The Discomfort Zone

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I heard a lot of things and read some about the importance of getting out of your comfort zone. The comfort zone is that area of work competencies and tasks where the person performs at acceptable or even superb levels. A person will sometimes remain in their comfort zone to avoid the problems involving change and trying something new. This applies even in situations where the person might not be doing so well and change would be preferable. Coaches often recommend getting out of one’s comfort zone to learn new skills and develop new competencies.

Somewhat motivated by this notion I took a Sales position which came with a sort of promotion. I rationalized that coming from Strategic Planning (and before that Marketing), the change would help me build valuable skills such as customer management, team management, character building and such.

Many months into the position I began to develop such skills. I had to take difficult decisions, say no many times, establish strategy and order, and work more hours than I had previously done. The goals set by my regional superior where being met. I was working the schedule set and developing some important new set of abilities for professional growth.

Some time later I began to detect a dangerous pattern. Despite performing my job and dedicating ample time, my mood and attitude towards people was quickly changing. I would lose patience with people, I found it hard to treat customers well, and I started to miss my previous positions a lot. Soon I was hating my job and all it implied.

This is going on today, and it is the reason why I put a date on which I will quit. Some might think I should quit now, as working with no passion is perhaps the worst thing an executive can do. But management has requested my presence at least for the end of the fiscal year.

Yet what I want to focus on is the existence of something opposite to the comfort zone which is perverse in nature: the discomfort zone.

The discomfort zone is dangerous because it puts a manager in the worst spot possible: one where he or she dreads to be. This is not to mean the person is doing a bad job. The manager could be doing a stellar job yet hating every moment of it.

The discomfort zone affects a manager in several ways, but four of them are specially poignant to a career.

The first effect is diminished performance. No matter how good a manager is, the loss of passion and care will catch-up and performance will drop. If the effect is not immediate, it will boil down inside the person until it explodes in disaster. An executive who loses performance is risking it all, for a proven track record is vital for future promotion.

The second effect is forthcoming from the previous. The loss of performance will lead upper management to consider the removal or reassignment of said manager. Reassignment can be benevolous, but it is usually not, and just as nefarious in effect as being fired. The danger of remaining in one’s discomfort zone could jeopardize the very position one works – and hates.

The third effect – and to me the more dangerous – is lost time. A passionate manager doing a job he loves will go to extremes to deliver. This includes results, team building, innovation and creative jumps. If you are spending time doing something you hate you are also losing invaluable time where you could be reinventing the future somewhere else. To me losing time is the biggest loss of all.

The fourth effect is the personal change that affects attitude. In me it involved a sudden shift in mood towards colleagues and family alike. I began to avoid people and act violent in meetings and projects. Other times I would fall into long periods of silence unlike me that took everyone by surprise.

The discomfort zone is an area that instead of taking you into new fields and developing your skills takes you into negative territory and draws your creativity and passion. It should be avoided at all costs, as it brings the worst of you and adds little to developing your career.

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