The rewards of risk taking
BY WALT GRASSL
Early in Karl’s career, he had no problem accepting a promotion from retail sales associate to the mattress store’s sales manager. But a few years later, when asked to be store manager, self-doubt became his constant companion. He agonized over the decision for days. He had trouble sleeping at night and concentrating even on the simplest tasks. Finally, with the support of his family and co-workers, he reluctantly took the promotion.
Five years later, Karl was asked to throw in his hat for the position of regional sales director for the sleep shop chain, where he would have to manage scores of employees, including other supervisors. Self-doubt returned, and he became extremely anxious about the unknowns associated with the increase in responsibility. He had a week to apply for the job and endured more sleepless nights.
Most of us don’t like change. We like to be comfortable. We like to play things safe. We avoid risk. We put ourselves in safe little boxes, and then we miss out on opportunities for growth and advancement, both personally and professionally.
But, as Margie Warrell recently noted on Forbes.com, “In an increasingly competitive, cautious and accelerated world, those who are willing to take risks, step out of their comfort zone and into the discomfort of uncertainty will be those who will reap the biggest rewards.”
Where do you spend the majority of your time? In your comfort or uncomfortable zone?
Avoiding mental atrophy
Stepping out of your comfort zone is similar to exercising muscles that have atrophied. As babies, we learn to stand by trying to pull ourselves up and then falling down, over and over until we succeed. The same thing happens when we learn to walk. Around the time we learn to ride a bike, things change. We want to enjoy the mobility of bike riding, but we fear falling and looking bad in front of our families, neighbors and friends. Usually, with the encouragement of a family member or friend, we overcome the fear—and we learn to ride a bike.
As we get older, however, we often find it easier to say “I can’t do it” rather than to try to learn a new skill or accept a new challenge. We tend to stay in our comfort zones and our “step-outside-the-comfort-zone” muscles atrophy.
Karl decided to seek the advice of Sidney, a former supervisor and mentor. Throughout her career, Sidney has moved around within the company, taking challenging assignments and growing in value to the chain. The company has rewarded her risk taking, and she is now a vice president of sales and marketing. Sidney talked to Karl about the importance of stretching yourself, being uncomfortable and testing your limits.
Sidney outlined these five steps to help Karl exercise his “step-outside-the-comfort-zone” muscles.
1 Vary your routines.
One sign of being comfortable is sameness—doing the same thing over and over. Do you take the same route to work every day? Do you find yourself eating in the same restaurants, even ordering the same meals? What would happen if you didn’t go to the same place, or if you didn’t have “the usual?” Consciously decide to do something different. Break out of your routines. It probably will feel very uncomfortable at first—great! Experience the newness. Over time, it will feel less and less uncomfortable. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
2 Try new hobbies.
Ever thought about being a magician? Playing the ukulele? Knitting? Performing standup comedy?
Make a list of 20 things you think would be fun to try, and then pick one. Find a class through your local community college, YMCA or parks and recreation department. Sign up, attend the first class and go in with the idea that you’ll have fun. If you are bad at it, so what? At least you tried. Now, try another activity on your list. Chances are, you’ll have fun, develop new skills and make new friends.
3 Try new things at work.
When your boss asks for volunteers, is your first response to avoid eye contact, shrink down in your chair and try to make yourself really, really, really small?
Oftentimes, your store manager will ask employees to participate in community activities or store events, such as planning a mattress toss or holiday party. Seek out lateral work assignments and step up. Make your manager know you’re happy to fill those roles that, in the past, you and most of your co-workers probably shunned.
4 Say yes.
If your natural inclination is to say “no” to new opportunities, change your mindset. The more you say “yes,” the broader your experiences will be and the less afraid of new things you will become. As “30 Rock” creator and comedian Tina Fey told O Magazine recently, “Say yes, and you’ll figure it out afterward.” Use this new mindset at home and at work.
5 Get back up.
Falling down is not failing. We often hear “it is better to try and fail than to fail to try.” Inventors rarely create their inventions the first time. They try, observe the results and then try it differently. They repeat it until they get the results they desire. Another saying we often hear is “the only person who doesn’t make mistakes is the one who doesn’t do anything.”
When you try new things and they don’t flow smoothly, don’t be discouraged. There are often bumps in the road. What is important is how you handle the bumps in the road. Do you know when to ask for help? Do you figure out what happened and then provide corrective action, so the same problem won’t occur again? Each time you go through a learning experience, you become more seasoned and more confident when facing future challenges.
Yes, you can
When you stay in your comfort zone all the time, you will feel unfulfilled, like you aren’t getting everything you want out of life. By taking steps in your personal and professional lives to get comfortable being uncomfortable, you will open yourself up to new, challenging opportunities. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Just because you couldn’t do something before, doesn’t mean you can’t do it now.
Karl now knows many places to go for dinner, plays the ukulele for friends at parties and, in his second year as a regional sales director, is gaining more confidence in his leadership ability.
Walt Grassl overcame his crippling fear of public speaking at the age of 50, and through his Internet radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up,” he is determined to help others do the same. Grassl’s accomplishments include success in Toastmasters International speech contests, performing standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv comedy club and the Flamingo Hotel and Casino Las Vegas. He also is the author of the book Stand Up and Speak Up.