Even the bravest among us tend to get the jitters when confronted with new situations and challenges. After all, fear of the unknown — a fear that isn’t easily put to the side even in business environments — is part of our reptilian brains.
What if we take a dive and something goes wrong? Or what if we embarrass ourselves?
The corporate world has been nudging us out of our comfort zones long enough for the concept to become a cliché.
But research does back up the idea, with neuroscientists at Yale demonstrating that risks and uncertain outcomes both prime our brains to learn and grow — at least up to a point.
Being in learning mode all the time, the researchers note, is a certain recipe for burnout. And taking risks for their own sake can turn out to be reckless rather than rewarding.
In my own experience as an entrepreneur, going out of my comfort zone has always been about curiosity, and then adrenaline, in that order. My desire to achieve a particular goal each time led me to learn more about the journey there and the steps I would need to take. The rush of adrenaline is what accompanies situations along the way. While I personally find such a rush empowering, I am fortunate to have a strong support system, from family and friends to professional mentors, who have provided me with the foundation to take many such risks safely. The benefit of that cannot be underestimated.
The question then, for entrepreneurs and business leaders, is how we can become more comfortable and confident about leaving our comfort zones. This includes having the discernment to know what risks to take, as well as what potential rewards we can expect at the other end. Understanding how each of us can answer it in our own lives is instrumental in turning our dreams into reality.
For starters, the adage is true: With no risk, there is no reward. Behind every success are conversations we had to be brave enough to begin, a series of “nos” we had to steel ourselves to hear, and barriers we’ve had to simply get up and overcome.
The grind necessary for success can feel relentless. But even the majority of setbacks can be embraced by simply shifting our perspectives. This means learning to accept failure, and not letting it prevent you from pushing boundaries -— both outside of yourself and from within.
Confidence is also key. While so much of entrepreneurship can be learned, most of all the skill of resilience, and the underlying spark, is very much a part of our DNA. And it can help get us through the difficult moments when we remember this.
None of that is to say entrepreneurs should throw caution entirely to the wind. In business and life, there’s risk, and then there’s recklessness — with the latter usually being defined as not having a proper safety net for the choices you’re making.
Safety can come from within, in the form of things we do for ourselves. Planning ahead is a significant advantage. I will forever be indebted to the advice of Bill Pretsch, my boss at and the former president of Mahaffey, who encouraged me to map out my five- and 10-year professional plans, which ultimately culminated in striking out on my own to build the public relations firm of my dreams. He has equally been an invaluable sounding board, another must-have for an entrepreneur, particularly when it comes to discussing your own dreams with the benefit of their experiences.
Friends, family, and mentors can also tell you when they see that you’re struggling or need rest. Our ambitions can sometimes mean that we ignore our own inner meters when they tell us to take a pause. Burnout is a thing we tend to realize only after we’re deep into it.
If you’re looking for somewhere manageable to begin when it comes to pushing or truly getting outside your comfort zone, this exercise might help. Of all the things on your to-do list, or even your wish list for the week or month ahead, which of them makes you the most nervous or apprehensive?
List out all the benefits and risks of going forward, however many there are. Then, simply make the decision to do it — moving it to the front of your list, if possible.
In truth, deciding to get started is the real secret. Your comfort zone — and your ambitions — won’t move unless you do.
This article originally appeared in the Memphis Business Journal.