Why getting out of your comfort zone might not be such great advice

There are so many calls to ‘get out of your comfort zone’ these days at a time when disruption is very much the norm for most people.

woman stressed at desk


There are a lot of books around at the moment about career progression and, of course, the gender pay gap. A lot of them counsel that getting out of your comfort zone is a good idea.

Try something out of the ordinary, force yourself to ask for a pay rise, make that presentation even though you hate the mere thought of it. It will be good for you, they advise.

To a certain degree there is truth in this. Clearly it’s a good idea to do new things. Parents spend years of their lives encouraging their kids to eat new types of food that are not chicken nuggets and chips. Asking for a pay rise that you deserve, again, makes good sense.

But I’m not so sure that it is always a good idea to step out of your comfort zone. I was reading a book the other day that overturns a lot of current thinking. It will no doubt become current thinking and some other book will come along and debunk it in due course, but for the time being it is very refreshing.

Called It doesn’t have to be crazy at work, it states: “The idea that you have to constantly push yourself out of your comfort zone is the kind of supposedly self-evident nonsense you’ll often find in corporate manifestos. That unless you’re uncomfortable with what you’re doing, you’re not trying hard enough, not pushing hard enough.”

While the book agrees that sometimes it may be important to temporarily do something uncomfortable and any major change or progress requires some degree of discomfort, it says this emphasis on lack of comfort is not healthy. “Being comfortable in your zone is essential to being calm,” it states.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but I’m drawn to comfort. I have no desire whatsoever to jump out of an airplane or do any number of other exploits that people seem to think you should do to challenge yourself.

Plus getting out of your comfort zone in the context of work implies that your regular day to day life is comfortable. If you are up against a culture which is overwhelmingly against you discomfort may well be the norm for you. It doesn’t make it desirable, though.

The same applies if your job – or your life – is precarious or in any way dangerous to your mental or physical health. Comfort may be the thing you lack rather than vice versa.

Similarly, asking for promotion or a pay rise is less uncomfortable if you have less to risk, if you have not been brought up in a world that makes you devalue yourself. It’s no good therefore making women feel that they are somehow peculiarly risk averse or lacking in confidence if you don’t understand why.

Advice to get out of your comfort zone therefore requires context. Some people spend a lifetime trying to get into a comfort zone.

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