Working Outside of Your Comfort Zone

By: Jeff Cowart, MAH | jcowart@barlowmccarthy.com

“Stepping outside your comfort zone cultivates the ability to manage change.”

“Surely I’m knocked off my perch,” says actor Albert Finney in the movie “Rich in Love” as he, in his best southern drawl, describes his sudden and unexpected upended life.

No matter how adventurous or innovative we may feel we are, all of us are creatures of habit. We like predictability, routine, and familiar process. This is particularly true when it comes to work models, leadership styles, and even creative approaches. We don’t like being knocked off our perch.

But what about making a conscious decision to fly off our own perch? This can create discovery, learning, opportunity and personal growth. It’s also a common characteristic among our strongest and best leaders.

The reason is the world changes. Circumstances change. Markets evolve. Workers bring diversity of opinion and worldview into the workplace. The best leaders understand that to meet the challenges of the new, to expand understanding, to grow, sometimes we need to step outside of our own comfort zones to actually experience another point of view.

Psychiatrist Abigail Brenner, writing in Psychology Today, identified five areas of benefit in stepping outside of our comfort zones, more or less represented with my own interpretation as follows:

  • Settling for the mediocre just to avoid disruption, stress or anxiety is too big a price to pay. Challenges and risk experiences are cumulative. Every time you try something new, you expand your repertoire of skills and self-knowledge.
  • Stepping outside your comfort zone cultivates the ability to manage change, personal or organizational. Change is a constant in today’s world. Companies value transformation. Those who chart the course to the future embrace change.
  • Taking risks, regardless of the outcome, creates growth. There is no failure where something is learned. People tend to avoid risk to avoid judgment. True leaders are willing to be judged for bold, innovative and transformational ideas.
  • Challenging yourself pushes you to discover and use your personal store of untapped knowledge and resources. You have no idea what you’re made of until you venture outside your familiar world.
  • Your “real” life exists beyond the bubble of your own personal thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Listening to others, learning, and adapting are all foundational elements of good people, particularly those in leadership or relationship development roles.

In sum, working within your personal comfort zone is a reasonable strategy. Purposefully practicing the art of stepping outside of that comfort zone for the right reasons enriches life, work and relationships with others and moves you toward an exemplary strategy.

Without practice, we are much more vulnerable to being knocked off our perch.