The best career advice I ever received also turned out to be my own best measurement of personal success: “Get out of your comfort zone.”
And so I did. In very short order, I took on a challenging new job responsibility, got divorced, started a blog and even revived my rather beige living room with two hot pink cowhide rugs (probably fodder for an entire blog of their own).
Perhaps, then, it’s no surprise that when Arianna Huffington (@ariannahuff) recently asked for a new metric of success beyond money and power, both of which can be limiting and short-sighted, I immediately thought of what determined success in my own life and the lives of others I have witnessed: the willingness to make oneself uncomfortable.
Now before you giggle, or Google, consider this: Measuring success by the risks we take or the vulnerability we feel in daring to better ourselves – or the world around us – is a worthy ambition.
A recent Forbes article entitled, “Why Getting Comfortable with Discomfort is Crucial to Success,” explains it like this:
“Ten years from now there will be people who have achieved extraordinary success. While we don’t know who they will be, one thing is sure – they won’t be people who have stayed inside their comfort zone. Rather, they will be people who have continued to stretch themselves, even when things are going smoothly, and who have been willing to risk failure or looking foolish, knowing that the biggest risk they take is not taking any risks at all… In our ever more cautious and competitive world… being willing to give up the familiarity of the known and embrace the discomfort that comes from being outside your comfort zone is increasingly crucial to your success in work and life.”
Even in her own book, the ever seemingly comfortable Sheryl Sandberg reveals her self-challenge, “Writing this book is not just me encouraging others to lean in. This is me leaning in. Writing this book is what I would do if I weren’t afraid.”
To further the point, @LeanInOrg recently asked its 217,000+ followers: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Here are just a few of the responses:
- “I would always stick up for what I believe in”
- “I would run for Congress”
- “I would be honest with my opinions rather than hide behind diplomatic smiles”
- “If I weren’t afraid I would put myself out there instead of being afraid I’m going to get rejected and sound stupid”
- “I’d dump my job to start a business doing what I love and also make time to write”
- “I would ask more questions and speak up”
Escape from the comfort zone doesn’t have to be career-related. I recently encouraged a friend who is a stay-at-home mom and says “yes” to everything often finding herself over-extended and frustrated, that she needs to say “no” more – an uncomfortable place for her. Imagine my delight when I saw an email where she politely told others to handle it themselves. She sent me a note saying: “I’m inspired. I think I’ll celebrate with a tall glass of wine!”
And there’s a physiological reason behind her desire to celebrate. From Psychology Today:
“Typically, remaining in the (comfort) zone contributes to feeling depressed, whereas moving beyond engages anxiety… Progress may be achieved by embracing the anxiety, which enables it to wither, as we expand beyond the constraints of the familiar zone. Remaining imprisoned within the familiar zone may be comfortable and familiar, yet it is stagnating.”
My first job as a TV reporter was in Beaumont, TX – a place I had never been and where I knew no one. I recall one assignment where I found myself in a field, staring down at a mangled dead body while, unknowingly, standing atop of an ant hill – the red ones! Let’s just say that what began as an awful and (literally) uncomfortable memory has now become a point of pride and, well, fearlessness. Today, though I have hung up my reporter’s microphone, I am still proudly the official bug killer in my house.
To all who may read this: I wish you a life filled with great success, health, happiness and, of course, a bit of money and power never hurts. But I also wish you a life of self-reflection, introspection and self-challenge. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement and success have no meaning.” How will you get out of your comfort zone today? Now go and do it…
Gail Becker is chair of Canada, Latin America and U.S. Western Region.