Photo credit: Suzanne D. Williams on Unsplash
When I reflect on the times when I rapidly developed as a person or as a professional, I notice that periods of growth followed a decision to leave a comfortable, current state behind and instead do something new. This new thing often felt challenging, uncomfortable, and scary. I failed more often than when I knew what I was doing. But I think leaving your comfort zone is a requirement to grow.
I had to leave my comfort zone to grow when
- developing novel research ideas while working on my Ph.D. after being a student meant moving to a new country and research environment,
- growing into an individual contributor in my first professional job meant leaving academia behind to join a large organization,
- growing my leadership skills - both from a technology and people perspective - meant joining a scale-up organization where I could take on such a role,
- becoming a parent meant redefining what I value in life and what I focus on every day.
Take a minute to reflect on your path and where you grew. Then consider the following ideas as inspiration to leave your comfort zone to grow - I often mention these things to friends that feel stuck in their current situation:
1. Make new connections
Get to know people that do interesting things by joining online communities or, even better and if possible, an in-person community like a meetup group. This will help you find areas where you can leave your comfort zone and also give you the necessary human connections to then take that next step into that new area.
2. Take the step rather than waiting for the perfect opportunity
Avoid being overly critical when evaluating new opportunities. Looking for the perfect stretch opportunity only means that you are staying in your current, comfortable but static situation longer. Often, you can also adjust and make changes after you took that step. For example, a new job role can often be shaped to your liking.
3. Hang in there
In the beginning, doing something new will feel exhausting and uncomfortable. You will fail more often. Try to ignore the suspicion that maybe you made the wrong decision. Instead, keep a diary of your successes no matter how small they are. Set measurable goals that allow you to track your progress. In no time, you will have grown.
4. Evaluate periodically
Periodically, think about your current situation and if you feel stuck. Quarterly reviews of your goals or an end-of-year reflection can be perfect for that. Once you are ready to once again leave your comfort zone, start from step 1.
In summary, I encourage you to look for opportunities to leave your comfort zone - growth happens when you do something new.