Getting outside your comfort zone makes you a better IT professional

by Brendon Livingstone on 23/06/2015 10:00

Getting outside your comfort zone - climbing a rock face

Sometimes people get into an IT role that they like, they establish a routine, and in time what they do today has the same comfort and certainty as what they did yesterday.

There are a couple of problems with this comfortable routine. Firstly, doing today what you did yesterday results in little in the way of new learning, growth, or contribution. Who wants to get out of bed each day for that? Secondly, in a rapidly changing world there is no longer a great deal of certainty. People who remain in their comfort zones, who don’t keep pace with change, will in time become less relevant.

In this post I explore how getting outside of your comfort zone will make you a better IT professional. One who is relevant, who can make a greater contribution, and who will be seen as a leader in their profession. You can also check out our article 4 steps to becoming a New Zealand IT hero.

‘Outside the comfort zone’ is the basis of many popular stories

“I saw it on TV, so it must be true”. Well maybe not, but there is still a great deal that we can learn from popular stories. The ‘outside the comfort zone’ storyline is so compelling that it has become the basis of many of our most popular stories.

Ever wondered what The Hobbit story would have been like if Bilbo didn’t leave his comfortable Shire and go on a journey with Gandalf and the dwarves to reclaim the treasure guarded by Smaug? His story would have been no more remarkable than any other little Hobbit. What if Luke Skywalker remained as a farm boy and never took on the challenge of finding Jedi Knight Obi-Wan Kenobi, rescuing Princess Leia and taking on the Empire?

The common structure in many of the stories we know and love, is that the protagonist receives a call to adventure and after initial resistance they cross the threshold from certainty (comfort zone) into uncertainty. They are tested and at the climax of the story they confront their greatest fear. Ultimately though they gain the reward they sought by facing their fear. When they return home they are a changed person (or Hobbit). In storytelling, this cycle is called ‘the hero’s journey’.

Our real-life heros get outside their comfort zones

When you look at your own heros, whether it be Richie McCaw, Lydia Ko, Rod Drury, Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, Rosa Parks, or Mahatma Gandhi. These people have been able to become leaders by getting outside their comfort zones, going into the unknown, and facing their fears. Each time they did this, their comfort zone got bigger, they grew, and in time they became the best at what they do or they became leaders for their communities.

Make your IT professional career an exciting adventure

Stepping outside your comfort zone can be hard, but you will know for yourself that life and work is more exciting when you’re on an adventure, when you’re learning, and when you’re overcoming challenges. Especially when you compare this to the mundane where every day is the same.

By getting outside of your comfort zone, by taking on new challenges and by stretching yourself, you will grow and as you become comfortable with your new capability you will have in effect increased your comfort zone. This is why Lean Software Development author Mary Poppendieck, who has worked with us here at Equinox IT, says “if something is hard, do it often, and it will become easy”.

Following this approach over time you will notice that there are things that you can do that others (who remained in their comfort zones) can’t. Your skills will broaden, making you relevant to range of problems that organisations face. As a result, people will look to you for leadership and in time with continuous growth you may become one of the best at what you do.

Start a new chapter in your IT professional journey today

Challenging journeys are not easy, they're not supposed to be. If they were then by definition you’d be in your comfort zone, not out of it. However, the best IT professionals that we see are the ones who thrive on putting themselves in situations they haven’t been in before. It forces them to learn and grow, it gives them energy to explore, understand and overcome the unknown. They stand out. They achieve more. And they most definitely become better IT professionals.

Recorded webinar: The IT professional - an unexpected journey

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