How to Get Outside Your Comfort Zone to Get Ahead at Work

Embracing new experiences is essential for professional growth. But not all “get outside your comfort zone” experiences are created equal. Read on to learn the best way to get uncomfortable to get ahead at work.

You know getting uncomfortable is good for you, right?

Embracing new experiences is essential for professional growth and development. But not all “get outside your comfort zone” experiences are created equal—especially when it comes to reaching your career goals.

Over the years, plenty of work experiences pushed me outside my comfort zone. Some helped me reach my goals faster, and some… well, some just made me uncomfortable 🥴

The experiences that helped me the most were the ones that pushed me into my growth zone and built up my confidence.

Growth Zone

You’re probably familiar with your growth zone—it’s the space made up of experiences you tend to avoid but know can help you become better. When you spend time in your growth zone, you are:

  • Getting outside your comfort zone
  • Building confidence
  • Acting despite your fear
  • Gaining skills and knowledge
  • Learning new things
  • Feeling challenged and energized

You may feel like a fish out of water exploring this zone at first, but over time you become more competent and confident.

How to Get in Your Growth Zone

So how does one get into your growth zone? Should you jump right in the deep end and take on the one thing that scares the bejesus out of you?

You could, but I don’t recommend it—taking on too much too soon can backfire. It didn’t work out so well for me…

Let me just say trying to overcome a fear of public speaking by delivering an impromptu presentation on a topic I knew next to nothing about to a room full of strangers succeeded at making me extremely uncomfortable, but also made me vow to never do it again 🫤.

I quickly learned the better approach is to get outside your comfort zone in stages—start small and build from your success.

Here’s a way to think about the different degrees of getting outside your comfort zone:

1. Welcome Change

The first stage to get in your growth zone is about welcoming unexpected changes in your business environment.

For example, an organizational restructure can abruptly leave you with a new boss, an operational efficiency initiative might mean quickly adopting a new technology, or a change in company leadership could alter your priorities altogether by pivoting to a new business strategy.

How you respond to these changing environmental factors matters. If you want to get ahead in business, you can’t get stuck in your ways (comfort zone) holding on tightly to how it’s always been. The quicker you get onboard, or even better, lead the change the better.

Embracing change is a foundational competency that can raise your professional standing and help to advance your career. Don’t be a laggard, be a change agent.

2. Gain Momentum

After you’ve proven yourself to be a change champion, the next step is to gain momentum outside your comfort zone. This means taking gradual steps that over time produce big gains.

For example, if it makes you uncomfortable to lead a team discussion, ask a friendly coworker to join you in facilitating a team meeting around a topic you know well. Small steps like this offer a low-risk way to set yourself up for success.

Mindset matters, and by starting small to experience success outside your comfort zone, your increased confidence and competency can motivate you to stretch yourself even further. You reinforce the belief that you can thrive outside your comfort zone.

Before you know it, what was once uncomfortable becomes second nature. And that’s when it’s time to face your fears…

3. Face Fears

The next way to get in your growth zone to advance your career is to face your fears.

Highly promotable employees believe in themselves, and their ability to succeed outside their comfort zone. They manage to overcome their fears to embrace new experiences that help them grow and become better professionals. It could be a fear of looking bad, a fear of confronting criticism, or a fear of letting others down.

This is often about taking on something you tend to avoid, like speaking up in team meetings, presenting to senior management, or dealing with difficult coworkers.

Successfully facing your fears can be incredibly empowering and helps to show higher-ups your potential to move up and take on more challenging roles.

4. Go Big

After you’ve become more confident in your ability to face your fears and succeed outside your comfort zone, consider “going big” by making a career move that will challenge you even more.

This could mean accepting a new role outside your area of expertise or leaving the comfort of your current environment to start a new job at a new company working with new people.

In my experience, big career changes like these can take your professional growth and career advancement to an entirely new level. They are far from easy, but they can be incredibly rewarding.

However, not all “get outside your comfort zone” experiences deliver these kinds of results.

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Adapt Zone

While the growth zone is all about actions that push you outside your comfort zone to grow and develop, there is another zone you might not be as familiar with. I call this the adapt zone.

The adapt zone is also about getting uncomfortable, but this space is more about taking actions to fit in and meet others’ expectations. It’s less about developing new skills, and more about adapting your personal style or changing your behavior.  

When you spend time in your adapt zone, you are:

  • Conforming to other people’s comfort zone
  • Building bridges
  • Acting against your nature
  • Gaining acceptance
  • Learning how to belong
  • Feeling dutiful and uneasy

While actions in the adapt zone aren’t going to help you develop new skills, they can sometimes be necessary for career success.

For example, when you join a new company, you often need to do a lot of adapting the first few months to fit in as a new employee. You need to get familiar with a new corporate culture, become conversant with the acronyms, and accustomed to new work norms. It can be uncomfortable at first, but it’s necessary and eventually it becomes second nature.

All good so far. Adapting can be a very valuable skill—as long as you don’t get stuck.

Get outside your comfort zone

Don’t Get Stuck

The challenge is when you get stuck in the adapt zone and don’t venture out to the growth zone. It can be easy to mistakenly believe these “get-outside-our-comfort-zone” adapting actions will further our growth and development.

Maybe it’s because there is so much advice given to employees around how to show up at work to convey confidence and power: wear the right clothes, take your seat at the table, adopt a superhero pose, stop saying “sorry”, fake it until you make it, etc.

Despite all the advice we’re given to the contrary, genuine growth and development isn’t about stylistic perfection. When you start focusing more on what you wear, where you sit, and how you stand, you’re headed down a wrong way street.

It’s kind of like that coworker we all have who is more interested in securing a ‘power seat’ next to the CEO during company meetings than in developing people management skills and helping others grow.

Surface work won’t be enough to reach your goals, you’ve got to dig deeper.

It’s often easier to fine tune your personal style than challenge yourself to do something that scares you. But be careful, don’t spend more time doing something because it’s easier. You’ve got to do the hard work too.

Get in your growth zone!

Strike the Right Balance

You want to be careful not to spend too much time adapting your personal style, especially at the expense of developing substantial skills.

It’s important to strike the right balance. Make mindful choices and consciously choose the experiences and actions you embrace.

Is a new experience going to help build your confidence and gain new skills? Or will it help you adapt to others’ expectations and gain acceptance?

It takes precious energy and effort to get outside your comfort zone, so choose your actions wisely!


About Author

As a former CMO who started her career as an admin assistant, Alison writes about climbing the corporate ladder.

In 2012, after several frustrating years stuck in middle management, Alison set a goal to use her corporate career to achieve financial freedom – and make work optional.

You can read more about her story here.




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