YOU’VE probably heard “do one thing every day that scares you” at some point in your life. I think about this phrase a lot. It’s really hard to do something that creates discomfort every single day, but you can certainly occasionally get out of your comfort zone.
Like many, I’m not a huge fan of heights. As a kid, we would visit Vulcan, a statue in Birmingham, Ala., near my hometown. After climbing what seemed like thousands of steps, you ended up on a circular landing where you could walk around the statue. There was only a 3-foot-high fence around the landing. I would press my back against Vulcan and inch my way around the statue. I did not want to get close to the edge and look down.
So recently, I decided to confront my fear, and I did it in a big way. My husband and I took a helicopter ride while on vacation. The helicopter was a four-seater and I sat behind the young pilot. I gripped his seat with both hands for most of the hour-long ride. And did I mention that we did the “doors off” tour? So I didn’t look to my right—where there was no door—until probably 45 minutes into the trip. While the scenery was beautiful, I couldn’t appreciate it the way my husband could.
But I completed the ride without embarrassing myself. I was proud that I took the chance to get out of my comfort zone.
I’ve been thinking about how this applies to the workplace. Most people don’t like change. They are comfortable with being comfortable and don’t want to do anything that scares them.
But change is necessary. We cannot have progress with doing things differently.
Most of us drive cars to work. We don’t walk, ride horses, or drive a wagon. We have smartphones that do things that we would have needed at least three devices to do as recently as 10 years ago. I’m thankful for the inventions of electricity, air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and the list could go on and on. It’s important to embrace change.
Change is inevitable. We may not always be able to predict how or when it will impact our workplace, but many times, we see it coming. So what can you do to step outside your comfort zone? Can you volunteer for a task you’ve never done? What about painting the office? It probably needs a coat if it’s been at least five years since it was last painted. Go out on a limb and paint it a signature color. Those who know me well know I have painted offices red, which probably made my colleagues more uncomfortable than it made me. Talk about making a statement. Perhaps someone is retiring and their job would be a stretch for you—could you compete for it anyway? Remind yourself that you need to grow and be a bit uncomfortable occasionally.
As a manager, prepare your employees for change. If something is going to have an impact on their lives, whether substantially or in a limited way, communicate what’s going on and help them understand how it will make their lives different. I was once in an academic department that merged with another department. The leadership prepared us well, reminding us that our day-to-day work would not be affected, and it wasn’t. So there was little drama when our change happened. The folks in charge ensured this. You can, too.
As for my helicopter ride, I’m glad to have done it, to prove to myself I could. It definitely made me uncomfortable. But with that behind me, I’m 99.9 percent sure that there will be no parachuting out of a plane or riding in a hot air balloon in my future. Give me changes on solid ground.