A friend of mine worked for the CEO of a large non-profit organization. She was in marketing and public relations, but the CEO wanted her to oversee fundraising. She panicked. Not only did she hate the idea of asking people for money, she had never done this before. She turned the CEO down, risking her future at an organization that she loved! Why? Because she was familiar with her current job duties. She was comfortable. She knew how to shine at them and make a real impact. The CEO had great faith in her, but her fear was greater – fear of the unknown and potential failure.

Her story turned out well. Her CEO knew just how to push her past her comfort zone and out of the familiar to do big things. And indeed, she did do big things with that new assignment. But how many of us actually have a boss who will help us rise to the challenge? Or have a leader who likes the familiar too or doesn’t seek change, so the company and the employees are struggling?

In more than a year of great upheaval and change, it would be easy to say, “Nah, I’ll sit this one out – it seems too scary…” or too much work… or too hard… or too little assurance of success… (enter your own excuse here!).

Let me challenge you to take baby steps toward becoming familiar with the unfamiliar.

When you stay stuck in the familiar, you may feel depressed or stagnant, not having enthusiasm for your job, drifting off during the day to daydream of other things. The familiar creates apathy.

Take heart! You were not meant to live in the familiar zone, AKA the comfort zone! You were meant for change and adrenaline and challenges and growth. If the idea of leaving the familiar is overwhelming, start small. You don’t have to leave all your comforts behind. But my guess is, once you start small, those old comfortable parts will seem, well, quite dull.

  1. Realize you don’t have to give up everything to gain a little. A friend of mine is a therapist and one of the greatest tools she gives her patients is the power of “AND.” She challenges them to replace the word BUT. This helps us recognize that two things can be true at the same time. For example, instead of “I need to get out of this rut at work but I am too anxious,” instead try, “I need to get out of this rut AND I am anxious about it.” The word BUT closes off possibility. The word AND allows for critical thinking and possibilities.
  2. Look for small challenges. There’s no better way to challenge yourself than to push your own mental limitations about a subject. Like my friend, she thought she hated fundraising (and yes, I’m using the word Hate with a capital H!). So when she took on that duty, she eased into it. She didn’t just fling herself in the pool, she tested the waters. She shadowed other fundraisers, interviewed them, went to events – gradually building up to the full scope. For you, it might be taking one class at the local college or online training.
  3. Reframe the fear. During the shadowing experience and when she interviewed other passionate fundraisers, she asked why they liked their job. She was looking to reframe her previously held beliefs. One woman told her, “I love helping other people lift up those who need help.” Wow! What a way to see it. It wasn’t about how she loved handling over big checks to her organization. She loved making connections between people who want to help the less fortunate and those who need a helping hand. That was something she could embrace!
  4. Give yourself time. Be realistic about your new journey. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither are great careers! Give yourself time to take those baby steps so fear doesn’t get the best of you. Olympians train for years before the biggest competition of their life. They wrestle with fear too! So give yourself some grace and time to climb out of that familiar zone.

When you push past your comfort zone, the biggest hurdle is anxiety – which is the internal voice of fear. As big wave surfer Garrett McNamara explains it, if we feel fear then we are not being present. We are concerned about the past or the future, which are not here now. The killer of fear? Forward progress. It doesn’t mean you’ll never be anxious or intimidated or fearful in your journey again – it simply means that next time, the “fear muscles” that have kept you in the familiar, do not have the stronghold on you that they once did.