As a women’s career coach and leadership developer, I’ve seen that one of the most damaging things you can do in your career is to stay for years where you’re comfortable. I’ve done it, and what often ensues is that you begin to doubt your value in the marketplace. You wonder if you really have the abilities and experience to succeed and thrive outside your current employer.
I’ve learned too (the hard way) that no job is secure. The only thing that is secure in life is you – your spirit, your heart, your talents and gifts, and your ability to contribute at a high level to something that matters to you in life. When you live from that knowledge and experience, you’ll find (and create) gainful, rewarding work no matter where you go, despite the turbulence around you. And to do that, you need to continually push yourself out of your comfort zone.
I recently connected with David Van Rooy, Walmart’s Senior Director of International Human Resources Strategy and Operations, who shared his insightful views about pushing yourself out of comfort as a critical career success move. David is responsible for working across Walmart’s non-US markets to develop and drive the execution of the international HR strategy. In his prior role at Walmart he was responsible for the world’s largest performance management and employee engagement programs, covering nearly 2.2 million employees globally. Before Walmart he held leadership roles at Marriott International and Burger King Corporation. David has a Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has published over 20 peer reviewed scientific business articles and book chapters.
His book, Trajectory: 7 Career Strategies To Take You From Where You Are To Where You Want To Be explores the concept of Career Trajectory and how you can leverage your skills and create new possibilities around you to forge a positive path and reach your highest goals.
Here’s what David shared about the importance of pushing beyond your comfort zone:
“I’ve seen in my work at Walmart that maintaining placement as the top retailer requires staying ahead of change and a willingness to ‘swim upstream.’ So much of what everyone does at Walmart – whether it is the size or scale of an endeavor, or launching an entirely new idea – has never been done before. This can be daunting because it includes an element of risk and necessitates people stepping out of their comfort zones. The people who do this successfully are able to make a tremendously positive impact and find even more opportunities to make a difference. This can create a fast track for accelerating their career trajectory. It is possible to be successful maintaining the status quo, but true differentiation is achievable only for those who are willing to dive into new areas.
I learned a great deal about my own comfort zone recently. I was sitting in the dark and couldn’t see a single thing. My fingers were sticky and covered with food that I couldn’t see. I was highly uncomfortable and totally out of my element. And this was by design. It was part of an event called Dining in the Dark, which is intended to improve awareness and understanding of visual impairments.
Not only did it succeed with its mission, it made me think deeply about my own comfort levels in various situations – both at work and outside of work. I found that my natural instinct at the event was to do what made me comfortable, not what the blind people in attendance were comfortable with. But I would miss so much if I didn’t break through my lack of comfort.
The event reminded me of a time when I was forced out of my comfort zone at a critical juncture in my life. I was staring at multiple rejection letters from my preferred graduate schools and was beginning to wonder what I would do with my life if I didn’t receive an offer soon. I finally received one acceptance letter and it included both tuition coverage and a stipend. There was just one problem: it was in Miami, which wasn’t where I wanted to live. Growing up in Northern Michigan I had grown very comfortable with the “quiet life” and was anxious about what I would experience when I arrived in Miami. It started worse than I could have imagined. I had no car and my only transportation – my bike – was stolen the first week there. There were issues with my paperwork and I spent countless hours just trying to get enrolled in classes. I was struggling with a language barrier and cultural differences I had not experienced before. The caliber of students was intimidating and I wasn’t sure how I would match up. It seemed like I couldn’t get anything right, and I was beginning to wonder if I would last through the first semester.
But I worked through it and despite the many difficulties I encountered – including a failed initial defense of my thesis. I grew to love Miami, and embrace the challenges that came with it. For financial reasons I really had no choice but to leave my comfort zone in this situation, but I can’t imagine what my life would be like now if I hadn’t. I earned my Ph.D. there; met amazing people, including a great mentor who helped me in countless ways; got my first “real” job; met my wife. It’s also where I learned that maintaining comfort may be easier and safer, but it doesn’t often result in what is best for you. If you never feel uncomfortable in your life and career you are undoubtedly limiting your opportunities to do greater things than you might never have imagined.”
David shares how stepping out of your comfort zone brings 6 critical benefits that will liberate and empower you.
You will let perfection go.
Nobody is perfect – don’t expect it and don’t long for it. Let go of that unnecessary pressure. As soon as you accept this you will find that you will lose the hesitation that has held you back in the past. You will learn to take risks where before you would have run. With risk comes the chance of failure, but more importantly, a chance of greatness. Failure is a given when you take risks, but the more you can embrace and learn from it, the better off you’ll be in the long run.
You will inspire others.
What you do is noticed by others, whether you realize it or not. People are watching you, and what you do gives them an inspiring role model for growth and change. This applies not only at work, but at home with setting an example for your children. We all have a teacher or someone in our lives who unknowingly inspired and motivated us to do more than we thought we could. Taking risks and believing in yourself allows you to be that person for others.
You will have no regrets at the end.
To me the idea of running 26.2 miles for a marathon seemed preposterous and impossible. I never had any serious intention of running one, but agreed to give it a shot when my sister asked if I would do one with her. I may never run another marathon, but because I gave it my all I will never have lingering doubts about my performance. Had I held anything back I would have been left with regret and uncertainty about what I might have been able to do had I just pushed myself. Regrets come when we wonder, “What if?” yet don’t act. Don’t wonder – take the plunge.
You will define yourself authentically.
Comfort is often defined by doing what everyone else does – conforming to norms and to the pressure around you. By pushing yourself into new areas you will have a chance to authentically define who you are, and break free of the limitations of what others think you should be. You are then far freer to shape your career and your life as you truly want it.
You will gain control.
When you step out on your own path, you get to live and work on your own terms. Eventually you may be forced to break free of the limitations around you anyway, so take control now and become the one who sets the rules and initiates change. Having a sense of personal control is not only essential for well-being, but research has shown that it lowers stress and increases job satisfaction as well.
Your life experience will be fuller.
Those of us who’ve been forced to change understand that what is comforting is often not what is best for you. Leaving your comfort zone can create a tremendous feeling of euphoria and self-respect as you learn what you are truly capable of doing and creating, which is far greater and more expansive than you ever dreamed. Pushing past your limits helps you find the fulfillment, excitement, and meaning you have been searching for in all the wrong places.
If you never leave your comfort zone you are likely sabotaging your chances for lasting success and happiness. Don’t be afraid to try something new in any aspect of your life. You will find you are more resilient, capable and courageous than you once believed, and as you rise to these challenges, more exciting ones are waiting in the wings.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you really wanted to try something but you shied away? Next time you find yourself hesitating, go for it. The reward (and the lessons learned) will be, without question, worth the risk.