Go Beyond Your Working Comfort Zone


lilcomfort2When was the last time you stepped outside your working comfort zone? Amber’s recent post about business success mentioned having to “do things we’re uncomfortable doing, like … ‘putting ourselves out there.'” Her post reminded us how often we deny ourselves certain possibilities simply because we’re uncomfortable with giving something new a try.

It’s not just about building a business, though. Going beyond your comfort zone in any work setting can be intimidating, but I think it can be especially difficult if you work remotely. We’re all sitting happily in our nice remote-work bubbles, insulated from The Office (or The Client), peak-hour gridlock, water cooler babble and the vagaries of the weather. We’re able to do whatever we want, whenever we want — within reason.

Working remotely can become a very comfortable experience very quickly. So what happens when you’re needed for a three-day on-site work conference? Do you curse your CEO and start making a list of all the home comforts you’ll take with you, or are you cool as a cucumber? And what if (horror of horrors) you’re asked to do a presentation at the conference?

From Little Things…

We all have our comfort zones — boundaries that we’re hesitant to cross. Often, these boundaries are subconscious, but they can have a huge impact on the way we operate. Amber mentioned one in her post: she decided before she’d even called a contact that they would be too busy to be interested in her new venture. But there are other equally insidious ways in which our working comfort zones can limit us every day:

  • You need to arrange a meeting with a team member in your timezone. You’re more of “an email person” than “a phone person” so you send them an email rather than just picking up the phone and calling them.
  • You need to prepare a presentation, and a colleague has offered her help. You haven’t worked with her before, and when you call her, she’s away from her desk. As you hang up without leaving a message, you decide that maybe it’s just easier to go it alone.
  • A friend recommends a handy piece of free software that might help you track your time — a task you’ve always had trouble with. You tell him you’ll take a look at it, knowing all the while that you won’t — you can’t be bothered trying to get your head around a new invoicing process right now.
  • An associate invites you to a freshly-launched regular industry meet-up. The last time you went to a “networking event” was about three years ago, and it was really boring, so you decline on the spot.

You can probably find a justification for each one of these scenarios; I know I can. But in each case, you’re declining an opportunity to interact, to experiment, or to try something new. And each of those opportunities could lead to other things: greater work satisfaction, stronger working relationships and friendships, new life experiences, and so on.

Comfort or Confidence?

Often we decline opportunities because, at heart, we’re not confident about how we’ll respond to them. But although we feel most confident within our comfort zone, it’s when we stop being so comfortable that we can actually build confidence. And the more frequently we go beyond our boundaries, the easier it becomes not just in one area — such as work — but in other areas of life as well.

Sometimes, the boundaries are so subtle and ingrained that we might not even be aware of them. They do have a few telltale signs, though. Imagine yourself in any of the above situations. If you feel, even subtly, a sense of:

  • unease
  • boredom or disinterest
  • frustration or exasperation
  • a desire to escape the situation

…you may have discovered the edge of your comfort zone. Once you know how the prospect of stepping out of your comfort zone makes you feel, you’ll be able to identify those situations quickly and easily — and do something about them.

The good news is that you don’t need to jump out of a plane or swim with sharks to start expanding those boundaries. The simple act of actually trialling that new piece of software your friend recommended, or — yes — calling your colleague rather than emailing, can start to erode your boundaries and boost your sense of capability.

This can be especially helpful for those times when you feel isolated, or more responsive than proactive in your work. Something as simple as initiating a meeting about a problem you’ve perceived with your project, or committing yourself to actually speak with each team member on a regular basis, can make a valuable difference. It may well help you reestablish your sense of involvement and contribution, and it’s sure to build your confidence, too.

Perhaps, like a friend of mine, you’ll find you enjoy the challenge — and its benefits — so much that you’ll make a plan to do at least one thing that’s outside of your working comfort zone every week.

How about it? What could you try to expand your working comfort zone this week?

(photo courtesy of Neja)


Parag Shah

Very nice post. Lack of confidence very often disguises itself as something not being in our comfort zone.

Also as you mention “# a desire to escape the situation” is almost always a sign of “low confidence” in that area. We rarely want to escape from something we are good at doing.

Parag Shah

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