February 2015

Should one follow the familiar and trodden path or should one take detours through unfamiliar paths? We all face this question many times in our career and in our life outside of work. Taking the trodden path is always an easier option and most people prefer status quo. There is a lot of comfort in performing routine tasks, chasing the same metrics, working with the same people and working in the same location. There are some people who are naturally comfortable taking wild detours to completely uncharted territories. And then there are those who push themselves outside their comfort zones and test out a new path.

My career took quantum leaps each time I decided to push the boundaries of comfort. Even before I started working, I had experienced the pluses of pushing myself outside my comfort zone. The first time was when I was in eighth grade and I enrolled in a public speaking competition. I was petrified and onstage, my voice shook uncontrollably. But once the deed was done, I realised that I could do it again and again with a lot more confidence. The obvious fruit of this foray outside my boundary of comfort? Today, I am a public speaker that has addressed about two dozen corporate and student forums. I am as comfortable inspiring corporate employees to take charge of their careers as I am mesmerizing young children into loving science. It was this ability that kept me positive and rocking when I had to give up my corporate career due to my crippling autoimmune disorder. So by pushing myself outside my zone of comfort, I picked up a very important skill, which today defines me.

Some people find it easier to make this push, while others find it tougher. But everyone can do it, if they put their mind to it. I can share a few tips on how to make this push easier- tips that have been tested on myself and found empirically helpful.

  1. The biggest fear people have of taking up something new is that of making a fool of oneself. The way I usually handle it is to declare openly to anyone who cares that this is my first attempt and I am likely to make a complete ass of myself. This instantly relieves the tension. If you put some humor into this confession, it is even better.
  2. Make all attempts to learn all aspects of the new venture. The sheer confidence that expertise can bring in will give you enough momentum to jump in. If learning the ropes can happen only after you jump in, create a learning plan for yourself beforehand- even this will give you a good push.
  3. Meet all possible stakeholders and frankly discuss with them aspects of the new venture. Each meeting and discussion will solidify your confidence. It is important during these meetings to be frank and forthright as to how little you know, so that the others really spell things out for you. When I moved from Airtel, where I was a circle head and COO, to Dell, a freak restructuring made my role redundant. So instead of handling a $1 Billion sales with 800 people, I ended up being an individual contributor, handling the creation of a certification- something I had no clue whatsoever how to do. But I cheerfully took it on and within the first 24 hours had met up with about 12 people who all gave me a lot of high quality inputs. The project did very well and the visibility hugely helped me.
  4. Keep a checklist of everything that is required to be done and diligently cross them out – after you complete them of course J. This will not only ensure you don’t miss out on something big, but also ensure you have a feeling of progress. This is very important for one’s confidence level.
  5. Be open to making mistakes- you are doing this for the first time. So there is mistakes can happen, in spite of granular planning. Learn from these mistakes and keep stakeholders informed. You will be surprised at how most of them will forgive you and some even offer help.
  6. Last, but not the least – tell yourself every day that you are getting better. Every night, before sleeping, I would tell myself ten times the following line ‘day by day, every day, I am getting better and better’. I would feel awesome.

So there is no question that if you push yourself outside your comfort zone, you will grow as a person. Moreover, every person has the ability to push herself outside her comfort zone.

An equally important corollary is that unless you push yourself outside your comfort zone, you will not grow as a person.

So start pushing yourself- time and again and again.

This management lesson and many other such real life lessons are highlighted in RamG Vallath’s latest bestseller book, ‘From Ouch to Oops’. To learn from RamG’s transformational real life experiences, you can buy ‘From Ouch to Oops’ from Amazon – http://bit.ly/ZYih4l as paperback or as eBook http://bit.ly/1zGgHjZ