In this weekly series, our friends at MBA Career Coaches will be dispensing invaluable advice to help you actively manage your career. Topics include building your network, learning from mistakes and setbacks, perfecting your written communication, and mastering even the toughest interviews.
We live inside well-defined boundaries. That is just how it is for humans. This desk is mine; that one is yours. This house is where I sleep, and you sleep in another one. I hold on to this bar right here to balance myself on my morning subway commute, and you, by definition, will have to put your hand somewhere else. These physical boundaries are an inherent part of reality, and that is a good thing.
But sometimes we act like conceptual boundaries are just as real as these physical ones. Our comfort zone is one such boundary. Anyone who has ever been skydiving, paragliding, or bungee jumping will tell you that the notion that you cannot jump off a cliff or out of a plane is actually an illusion. With the right support and apparatus, it is not only possible, but exhilarating. What was formerly a very tangible boundary—the cliff’s edge or the airplane’s door—becomes a gateway instead.
So what are the airplane doors and cliffs in your job right now? What are the boundaries you have imposed on yourself in your work? Where are the limits of your comfort zone? They are easy to find if you think about what you already do well, because we tend to be comfortable when we know what we are doing. Are you a quant jock? Then challenging conversations that involve human emotion such as giving constructive feedback or influencing stakeholders to change their behavior might be outside your comfort zone. Are your soft skills in tip-top shape? Then stepping up to a role where your success is contingent entirely on complex data analysis might seem like jumping off a cliff.
Do we need to say that it is time to push those personal boundaries? Find your limits and extend your comfort zone. Do it with the right support and apparatus. Engage your boss and mentors in your process. Tell people that you aim to challenge yourself and ask them to give you constructive feedback as you go. If you do it bravely and with an earnest attempt to grow, you will quickly extend your boundaries. Your comfort zone will expand. When that happens, start at the top of this post and do it again. Then again and again and again. There will always be more boundaries to discover, and you will achieve everything you want from your career, if you keep seeking them out and then methodically extending them.