3 Steps to Depart your Comfort Zone

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A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” ― William G.T. Shedd

Near the end of the Cold War, I made seven patrols as a young Naval Officer on the nuclear submarine, USS Tennessee. One of those patrols was over the holidays. Being deployed over Christmas and New Year’s Eve was not a lot of fun. It was tough to be away the things that brought me comfort: my home, my friends, my family, my favorite foods, and the holiday traditions I love.

In fact, most of my time in the Navy was spent outside my comfort zone. The nature of the job demanded it. Months away from home, days without sleep, cramped quarters, tough technical issues, difficult leadership situations, and the stress of knowing a mistake could have deadly consequences was just part of the job. The funny thing is that I would do it again in a heartbeat. The reason is that being out of my comfort zone demanded that I be my absolute best at all times. The experience I gained in those tough years was critical to helping me develop as a leader. The truth is getting outside your comfort zone is the best way to grow as a leader.

I think the quote from William Shedd should be rewritten to say, “A leader is safe in his comfort zone, but that’s not what leaders are for.”

As we approach the time of year where we start to think about goals and resolutions for 2015, we should challenge ourselves to think about how we can depart our comfort zone in the new year. Here’s 3 simple steps to plan your escape from your comfort zone:

1. Define your comfort zone. Think about how you spent your time in 2014. You probably don’t realize how much time you actually spend in your comfort zone. Which employees or departments did you spend the most time with? Who did you go to lunch with regularly? Which customers or vendors did you visit the most? What strategies did deploy most often? Which peers were you most comfortable around? What technologies did you study the most? What management blogs or websites did you visit most often? What meetings do you regularly attend?

2. Define where you are uncomfortable. Think about potential blind spots, weaknesses, or areas where you are less comfortable. Which departments or employees are you less familiar with? Who are the peers that you have less in common with? Who are your toughest customers or vendors that you may have been avoiding? What are the big strategies you have been uncomfortable to implement? What technologies or industry trends are you the least familiar with? What’s happening in your business that scares you the most as a leader?

3. Develop a plan to spend more time outside your comfort zone in 2015. Getting outside your comfort zone means spending less time in familiar seas and spending more time in uncharted waters. The best way to make the shift is to write down what you are going to do differently. List the activities in your comfort zone that you will consciously spend less time on in the new year. List the uncomfortable areas where you will spend more time in. Make this combined list a part of your goals and resolutions for 2015.

Getting outside your comfort zone will challenge you and push you to be your absolute best. It will create new experiences where you will develop faster as a leader. It is important to make a conscious choice to escape the things that make you most comfortable if you want to continue to grow. The best way to depart the comfort zone is to create a plan and stick to it. It will be tough, but the personal and professional growth will be well worth the effort.

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