When is it worth getting out of your comfort zone?

comfort zone

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My client Dawn was in a major internal tug-of-war.

Her boss had just announced he was leaving, which meant his job was opening up.

As soon as the job was posted, several of Dawn’s coworkers forwarded her the job listing with notes like, “You would be perfect for this,” and “This has your name all over it.”

Dawn was flattered, but torn. She’d never considered applying for her boss’ job, and she wasn’t totally sure she wanted it. It would mean a lot more responsibility, as well as becoming a manager, all of which made her extremely uncomfortable.

On the other hand, everyone kept telling her it would be such a great growth opportunity, and it would be a step up the ladder in her career, not to mention a bigger paycheck. It seemed like the logical next step.

She asked me, “How do I know if this is worth stepping out of my comfort zone?”

As someone who loves being in my comfort zone (whatever the opposite of an adrenaline junkie is … that’s me), but also knows that I can’t stay there forever if I want to keep learning and growing and making an impact, I grapple with this same question frequently.

While conventional self-help advice — not to mention countless inspirational Instagram messages — will tell you that all the good stuff in life is outside of your comfort zone, I don’t believe that’s true 100% of the time. I think it’s more nuanced than that.

Sometimes getting out of your comfort zone is the best thing you can do to grow as a person. And other times, discomfort is a sign that you’re doing something inauthentic.

So how do you tell the difference?

Here are 3 questions I ask myself (and my clients) before deciding if something is worth getting out of the comfort zone:

WHAT’S THE PURPOSE?

The more we talked, the clearer it became that Dawn has zero interest being a boss and managing people.

She likes the work she does, and she knows that becoming a manager would take her away from that work. Plus, she knows herself well enough to know that being responsible for a team would feel really stressful. She’s much happier when she can spend most days fully absorbed in her projects.

So while yes, she could stretch herself to develop her leadership skills, it wouldn’t make much sense.

What’s the point in developing a skill that you have no interest in using?

Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone without any bigger purpose will just make you miserable for no reason.

On the other hand, let’s say you’re super nervous about speaking in public, but you have a dream of owning a business where you travel across the country giving workshops to inspire people and share your message.

In that case, getting out of your comfort zone is directly tied to your bigger vision. There’s a built-in purpose behind the discomfort.

I’m not saying that having a purpose behind it makes leaving your comfort zone any less scary, but at least it’ll make the discomfort feel worthwhile.

Which leads me right into my next question…

WHERE IS YOUR RESISTANCE COMING FROM?

Whenever you’re feeling resistance about moving forward with something, you can bet it’s probably coming from one of two places: fear or misalignment.

The reason so many self-help gurus advocate for getting out of your comfort zone is that they’re assuming you’re staying in it out of fear — fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of success, fear of not being good enough, fear of disappointment, and on and on.

And if you’re resisting trying something new, or having a difficult conversation, or putting yourself out there purely because you’re afraid of how it might turn out, then they’re right — that’s no reason to hold yourself back.

In fact, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is one of the very best ways to get over your fears.

When you’re scared to try something, but you do it anyway, two things happen: 1) You almost always realize it was way less scary than you made it out to be, and 2) you build up resilience and prove to yourself that you’re capable of doing hard things.

Sometimes, though, your resistance isn’t coming from fear at all. Sometimes it’s simply a sign that whatever you’re considering just isn’t right for you.

Over the years, I’ve been on my share of first dates. And every time, in the hours leading up to the date, I would feel more and more resistant to going. Over time, though, I got better about recognizing when that was coming from normal fear and nervousness (“Will he like me?” “Will I be disappointed?” “Will I say something stupid or trip over my heels?”) or nervousness on top of the uneasy gut feeling that this simply wasn’t right.

The best way to get clear on where your resistance is coming from is to ask yourself, “If I had permission to NOT do this, how would I feel?”

If you instantly feel pure relief — like a heavy weight has been lifted off your shoulders and you can breathe deeply again — that’s a sign that this probably wasn’t the right path for you in the first place.

But if your relief is tinged with disappointment — as in, a part of you really does want to give this a shot, even if it feels scary — then it’s worth pushing through the fear.

HOW FAR OUT OF THE COMFORT ZONE ARE WE TALKING?

Not all discomfort is made equal. It, like most things in life, exists on a spectrum.

Stepping out of your comfort zone can be as small as speaking up in your daily team meeting or as huge as quitting your job, selling your home, and packing up your whole life to move across the world for a new adventure.

Some of my clients are only willing to dip a toe out of their comfort zone, while others are ready to permanently move out of it.

It comes down to your tolerance for discomfort and risk.

Wherever you are on the spectrum is totally fine! If you’re more of a baby-steps person, you’ll likely make slower, but consistent progress. If you’re an all-or-nothing kind of person, you can make huge strides in a short period of time, but you might occasionally fall on your face.

Neither path is right or wrong — it’s just about knowing your own limits.

Personally, when I’m trying to figure out where the line is for how much to push myself, without going so far that I freak out and run back to the safety of my comfort zone, I remember what a yoga teacher said once when we were all struggling with a pose in class:

“Push yourself so that you can feel the stretch, but stop if it becomes painful.”

The same wisdom applies here. If you can stretch yourself to the point of mild discomfort, but not to so far that you go into full-on panic freak-out mode, you’re probably right in the sweet spot.

WHAT’S YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR COMFORT ZONE?

If this resonates with you, I’d love to hear about it! How comfortable are you with leaving your comfort zone? Have you pushed yourself out of your comfort zone only to later realize it was totally worth it … or not? Share your story with me, in the comments below.

Much Love,

Kristen (& Rachel)


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6 Comments // ADD COMMENT

6 comments

  • Cassie

    This podcast came at the perfect time for me! There is an assistant manager position open at my job. It would be an opportunity to have a bit more flexibility and set my own schedule part of the time. And of course it would come with more money. (I could also escape some very annoying/toxic coworkers.)

    But it would also be a ton more responsibility, I’d have to go to meetings at specific times which would likely interfere with my school schedule. I want to spend more time at school and less at work, not more! So the cons would outweigh the pros….I want more flexibility and more money, but I don’t actually want the job. Sigh. I guess I’ll keep looking ???? You two are so helpful! I love the episode about quitting drinking too

    • Kristen Walker

      I love that this was such a timely topic for you, Cassie! It sounds like you have your priorities in order, and right now school is at the top of your list. So it makes sense to put school before this potential promotion at work, even if that doesn’t make logical sense to other people. Glad this helped clarify your decision! 🙂

  • Michelle

    This post really resonated with me. After living my whole adult life taking public transportation, I moved to a place where I needed to drive. Throw two car accidents into the mix and I was determined not to learn how to drive. Although a part of me wanted to learn, the fear of driving wouldn’t let me. I knew the only way I would learn is if I paid for lessons, so one day I just did that. I figured if I paid for them, I would feel obligated to take the class. I’m on my way to getting my license by the end of the year!

    • Kristen Walker

      Such a great example of something is 100% worth it to you to get out of your comfort zone, even though it feels scary and you’ve had some bad experiences in the past. Huge kudos on moving past your fear and going after your license! Make sure to celebrate when you finally hit that milestone! 🙂

  • Hanna

    This was a really good blog, thank you!