Comfort Zone – What a Stupid Name

Comfort Zone - RUNPicture this:  you’re sitting in the most comfortable chair you can think of.  In your hand is a glass of your favourite beverage.  It’s cold outside and you are enjoying a nice fire to warm you up.  Your spouse is comfortably reclining next to you, and you are both quietly enjoying your evening together.

You’re in your comfort zone.  Sounds lovely, doesn’t it?

Not in professional practice it doesn’t.  In fact it’s hideous.  If you stay in your comfort zone as a professional, you are never going to get anything meaningful done, ever.

In fact I would go so far as to say that “comfort zone” in professional services should be more appropriately labelled “the stagnation zone”.

Why?

Because it’s where professionals go to die.

If you want to stay in your comfort zone, you should have done a different degree.  Comfort zones are where businesses fail, learning ceases, risks are not taken, and neither firms now lawyers advance and grow.

As a lawyer there are many ways in which you sink back into your comfort zone when it comes to your practice, and all of them are foolish most of the time:

  • Emailing people instead of calling them
  • Going to a networking function and only speaking with people you know already
  • Sitting on the fence rather than expressing an opinion
  • Sending an advice that is 20 pages long when it could have been 2, because 18 pages are taken up with butt covering instead of useful advice
  • Writing articles instead of giving presentations or going to functions

I’m sure there are many more ways.  Feel free to let me know in the comments if there are some more which your colleagues engage in – I’m sure we could generate a short book of ways in which lawyers avoid risk of looking silly (which is really what the comfort zone is all about – fear).

Risk is a necessary element of both personal and professional development.  I’m not saying we need to be foolhardy, but we need to do things to encourage ourselves to step outside the box from time to time.  We don’t need to operate in a state of stressed discomfort all the time, but training ourselves to be able to take those risks to our pride when we need to is important.

Mostly here I’m talking about personal risk, not professional risk.  It’s our fear that keeps us from calling clients, or giving presentations.  It’s our irrational response that prevents us from walking up to somebody new and saying hello.  There is almost always little downside to taking these risks, however.

To check this involves a simple task:  think of the last time you took the cowardly path at a “networking function” and only spoke to all the people you already knew.  Why did you do that?  Perhaps it was strategic, but I’ll bet that somewhere in your mind you were thinking “I should go and see if I can meet X” but you just didn’t do it.  Then you told yourself you ran out of time, the function was over, and the opportunity to make a new contact was lost.

So I thought I’d help us get out of our comfort zones by suggesting a few simply little tasks to give you a hand.  Tim Ferris is the king of getting people out of their comfort zone, so I’ve got some help for these suggestions “The Four Hour Work Week”:

  • Call somebody famous.  On the phone.  Just pick them, find the number of the place they work, and ask to speak with them.  Obviously have a point of speaking to them (maybe it’s a politician and you were hoping for some tips on getting into politics).  What’s the worst that could happen?  Somebody you don’t know and will probably never meet will tell you that the person is not available and is unlikely to call you back.  If that happens – so what?
  • Lie down on the sidewalk for 10 seconds.  Then get up, and walk off.  Do it in a group if you want, just for fun.  Yes – people will look at you, and you will feel silly.  So what?
  • Make a YouTube video – right now.  Just use your webcam, record it, and post it.  No editing, no anything else.  Speak on a particular topic for as long as you want, then just get it uploaded.  If you want to go even further send it to some people that you know.  What’s the worst that could happen?  You’ll get teased?  Perhaps the abundance of mean people on YouTube will live up to their life’s purpose and post some mean comments.  So what?

As a disclaimer – I haven’t done all these, but I spend plenty of time outside my comfort zone.  These are designed to help break you free from the clutches of yours.

Taking these personal risks helps us to expand our horizons.  They seem silly, but what they do is to give you the habit of analyzing the irrational nature of many of our fears.  For that reason when you next find yourself defaulting to sending an email to a client for some reason – why not call?  Why not go and introduce yourself to that person across the room at the function?  The worst that can actually happen is rarely likely to, nor is it usually that bad anyway.  Contrast that with the possible rewards?

Let me know how you get on in the comments.  Even if not these – how do you go about testing the boundaries of your comfort zone?

  • Agreed that the comfort zone “is where businesses go to fail” as you discussed. Given the various changes to the legal profession (more lawyers, fewer jobs, more non-traditional options available to the public), the attorneys who stay in their traditional comfort zone are going to go out of business rather quickly.

    • Thanks Luke and you make a good point – with the changes to the profession and to life in general at the moment, sticking only with what we know is a good way to get left behind. I don’t advocate change for the sake of change, but not am I a fan of never trying anything new.

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