This week, Newsletter-27 Contemplating comfort zones offers a personal reflection (and a few conclusions) following a chat I had with a good pal this week. 
If you missed any previous week’s newsletters you can read them over on the blog. 

Contemplating comfort zones

Earlier this week one of my good friends gave me a call. 
Her: “I need to soundboard something with you.” 
She’d applied for a role with an enterprise org who have followed up with her for an interview and provided her with a task to complete and present. A pretty typical request. I’ve always done the same when wearing my hiring manager hat too. 
Me: “So what’s the task?” I asked. 
Her: “Well that’s the thing, it’s on market sizing and financial modelling. I totally back myself to figure it out though I haven’t done a great deal of this kind of work in my day to day… so I’d be applying what I know for the interview and then learning even more on the job.”
Me: “Got it – what do you need to soundboard”
Her: “Well I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m a bit scared.” 
Me: “Interesting. Why are you scared?”
Her: “Well their expectation might be that this is the bread and butter of my skillset. This could be a huge portion of the role.” 
Me: “Well, if it were a huge portion of the role, are you super pumped about the task and leaning more into financial and market modelling? Is this something you go ‘Well yeah I don’t know that much about it now but I am PUMPED to jump in head first and learn’? Or, not so much? When you consider that feeling you get in your body about this task, how is it landing? Is it a little nervous excitement? Or more of a pang of anxiety?” 
Her: “Well, I feel like maybe this is a good step for my career but I’m not particularly excited about this kind of work, no. If it was a smaller portion, yes, but not a significant chunk of the role.”
Me: “In my experience, jumping into a role where you feel just-almost-ever-so-slightly out of your depth WHEN you combine it with deep passion, excitement and a supportive environment, it’s the absolute best thing one can ever do for their career. If however, one of those important pieces is missing, it can spell trouble.” 
She brought up a framework she’d referenced in the past about finding flow. Matching challenge with skills. 
I encourage you to view the Flow Diagram over on Chris Bailey‘s fantastic blog where he details the model. In the Flow Channel, the challenge of what you’re doing is roughly equal to the skills you have to do that thing. Especially when you’re motivated to get something done, according to Csikszentmihalyi, this is where you’ll experience flow, and be the happiest. 
After contemplating it, I shared that for me, most of the time, I love sitting just on the borderline of flow and anxiety. I love how sitting on the edge propels me forward at velocity. I’m sure this says something about my psychology, appetite for growth and risk tolerance which will no doubt be different for every individual. 
So building on the “Flow Channel” chart by Csikszentmihalyi, I realised I have my own framework for finding the right opportunities that will allow me to thrive, in flow.
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To me, the ability to succeed in developing a net new skill involves the following: 
  • Is it outside of my current, demonstrated (comfortable) capability set?
  • Do I have a safe space to try and sometimes fail in an environment (with a mentor or sponsor)?
  • Am I deeply passionate or excited about the topic? Or the outcomes that can be realised from acquiring this skill?
When it comes to one’s ability to withstand difficulty (otherwise known as resilience), perhaps some only need one from this triad of options. 
In my personal experience, choosing to pick only the “safe space” without the passion (or even mild interest) inevitably leads to resentment and burnout. 
I’ve always said to my husband “Concessions breed resentment, compromises don’t. Label a concession and articulate what it means to you and it can become a compromise.” 
I feel that our relationship with work is much the same. When we force ourselves to do things that are too painful and out of alignment with our desires, values, or outcomes we want for our lives, we risk burnout. 
Similarly, when it comes to diving head first into a new skillset without a sponsor or mentor to catch you should you fall, it can feel like a bottomless pit of anxiety as you wait for *maybe* a shoe to drop. 
That shoe being otherwise known as “FAILURE” and any of the potential consequences that might come with it, according to your anxiety-ridden brain from not having that “safe space” to learn, try, win and fail. 
So I offered my gal pal the same advice. 
“How does this really feel in your gut? I can tell you are anxious, sure, which is TOTALLY normal whenever we are putting ourselves out there… but do you think this is just a little performance anxiety? Or something bigger” 
It was at this point we both shared stories we’d read about women in the workplace often waiting to be OVERQUALIFIED before going for positions while (traditionally, stereotypically) male counterparts felt more comfortable applying for roles they knew they were reaching for, knowing they would “learn on the job” or “figure it out fast”. 
Her: “I think if I’m honest with myself, this isn’t what I want to be doing the majority of the time. If it’s just a component of the role, absolutely. I’m also conscious of exactly what that expectation might be and the anxiety I might feel if I had to ramp up fast within 90 days to meet that expectation…”
Since it didn’t sound like this was the kind of skill development opportunity my friend was literally frothing over, I had to ask.
Me: “What about giving the task a go and checking in with yourself to see how it feels to engage with the content? If it’s super enjoyable, perhaps that’s more data to indicate this is exactly the right move. Regardless, do you think you would feel confident to advocate for what you bring and what you would need? Even if things feel like a stretch but the passion is there, employers that know they can offer you that supportive place to learn and grow, will jump at the chance to lean into someone’s passion. If they don’t seem to have the time or the energy to invest in building someone, they’re probably looking for someone where this portion of the skillset is solid, as they have other pressing problems to tackle”.
Suffice to say, this small, but meaningful and connected experience this week led me to a few conclusions about how I personally feel about contemplating comfort zones. 
  1. Just because an opportunity is available, doesn’t mean you should chase it at all costs; check in with how you feel. It’s your compass for making the “right moves” that will be in line with your values, the skills you are passionate about developing and the vision you have for your life. If you’re still unsure, I find asking myself “Deep down, what do I think is right?” Somehow that language has a way of cutting through some of the noise (we so often know what our gut is telling us, if we just listen) 
  2. Be daring but be honest about what you need to succeed; as noted above, women notoriously undersell themselves in business. Equally, research suggests they are unlikely to advocate for what they need. Lean into proving the world wrong by doing both. Go for the opportunity that feels a outside of your comfort zone but ask for what you need to succeed in it. Whether it be a supportive sponsor or mentor, additional training or simply, time. It will make you feel honest while setting yourself up for success. 
  3. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Gather real data by giving things a go and taking inventory of how you find those new experiences. Was it exhilarating to learn something new or just totally painful? Are you finding the topics curious or boring? Every new experience offers us a chance to collect more data about how we feel (you betcha I’ve run some kind of mental regressions from my journal entries).
I’d love to know where you feel you sit on Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s “flow” chart today and whether you feel you are someone who at this stage of your life is:
  1. Pushing your limits to live into some kind of potential
  2. Offering yourself the space to engage in other priorities (e.g. family, a hobby)
  3. Whether you’re perhaps sitting in a little complacency bordering on “bored”, knowing it’s time for a change.
I’m also aware that my thinking around “living into ones potential” can be different from those who have a desire to live a “soft life” (though honestly, you probably don’t subscribe to my newsletter?) so I’m sure there’s an interesting conversation to be had around that topic too. 
Until next week (with maybe an update on whether this gal pal took the interview!) 

Hi I'm Kate! I'm relentlessly curious about the attribution and origin of things. Especially as it relates to being a corporate girly balancing ambition and a life filled with joy.

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