3 Ways to Break Out of a Career Rut

Last Updated Sep 23, 2010 6:19 PM EDT

Learning, like getting in shape, isn't a comfortable process. If you're not sweating and worrying about whether you're adequate to the task, you're probably not pushing yourself hard enough. And what's true in the classroom and at the gym is also true at the office, according to an excellent guest post by Tara Mohr on blog Productive Flourishing.

Entrepreneur Mohr shares her own story about plateauing at a place where she was comfortable with her skills but not gaining many new ones, but her problem could be experienced just as easily by someone working at a large company. She relates that six months into starting her business,

Things started to settle. I had a regular group of clients. I had run a few workshops. I was guest posting regularly... That was April 2010. Now we're in September. Here's what I've noticed: I've gotten stuck in a business comfort zone.
So what is Mohr doing to break out of her rut? She has a three-step process to get fired up for new career challenges:
  • Get clear on the current state reality. Write down the list of business activities that are within your comfort zone and those things that are outside of it. In your second list, focus on the top five activities you believe would enrich your business but that you are avoiding, delaying, ignoring, because they are out of your comfort zone. How do you know if you are avoiding something because it's outside of your comfort zone? These are some good indicators: Do you get anxious when you think about doing it? Does it involve risking rejection, "failure," or taking messy, imperfect action? Do you get mentally foggy when thinking about it?
  • Clear your own BS. Using your list, review the items outside of your comfort zone one by one and deconstruct or disprove the BS that is stopping you from going after each one.
  • Create new incentives. We all have a huge natural incentive to play it safe. We have to create an alternative incentive to leave the comfort zone. When my husband and I were working conventional jobs, we had a special agreement on salary negotiations. We agreed that the first one of us to ask for a raise that got turned down by the company would win a prize from the other. On the one hand, we both wanted to win. On the other hand, neither of us wanted to propose a raise so outlandish it would offend our bosses. That stretched us to ask for the most money we thought would be perceived as not-offensive. We gave ourselves an incentive to take a risk.
If you're curious what sort of BS Mohr is talking about in her second point, she lists three types that often come up and ways to combat each:
  • Fears. Fear of rejection, failure and the unknown. Get down to that root of the fear. See it for what it is. Have compassion for yourself. Question whether the fear is realistic, and look at whether you are willing to move forward in spite of the fear.
  • Inner critic chatter. You might hear your inner critic saying you aren't ready to do x, that you aren't good enough. You might hear old stories that you picked up from your mean second grade teacher, about how you can't write or aren't good with people. It's all BS. Notice how the inner critic is functioning to keep you in the comfort zone, and start separating your own best thinking from its voice. Create a character and a name for your inner critic and talk back to him or her.
  • Your crazy stories: "I need to get x number of blog subscribers before I reach out to so and so about a collaboration." "I need to have a fancy website before I sell products." We make up all kinds of false rules like these about how the world is. Check out your assumptions. Write them down, look at them in the plain light of day, and question them. Talk them over with a friend or adviser.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user NeilsPhotography, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.