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The Comfort Zone: where growth ends

I believe most of the people I have come across in my professional life in last few years have seen the show Breaking Bad.  Even if you haven’t you will understand the context, so please follow along. In one of the episodes of this great show the lead characters, Walter White and Jesse Pinkman, are awkwardly reminiscing about the times they used to cook in their RV. During the episode, Jesse discusses how much money they had made and wonders why they didn’t buy a newer, more reliable vehicle.  Walter replies to Jesse’s question with one word, “inertia”. Walt and Jesse enjoyed cooking in the desert because of the money and the rush from doing so. Therefore, inertia prevented them from buying a new RV or moving to a better lab. Inertia is the enemy of change.

That sums how I view ‘the comfort zone’.   We are all guilty of resisting change. Change is unpleasant, change challenges the brain, and introduces discomfort.  However, change is also the only constant in the world and resisting it is comfortable.  Comfort is a trap, a cozy trap that feels good, but it could cost you growth. This comes from personal experience.

Enough with the Sermon.  How do I get out of the ‘comfort trap’?

Now for the million-dollar question: how do we work at getting out of the ‘comfort trap’ that we build for ourselves? Although the answer is never straight forward and is not a one-size-fits-all, I would like to share with you how I overcame it and what helped me personally. Here we go!

1.     Define your comfort zone

This is probably the most obvious step yet the most difficult one. In order to overcome or solve a problem you must define it and accept it. So, take a pen and paper and list the things that make you uncomfortable. It could one or many. For me, it was whether my skills had become outdated in the industry. Was I afraid to learn new things? Was I too comfortable with the technologies I work in?

Remember, the key here is to be honest about yourself and how you feel. When you name the things you’ve become comfortable with you can then overcome them.

2.     Take on a new task in your current job (Baby Steps!)

The beauty of this step lies in the fact that you could do this easily at your current job. Go ahead and ask your team lead or your manager for a task or project you have never worked on before. It should cause you some amount of discomfort as you learn it, but not so much that it turns you off. This puts you on a path to grow out of your comfort zone.

3.     Change your circle of influence

This could be difficult but is a big step toward moving out of your comfort zone. In my experience as a working professional, most of the time your thoughts and actions are influenced by the company you keep. Spend time with people who embrace change, the people who are doing what you want to do and see how they operate in their day-to-day activities. The idea is to be inspired and not to blindly follow their path.

4.     Don’t fear making mistakes – everyone makes them!

This is less of a step but more of a fact. In my experience working in the technology industry, I have noticed that people forget that everyone makes mistakes and it drives them back into their comfort zone. Learn to laugh at yourself when you make mistakes. Moving out of your comfort zone means you are taking a risk and risk inevitably involves failures and setbacks. Although you may feel foolish, lean into it – especially when others poke fun.

Final thoughts – Yoda Speak 😊

No matter how you prepare yourself for it, stepping out of your comfort zone will seem like a big hurdle.  Like Walter said, it’s “inertia” working against you. Don’t feel like you need to jump right out of it.  Instead, take gradual steps. As you slowly push out of your comfort zone, you will feel more and more at ease with the stuff that seemed so challenging at the beginning.

Take the first step and I am sure you will make it!

Provide opportunities for employees to learn and grow. 

Abhishek Jala is an Application Architect at TalentQuest. He is an experienced technology professional whose focus has been in the information technology and services industries.

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