn from if it proves to still be difficult. Whatever happens, approaching with an open, positive attitude will make it easier to handle, building your confidence.
2. … then seek new ones
If you’re on top of every aspect of your current role and you’ve grown confident even in handling the aspects that used to scare you, then it’s time to find some new tasks. Ask your manager or team leader if there are any projects you can contribute to or any other responsibilities you can take on. Talk to teams in other departments and see if there are any opportunities to collaborate, or if they have a use for input from someone with your specific knowledge. Maybe something will come up that isn’t at all the kind of task you were thinking about – and that’s ok. This is all about learning and trying new things and the only way to become good at something new is to first be bad at it, a key thing to remember when taking steps to get out of your comfort zone.
3. Change the way you work every day
This one is simple but can have surprising results if you want to start small. Try re-arranging the structure of your work day. If your normal rhythm is doing sales tasks in the morning and admin in the afternoon, switch them around. If you’re spending set days of the week on specific parts of your job, try moving them around the week. If you’ve been locked into a fixed schedule for a long time, you may be shocked at how different this feels, and find you’re more actively engaged in each of your activities. It may turn out that your newly changed schedule doesn’t work for you, and that’s ok too – actively thinking about when and how you do what you do is a good way to stay alert to stagnation.
4. Still feeling stuck? Time for a whole new zone, at a new job
If you try every possible way of expanding how you work, growing your knowledge and skill set and chasing down every challenge available within your current role – then that’s a pretty solid sign that it’s time to find a new one. Whether that means going for a promotion or looking to a new employer, perhaps even in a different location, the ultimate leap out of your comfort zone will take you into a totally new zone. A new job will give you many learning opportunities as you take on new responsibilities, working with new people in new ways. Those big leaps to push your career progression forward are central to continually expanding your comfort zone and seeing how much you can learn and grow.
Feel the fear – do it anyway
The scariest moment of my skydive was the moment just before leaving the plane – and the best part was the free fall right after. Taking the jump into the unknown at work can be a scary prospect – but the rewards are great, and longer lasting than my journey back to the ground. Embrace change, challenge yourself, and take your professional life to new heights.