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3 Steps to Expand Your Comfort Zone & Achieve Greater Career Success

I was recently invited to speak on the topic of fear of change. This is an issue that, unfortunately, is all too real to most of us. One of the most powerful forces keeping us from making changes, even when we know the chances of success are high, is the comfort zone. This pesky state of familiarity and predictability is difficult to escape because unless we’re entirely miserable, which is rarely the case, the fear of the unknown outweighs the pain of the present situation.

One of the challenges is that we tend to think in all or nothing terms. We imagine making a major life transition and assume that that change needs to take place immediately and completely. This, naturally, results in a state of panic where we cling to the highlights of the current situation and convince ourselves that it’s just too scary to let go. Much of this is a function of perspective. While you can envision a change, you can’t actually experience it and all of its benefits until you make the transition. So as you begin to evaluate the effects of making the change, the variables that are most salient are the ones you can feel today, namely the loss or the sacrifice you’ll make for this still fuzzy, intangible future. You’re, therefore, really looking at only one side of the equation. If you could transport yourself to the new reality, try it out for awhile, and then make a decision, your life would likely look much different than it does today.

So, what if you actually could “test drive” that new reality before making a change? There are steps you can take to get a better idea of how the change you’re considering will affect your life.

1. Talk to people. If you’re considering a career change, but you’re not sure how it will affect your lifestyle, budget, career path, etc., find people who are doing something similar and ask them for more information. Be candid about your concerns and ask them for honest input on how they’ve managed the particular areas that are causing you to worry. There is no greater resource for insights, advice, and information on making a change than someone who is living the change you wish to make.

2. Do your homework. You may need to do some research to determine whether or not a change is feasible at this point in your life. For example, if you’re thinking about transitioning to a new career that pays only half of your current salary, you need to understand the implications of that change. Do you have a good understanding of your current financial situation – your budget, your savings, the amount of money you need to operate your household? Without a clear financial picture, you can’t possibly know if you can afford to make this change. Once you have this information, you can decide if you need to cut expenses, find supplemental income sources, etc.

3. Try it first. Many people have visions of a dream job they would love to have, but they’ve never done it before. They may have no idea if the job would: 1) bring the fulfillment and satisfaction they imagine, 2) be a viable career opportunity, or 3) maximize their skills and abilities. The best way to find out is to find a small, low-risk way to explore the possibility. For example, if you’ve always fantasized about having a career in writing, write something on the side. Submit articles to magazines, start a blog, perhaps consider self-publishing an ebook. If you’ve always thought it might be fun to own your own bakery, seek a part-time job at a local shop. Or, if you’ve wondered whether a transition to marketing would be more rewarding, take a course at a local community college, or take on a volunteer marketing role at a local non-profit.

Fear serves a very powerful purpose in our lives – to protect us from danger. Unfortunately, those instincts that evolved to keep us from harm have also served to hold us back from taking risks that can substantially improve our lives. We will never “overcome” fear, but we can learn to manage it. Taking the steps outlined above can help you ease the anxiety and incrementally expand your comfort zone so that you can make important changes with greater confidence.

How do you manage your fear of change? Please share your strategies for confronting the power of the comfort zone.

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