October 2013 Bar Bulletin
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October 2013 Bar Bulletin

Take the Highway outside Your Comfort Zone

By Walt Grassl


Early in Karl's career, he had no problem accepting a technical promotion from junior technician to senior technician. When asked to be a supervisor, self-doubt became his constant companion. He agonized over the decision for days. He had trouble sleeping at night and concentrating on even the simplest tasks. Finally, with the support of his family and co-workers, he reluctantly took the promotion.

Five years later, he has been asked to apply for the department manager position, where he will have to manage a hundred employees, including other supervisors. Self-doubt has returned and he is extremely anxious about the unknowns associated with the increase in responsibility. He has a week to apply for the job and is dreading more sleepless nights.

Most of us don't like change. We like to be comfortable. We like to play things safe. We avoid risk. We put ourselves in safe little boxes and then we miss out on opportunities for growth and advancement, both personally and professionally.

It is said we spend 70 percent of our time in our comfort zone, when we should really spend 80 percent of our time in our uncomfortable zone. Where do you spend your time?

Getting out of your comfort zone is a lot like exercising muscles that have atrophied. As babies, we learn to stand by trying to stand up and then falling down, over and over until we succeed. The same thing happens when we learn to walk.

Around the time we learn to ride a bike, things change. We want to enjoy the mobility of bike riding, but we fear falling and looking bad in front of our family, neighbors and friends. Usually, with the encouragement of a family member or friend, we overcome the fear and we learn to ride a bike.

However, as we get older, we often find it easier to say, "I can't do it," than to try to learn a new skill or to take on a new challenge. We tend to stay in our comfort zones and our "step-outside-the-comfort-zone" muscles atrophy.

Karl decided to seek the advice of Sydney, a former supervisor and mentor. Throughout her career, Sydney has moved around within the company, taking challenging assignments and growing in value to the company. The company rewards her risk taking and she is now a division manager.

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