One Hurdle that Holds Your Career Back and 4 Exercises to Overcome It

March 14, 2017

By Carla Johnson

I’ve written about why marketers need to embrace change. And while I hear people agree this needs to happen, there’s a disconnect between what they say and what they do (imagine that).

Agreeing that change needs to happen and being the one actually to change are two different things.

An unwillingness to change is the shackle that holds people back in their career. Without moving forward and experimenting, even on a small level, we’ll never be able to experience our full potential. It’s when we’re able to tap into that potential that we get incredibly excited about the work that we do and begin to push the boundaries of what’s possible even further.

I had a client tell me, “Change would be a lot easier if I just knew what to expect.”


And that made me think.

It’s not that we don’t want change. It’s that we don’t like discomfort. And not knowing how things will turn out when we do something different makes us uncomfortable.

Knowing that, the first step to opening up to change is to deal with our discomfort.

Getting comfortable with discomfort

If you want to grow your career – and even accelerate it – you need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s simply a fact that everyone who has achieved great things had to deal with feelings of being uncomfortable. Uncomfortable conversations. Uncomfortable responses. Uncomfortable silences. Uncomfortable feelings.

The way to baby-step toward comfort is to start with getting familiar with feeling uncomfortable. But do it in situations that are low risk. Something outside of work where you can practice and not feel like you have anything on the line to lose.

Here are four exercises you can practice to stretch your comfort zone. Pay attention to how awkward you feel in each and understand that recognizing the feelings that come about is part of the growth process. Don’t rush through these. And pay attention to how your body responds.

  1. Look them in the eye longer than you are normally comfortable doing. You’ll feel your eyes want to pull away, to look at something behind them, or something around you in hopes that it will look like you are thinking about your response. Resist this temptation. If you’re really uncomfortable and it’s too much to do this in close proximity with someone, look at the bridge of their nose right between their eyes. Then work up to holding eye contact.
  2. Personal space can really feel awkward. I guarantee you can immediately remember a time when someone stood closer to you than was comfortable. For this exercise, move closer to someone than would normally be comfortable for you. Notice how this may make you feel physically uncomfortable. Take a slow, deep breath and let it out (quietly) just as slowly. Do your best not to immediately revert to your regular behavior.
  3. Do something small to bring attention to yourself. For example, be the last one on the elevator. Once you’re on, put your back to the doors so you’re facing everyone else. Then smile! What happens? How do you feel?
  4. When you’re standing in line at the grocery store or for coffee, strike up a conversation with a complete stranger who’s in front or behind you. Ask them a question that requires them to give more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ response. Something along the lines of, “I can’t decide if I want to splurge on the latte or the coffee cake. What do you think?”

After you’ve done one of these exercises, make a few notes about how it made you feel. As you become more practiced, watch how other people respond. Does their verbal and nonverbal behavior mirror or contract how you feel about the situation?

Depending on your familiarity with discomfort, you may feel acutely uneasy and noticeably embarrassed. Remind yourself that this is just practice. You’re not doing anything wrong. And most importantly, the people you admire most have had to work through these exactly same feelings.

I guarantee you that after you’ve practiced this a few times in nonthreatening situations, you’ll be much more comfortable stepping out of your comfort zone when it comes to work. The feelings will be more familiar. You’ll immediately travel back to those moments when you kicked fear to the curb, and bravery won out. And you’ll remember how courageous you felt when you finished these little experiments.

Try these exercises and let me know in the comments below how they turned out. Or, tell me what tools you use to stretch and step out of your comfort zone.

Photo credit: Flickr user Melinda Huntley

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author