“Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” – T.S. Eliot
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about comfort zones (here and here, for example). There are plenty of reasons for that, but one of them is the realization that there are way more people cruising through their careers than I previously thought. I don’t mean people aren’t working hard; I mean they’re working hard at things they’re comfortable doing. It seems like their entire career goal is simply to be as comfortable as possible.
It’s easy to fall into that trap. What’s wrong with being comfortable? Why wouldn’t I want to stick to doing things I’m comfortable doing? Because the more we work to be comfortable, the more we stop growing.
Absolutely no growth comes unless we’re outside our comfort zones, being challenged, being pushed. That’s true in our careers as well as our personal lives. We’re happy to stay right where we are, not growing, on cruise control for years.
The problem is that as leaders, we can’t afford to stop growing. We are constantly being faced with new things, challenging things, things that we may or may not have any idea how to address. If our capabilities and behaviors are the same ten years from now as they are today, how will we possibly deal with those as yet unforeseen challenges? We, and our organizations, will be in big trouble.
Sometimes it can be difficult to see when we’re slipping into a comfort zone. That’s why I think it’s so important to constantly reflect on what you’re doing or have a friend/colleague who can give you some outside perspective (or both). If the first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem, then make sure you’re giving yourself every opportunity to identify the problem exists.
Challenge yourself on a regular basis: What things do I know I should be doing to advance my career or grow as a leader, and yet I consistently don’t do them? Is there some knowledge I should acquire? A conversation I need to have with someone? A relationship I need to build? What’s keeping me from addressing those things? If you can identify specific growth opportunities, then you can put together a plan to take advantage of them.
Don’t let yourself get comfortable. It’s easy to do. In fact, it’s probably part of human nature to seek out that comfort level and stay there. Don’t do it. Your career will stall out, and you won’t be the leader your organization and its people need you to be. Start getting uncomfortable today.