Note: This blog originally published in July 2011.
No matter how great you are at your job, if you don’t get to stretch yourself regularly you run the risk of becoming irrelevant. Or at the very least, you miss out on opportunities you never knew about.
A small leap of faith
Case in point: a year or so after I had started my freelance business, I was having coffee with a friend who is also a freelance writer. She told me she was purchasing office space with a few other people and suggested I join them. I wasn’t super excited about the idea. I was working regularly, enjoying being at home in my sweatpants, and not sure that spending $300 a month on an outside office made much economic sense.
I was ready to say no, but something made me say yes instead. It wasn’t a decision made on logic, but instead on fear of missing something, of being outside of some loop that promised a different universe than the one I knew. Besides, I figured, the only downside seemed to be a year’s lease.
This small leap of faith changed my life in countless ways and all of them good. I instantly widened my circle of colleagues and I was in direct contact with people who could, and did, provide me with work.
When my small group of cohorts moved to the warehouse district a year later, I found myself in the midst of a burgeoning creative community. I also learned a ton of practical things, including lease negotiation and new technology. My business and my life today would look nothing like it does if I hadn’t made this move.
When should you leave your comfort zone?
I remind myself of this on a regular basis and I make a point of leaving my comfort zone regularly, both personally and professionally. It’s literally like being a mother bird and kicking your own self out of the nest: you may not feel ready, but you’ll fly… somehow.
So how do you know what comfort to leave behind and when? Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself as you contemplate changes:
Is it risky or merely scary? Leaving your comfort zone shouldn’t be confused with major risk taking; i.e. your professional life shouldn’t ride on the outcome.
Will it enhance my professional life? What’s the upside? How will it change you? What doors will it open?
Does it offer positives for my personal life? Are there advantages for your life beyond work? Can you make the investment in time or money go further?
An example would be to accept/manufacture a public speaking engagement. This is a big ‘non-comfort-zone’ for most people. How does it stack up to the questions? It’s scary, to be sure, but not especially risky unless you faint and fall off a high stage. It will likely enhance your professional currency, adding another skill to your resume and making you more visible. And finally, it’s also likely to help you personally by increasing your confidence level in social situations.
Your goal should be to regularly find such exercises and opportunities and pursue as many as you can. Comfortably, of course.