Powerful Women | How to step outside your comfort zone – and say hello to your potential
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How to step outside your comfort zone – and say hello to your potential

How to step outside your comfort zone – and say hello to your potential

In the first in our new ‘How To…’ blog series, Adriènne KelbieChief Executive of the Office for Nuclear Regulation and POWERful Women ambassador and mentortells the story of her own career leaps into the unknownwhy we shouldn’t be afraid to fail and how to plan your next move. 

Is there such a thing as being too comfortable to succeed? Absolutely! I know this because my comfort zone was killing my career, just when I was delivering my best results ever, and so I want to share a great tip about how you can avoid that.  

I was at a regular Board meeting when I realised that I no longer cared as much about our ‘free reserves’ policy that we were again debating… Yet I used to argue passionately about it. I realised that I’d crept into my comfort zone. I felt ashamed, and alarmed at my ‘coasting’ for a year or so.   

Have you too noticed yourself opting out of difficult conversations, or caring a bit less about quality than you used to, and letting some things just drift?  You may, like me, be in your comfort zone.  It’s warm and seductive but it isn’t our friend – it was killing my potential and it was my arch enemy.   

I decided there and then, at 39, to make the biggest change of my life – to take on a job I’d never done, in a sector I’d never worked in, in a city I’d never been to. People thought I was mad. But I was more clear-headed than I’d been in years – to really achieve my potential, I needed to stop avoiding a big change, and get used to knowing a lot less than anyone else.  Sink or swim.   

It stung a bit at first, but I’ve changed sector three times since and, having been a bit less terrified each time, I’ve achieved more than I ever thought possible.   

I’ve had more potentially difficult conversations (they’re much easier when you nip things in the bud, trust me) and failed more often as I try new things (I tell people I’m learning and they help even more). Sound scary? Perhaps. But I firmly believe failing small and fast is far better than failing big and too late to change.  

Challenging the things we tell ourselves 

As I coach, challenge and cajole my teams and mentees, I find myself constantly drawing attention to the things they’re sub or semi-consciously choosing not to do.  Because – you’ve guessed it – they are trying to stay comfortable. We all are! 

“You have more power than you realise”, I say.  “You are imagining that others are stopping you, but they are not”, I explain.  “You are avoiding conflict and failure because you feel they are the biggest risk, when they are in fact your biggest opportunities”, I suggest. 

Just what is the worst that can happen if you *tell your boss you want more responsibility/ *need to leave early for caring duties/ *want to benefit from leadership development?  (*Delete as appropriate.)  

We don’t want to seem pushy, to ask for something at a difficult time or that not everyone else will get. And worst of all, what if they say no? And how will our peers judge us if we compete with them for something – whether they want it or not?  And then, the real kicker is that niggling, sharp little pricking of the senses that sits quietly but continuously on our shoulder: “What if I fail?”    

But being uncomfortable enough to succeed is about being brave and taking risks every day, so that eventually, what you used to think was a risk is not. You’ll become the one that everyone wonders: “how did she do that?” And you’ll be the one that knows you did it one ‘risk’ at a time. What others see as risk, you’ll see as opportunity. 

Honoré de Balzac once said, “Our worst misfortunes never happen, and most miseries lie in anticipation.” Our real enemy is that horrible comfort zone that wants us to stay the same.  

Goodbye comfort zone, hello potential 

Here’s my simple tip for preparing yourself. Take a lovely clean sheet of paper and a pen – don’t use a computer. Mark up three columns. 

In column one, write down what you really want.    

In column two, all the reasons that you’re not doing something you’ve listed in the first column. Yes, every single one in your head. And note if you know them for an absolute fact, or if you’re making an assumption.  

In column three, write down some ways in which you can tackle what you’ve noted in column 2. Big and little, formal and informal, and using everything you know about how to influence the others involved.   

When you start, column 2 may seem very long, but I promise that if you keep at this, it will become shorter and shorter. And your confidence and power will grow bigger and taller.   

What now?  

Next time you realise you’re avoiding something that could help you grow, get out your pad and a pen. In a year’s time your comfort zone will have stretched, and so will you.  

So find a quiet space to start your analysis of what you know and what you imagine.  And promise yourself that, at least once a week, you tackle something that you’re just a little afraid of. You’ll soon be your biggest, boldest and best self.