Here's Why You Need to Step Outside Your Comfort Zone


I absolutely love my job. I almost feel like life isn’t real. That’s how much I love it. I have fun, flexibility and I’m working in the industry of my dreams.

Yet I just accepted a new job. Let me elaborate. A few weeks ago, I was invited to interview for a new position. Several days later, I was offered the job. This unleashed a world of struggle inside me because I love my current job.

I’ve been at this company for a little over a year now, and it’s been an amazing experience. I have learned a lot and grown as a person. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a mentor who has guided me and propelled me along. And I’ve had flexibility: I can, for the most part, work the schedule I set for myself. There’s something invaluable about that.

So when I was faced with the decision of accepting a new job, I had to take a really hard look at my options. I kept thinking, Well, I have fun at work. I have a flexible schedule. I like the people I work with. There are certain perks I’d be giving up.

And then I examined my new choice: longer hours, potentially less exciting work. But there was a network to be gained. I’d been given an opportunity to expand and grow my network with people who've worked in a different part of my industry or another market -- one I’d eventually like to explore.

I weighed my options, oscillating back and forth. Emotionally, I felt inclined to remain right where I was. But rationally, I knew what I needed to do.

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This was an extremely difficult decision for me as I value comfort. I don’t think I’m alone in this. People like to be comfortable. They enjoy the familiar. Even when the familiar is far from optimal (even horrible), people still resist change. Although a workplace might be tiring and frustrating, they know at least what level of tiring and frustrating to expect. They think, Why knows what the result would be if they were to move, change or try something new? They might be in for entirely new levels of tiring and frustrating.

While I was in the process of making this difficult decision, I sought feedback from a few trusted friends. One friend, a self-proclaimed workaholic, bluntly told me, “I don’t understand why this is difficult!” She saw the opportunity for what it would do for me professionally and set aside any emotional component. Another trusted friend shared a painful insight: “I think you’re too comfortable.”

Seeking comfort, however natural it is, will never enable growth. As my fifth-grade teacher instructed, “There can be no amount of learning without a certain level of discomfort.” Think back to your greatest moments of growth: What was the process like? Was it easy?My guess is no. Growth rarely is.

It would have been much easier for me to stay where I was. I know the ropes at the job. I know (for the most part) what to do to excel at the tasks given me. I know the people. I know the office dynamics. I even know my co-worker’s Starbucks order. How am I supposed to learn a new Starbucks order? I know that changing jobs will mean abandoning the familiar, and that’s scary.

But in the quest for growth, people have to allow themselves to be a little scared. Complacency is dangerous. People must constantly work to challenge themselves, acquire new skills, meet new people and say yes to new experiences. Financial advisors often encourage young investors to invest in higher-risk assets.

When someone is young with few attachments is the optimal time to take this chance. This high-risk, high-reward mentality applies to job opportunities. This is the time to take calculated risks. The magic truly does happen outside of the comfort zone. Here are a few tips for getting there:

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1. Identify strengths and weaknesses.

To step outside of your comfort zone, first understand what makes you comfortable. What's your security blanket and what do you shy away from? Perhaps it’s people. Perhaps you have a best friend who you do everything with. Perhaps it’s a certain skill set that you frequently use or a job you’ve stayed at out of familiarity. Identify things you cling to and what makes you nervous.

2. Seek opportunities to improve skills.

You’ve identified your strengths and weaknesses: Now, and you’re not going to like this, you have to have to head toward the thing that makes you most nervous. For me, it was leaving the comfortable job. Maybe for you it’s public speaking or taking a class. Or maybe, it's inding a new job. Allow yourself to be uncomfortable. That’s the only way to turn your weaknesses into strengths. Babying a previously broken limb only weakens it more. It needs use.

3. Reach for goals.

People can set immediate, intermediate and stretch goals, all in varying degrees of difficulty and time range for achievement. This is the time to keep longer range goals in mind. Often to achieve these goals, people have to step outside of their comfort zone. Keep in mind what you’re aiming to achieve. This will motivate you to take chances. Don’t be intimidated by hard work: That’s how you score results.

4. Remember nothing is permanent.

In the  search for the right decision, people often paint their options as being the “final decision.” But almost nothing is final. Always remember that no matter what you do, you’re not stuck. Even certain contracts can be voided. And if a decision means you are committing to doing something for several years, that’s OK, too. That stretch of time is just a drop in the bucket.

Keep perspective. Very few decisions are permanent. Keeping this in mind helps alleviate some of the pressure brought to the decision-making process. I also don’t believe in mistakes -- only learning experiences.

Everything serves to teach you something. Whatever choice you make will be the right choice for that moment.

5. Have a good support system.

I have friends and family in whom I can confide. I have trusted them and their opinions, and they have served as good sounding boards for me. They were able to be rational when my emotions were flaring. They helped me to weigh the pros and the cons of my decision objectively. Don’t deploy an army, but a few trusted advisors can really help provide perspective and give you the motivational push you need.

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This story originally appeared at Entrepreneur. Copyright 2014.