Stepping outside your comfort zone has obvious merit. However, following this advice blindly can make your life a lot harder than it has to be.
You’ve probably heard sayings like, “Success is on the other side of fear.”
Or, one of my favorites from Tim Ferris, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.”
These are wise sayings. And it’s very true that growth usually comes after breaking through some psychological or emotional hurdle. We could all use a bit more of that.
Personally, I love (and fear) stepping outside of my comfort zone. Like when:
I left home and moved to the Netherlands to start my company with zero connections and no friends.
I dreaded singing so decided to start singing lessons, and now love it.
I told my parents about my drug use and got a big weight off my chest.
These moments were scary but were pivotal and brought me greater joy, meaning and clarity in life.
However, prioritizing “getting out of your comfort zone” isn’t really a recipe for success. Especially when it comes to your career.
Whether you’re a software engineer or construction worker, your success is not defined by leaping off of metaphorical cliffs and pushing boundaries.
It’s showing up everyday and doing the work.
Patiently. Diligently. Consistently.
In short, it’s your perseverance. Woody Allen said it best, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”
The other 20%? You guessed it: stepping outside of your comfort zone (and some luck).
There’s a balance of order and chaos in the universe. The yin and the yang. Most of the time things are in order, but occasionally we need a bit of change to stir things up.
Some change is good. Too much change, too fast, is not.
There are times when you have to take risks, of course. The comedian who tries a new joke that will resonate or totally bomb. Your first big pitch to a client where you’re definitely out of your depth and need to learn how to swim. These are all necessary risks, but they are usually momentary and are a prerequisite for the real work that’s to come.
Life doesn’t have to be difficult, but we often make it so.
At work, if I hit a snag or something doesn’t feel right, maybe I have to have a difficult conversation. Maybe there needs to be change. But most of the time my problems aren’t about pushing my comfort zone. Most of the time I’m trying to make things easier. I’m asking myself:
- What would this look like if it were easy?
- How can I automate or delegate this task?
- How do I make this effortless?
There’s a false dichotomy we tend to have between “hard and essential” and “trivial and easy.” This causes us to push too hard, or jump ship too early when things are getting too easy or comfortable.
Greg McKeown, author of Effortless, explains the consequences:
“Believing essential activities are, almost by definition, tedious, we are more likely to put them off or avoid them completely. At the same time, our nagging guilt about all the essential work we could be doing instead sucks all the joy out of otherwise enjoyable experiences. Fun becomes “the dark playground.”
This can also lead to burn out, which ain’t cool.
The better strategy is to make sure the important things you have to do are fun. These changes are usually small, don’t require a ton of effort and have a positive impact on us without stirring things up too much.
- Work boring? Alternate going to cafes and coworking spaces. Keep the environment and your mind fresh.
- Vacations getting lame? Book a one-week ayuahasca retreat in Costa Rica.
- Tired of the same old sex positions? Get a copy of the kama sutra.
Occasionally, step outside and do something new, something challenging, something uncomfortable.
Most of the time, though, stick to what you know and get better at it.