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Do You Really Want To Be In Your Comfort Zone?

During one of my conversations with my almost teenage son about a challenge, he commented that he would think about it but he may not do it due to a fear of embarrassment. I was almost about to get on a preaching train about courage and persistence but then held myself back and rambled something to the effect that every time he takes a decision not to do something out of fear, he also implicitly takes a decision to forego any new growth opportunities. We left the conversation at that and I could see my son pondering over what I had just said (I think).

The conversation lingered in my mind for a while because it did strike me that parallels do exist in our professional lives. Haven’t we all been at cross roads in our careers or at work where we had to make a choice between a safe well worn path and an unchartered territory? How many times have we chosen the former while hoping for another ounce of courage to take the latter? Don’t we all as individuals and organizations take comfort in our domain of expertise while knowing in our hearts that the big wins are right outside the fringes? What my son felt is probably a conditioning that we as a society impose on our kids and that eventually makes its way to the workplace. There are numerous exceptions of course else we wouldn’t have Silicon Valley or the startup culture. However, for those who are not part of the exception, it is important to highlight some telltale signs of comfort having overstayed it’s welcome. In the next few paragraphs, I will attempt to outline some of them.

The flow effect

This is a trap that we all fall in when we are good at what we do and we really look forward to being appreciated for a good job. While this allows us to experience what Mihaly Csikszentmihaly identifies as Flow, this also robs us of opportunities that are lurking around the corner. When our desire for the feeling of Flow is acute, it is time for us to get out of our comfort zone.

Too afraid to fail syndrome

This is the all too common desire to avoid rocking the boat. We wish to be seen as successful and in our desire to paint this perception, we play it safe for as long as we can. However, we often don’t notice when the larger game has shifted and we end up playing a game that might not matter anymore. Many organizations succumb to this trap where immediate cash cows vital to survival are often mistaken for a long-term strategy for growth.

The ego bias

We want to be the best at what we do and often the fact that we have to unlearn and relearn new skills is daunting and this initial inertia prevents us from making that first move. This is very evident in the tech industry where technologies shifts are commonplace and learning is perpetual. Ego biases are evident in team dynamics when an experienced team member is found to be often condescending about the latest cool gadget or a new paradigm. Organizations exhibit this behavior by worshiping past successes to trivialize competition.

A rigid long-term view

Long term views are good since it helps sail our ships in the general direction of growth. However, in this age when yesterdays plans may not be really relevant for tomorrow, it makes little sense to be too rigid with those plans. Jeff Bezos once said that people who were right a lot of time were people who often changed their minds. A rigid long term view in your career or in an organization’s strategy is a sign that adapting to change is seen as a risk that better not be talked about.

One of the keys to success is to wrap our desires in a blanket of learning and preface it with humility so that the learning keeps our curiosity high to explore and humility puts us in harmony with our failures.

Here’s to all of us getting out of our comfort zones to experience more and then repeating it all over again. As for my son, I hope he reads this and makes up his mind!

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