At some point in your career, you’ve been tossed the time-honored cliché: “Get out of your comfort zone.”
While we all tend to groan a bit at over-used business axioms, the concept behind this cliché is vital to your entrepreneurial success. Because here’s the secret: Entrepreneurs can’t have a comfort zone. We can never be comfortable.
Ever wonder why so many of us become “serial entrepreneurs"? The reason is that there’s always a new obstacle to overcome, a new horizon to conquer, a new business itch that desperately needs scratching.
No one ever founded the next billion-dollar idea while cruising along being comfortably average. If you find yourself regularly playing it safe or hesitating to take that next potentially career-defining risk, you may have fallen victim to your own comfort zone.
The real problem with the comfort zone
Why do I take such exception to this term? The problem is really one of semantics. “Comfort zone” almost sounds positive when you think about it: Who doesn’t want to be comfortable?
What we need is another name to help us motivate ourselves to abolish our comfort zone once and for all: How about. . . “rut”?
A comfort zone is really a rut. It’s a groove you’ve dug for yourself that lets you skate by accepting the status quo. And ultimately, it hamstrings your decision-making. It boxes you in, forcing you to exert additional effort to “get out of it,” as the cliché goes, rather than allowing you to live and work completely independently of such self-imposed restraints.
But before we can truly destroy the comfort zone, we have to know where it comes from.
The comfort zone is born out of fear.
One of the most important realizations you can ever come to in business is this: The reason we get into ruts -- and the reason why they're called the “comfort zone” in the first place -- is that we’re all afraid. Every last one of us. The fear of failure, of letting people down, of financial ruin causes us to retreat to a place that we’re more familiar with.
The difference-maker is what we choose to do with that fear. We can embrace it, using its caution to help us make intelligent decisions when leaping headlong into a new challenge. Or, we can retreat from it. And where does that retreat take us?
You guessed it. Right back into the comfort zone.
The three best ways to rid yourself of the comfort zone forever
If we know that the comfort zone is a problem that’s hindering our potential, how do we rid ourselves of it? While everyone’s mileage will vary, I’ve found three key tenets throughout the years that will help you destroy your comfort zone once and for all, freeing you from the ruts that can stall your professional development and creative growth.
1) Surround yourself with differing opinions.
Often, it’s best to tackle such deep-rooted problems of philosophy and methodology by having the self-awareness to realize you can’t do it alone. The reason why being told to “get out of your comfort zone” rings as such a cliché is that you often need that external catalyst to even realize you’re there in the first place.
Listen carefully to new ideas from your team and colleagues, especially those that make you the most uncomfortable. That twinge of discomfort is a good sign that you’re approaching the fringes of your comfort zone.
2) Get educated.
Truly successful entrepreneurs never stop learning. That thirst for knowledge can be a powerful weapon in the fight against the comfort zone. If an impending decision or new strategic direction is causing you hesitation, the reason may simply be a lack of data rather than pure fear.
And if you’re dealing with an unquantifiable decision, seek out qualitative validation. Has anyone else made this move? Did that individual blog, tweet or speak about it? Regardless of the method, get informed as best you can. Then you can truly know whether any remaining hesitation you still have is a lack of education or your comfort zone rearing its ugly head.
3) Don’t stop when you leave work.
Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is by no means limited to your professional life. Ever notice how there’s yet another cliché about the successful entrepreneur who moonlights as a thrill-seeker, jumping out of planes or building rockets or riding motocross? I firmly believe this is no coincidence. The same traits that allow us the freedom to build successful businesses also push us to tackle personal challenges that might give others pause.
While I’m not necessarily suggesting that you should risk life and limb in order to run a successful business, I do believe that you have to practice extending your boundaries. Terrified of public speaking? Take an improv course. Scared of heights? Spend an afternoon at the theme park or on a hike.
In other words, don’t consider your comfort zone something that only lives in your work world. Destroying your comfort zone is truly a lifestyle change in every aspect, and your entire life will be richer for it.