The comfort zone is that cozy place we like to hang out, where we feel secure and can just be ourselves. Unfortunately, we cannot be a great leader or easily pursue our dreams from the comfort zone. We have to step outside of it occasionally to try new things and take our lives in new directions. Often this is exciting, but sometimes it is so nerve-wracking that we procrastinate and avoid doing it at all.
Some examples may include making a sales call, giving a public presentation, publishing an article or book, giving feedback to your staff or boss, dating, going to a networking event, championing a cause, asking for a raise, or any number of things that might improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
Many years ago, my good friend Valerie was just getting started in a sales position, something she had never done before. Running my own business, I was also trying to get comfortable selling, so we had much to share. One day, Valerie told me some captivating stories about the interesting people she was meeting and a high volume of sales she was making as a result. Most of them started with a cold call. I was impressed, so I congratulated her and asked her how she felt about the cold calls. She said, “I just decided it was a lot more work avoiding the call than making it.”
That was one of those off-hand comments that will change your life if you are listening. She was telling me that it was less comfortable inside the comfort zone than outside! I understood immediately. It is a constant worry knowing that you need to make the call and never actually making it. You tell yourself everyday that you should be making that call. You feel like a failure for not doing it. You know you could be making a lot more money if you would just pick up the phone. But it makes your heart race and puts a knot in your stomach, so you find other things to do instead. You let it take up space in your head indefinitely. It really is so much more work to avoid the call.
I had a similar experience with public speaking. I spent almost twenty years suffering from a fear of it. I was unable to give a thank you toast at the rehearsal dinner the night before my wedding. I endured tremendous anxiety every time I had to give a presentation at work. I almost never raised my hand to ask a question in a classroom or as an audience member at a seminar or conference, despite wanting the answer. Living with this fear was constricting and frustrating.
Once I finally decided to face my fear of public speaking with that bull-headed determination we sometimes get when we are sick or angry about something, it took me exactly four months to get over it. Twenty years versus four months. Which one do you think was harder? Today, I teach people how to be fearless speaking in public because I don’t want anyone wasting all that precious time that I did fretting in the comfort zone.
What about you? Is there something you are putting off because you think it is easier in the comfort zone? Take your own reality check by answering the following questions:
- What have you been putting off that you really need or want to do?
- What is it costing you to continue putting it off?
- How often do you think about it, worry about it, or feel guilty about it?
- Estimate the amount of time and energy you have invested and will continue to invest thinking about it and avoiding it.
- Estimate the amount of time and energy you would have to invest to just do it and compare it to the previous estimate.
- What might you gain by doing it?
- How would you feel about yourself and your life if you do it?
- What is the first step you need to take?
Congratulations to those of you who have discovered that the comfort zone is not as comfortable as you thought. You are on your way to becoming a better leader and having a better life.
As you venture out of your comfort zone and have stories you would like to share, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.