You will often hear that those with some of the most publicized successes arrived at those accomplishments by simply out-working those around them. Jerry Rice, the all-time greatest wide receiver in NFL history, famously chased horses and caught bricks as a child to develop speed and coordination, while developing a 365-day training schedule throughout his pro career. Notable successful executives such as Tim Cook are known for their routinely early starts to their work days, while others like Marc Cuban are known for forfeiting vacation days for the first seven years of his career.
Health and work-life balance risks aside, I would never contradict that a strong work ethic, focus, commitment, and having an intense voraciousness for success will lead you down a path in the right direction. Luckily, achieving success and reaching your maximum output starts with a much simpler step, and that is in finding what I like to call The Stretch Zone.
Achieving promotion and success within a career can often be positioned as the result of some magical recipe; one where only a few gatekeepers have the knowledge to cook the exact science required to achieve results at maximum capacity. Recognizing how to arrive at your professional potential should not be viewed as the equivalent to such complex achievements in history as Watson and Crick discovering the double helix in our DNA. Instead there is a much simpler starting point.
When I first started my career, an executive drew two circles on a large white board. The inner circle was labeled “Comfortable” and the space around the outer circle was labeled “Panic.” He then proceeded to highlight the space between “Comfortable” and “Panic” and explained that with each task one sets out to achieve in his career, he should try to fit within this zone, the “Stretch Zone.” It is in that space that we begin challenge ourselves to think differently, to approach problems from new perspectives without fear, and to question the routines within which we previously operated. In having this approach, you begin to unlock the ingredients you need to maximize your output potential.
An excellent article by Andy Molinsky on Harvard Business Review titled Get Out of Your Comfort Zone: A Guide for the Terrified, positioned the importance of attacking those projects where discomfort may exist.
So ask yourself this question: If you didn’t experience any anxiety at all in your chosen situation — if it were completely comfortable and stress free — would it be something you’d like to be able to do? Would it be exciting? Would it help your career? If the answer is yes (and be honest!), it’s probably fear that you’re grappling with — and that’s OK. In fact, it’s great to recognize that so you can move onto the next step in the process, which is to use your power of rationalization for instead of against you.
Molinsky advises that we seek out those experiences where we may feel uncomfortable or slightly incompetent, as it may simply be a fear of failure that is driving us to that hesitation rather than a lack of ability. In adding to this idea, it is in that feeling of anxiety that you can be honest with yourself about how far into your stretch zone you are sitting, and begin to understand how this new challenge can present previously unrecognized successes.
Marla Tabaka outlines Eight ways successful people stretch their comfort zones in an article for Inc.com, where you can find advice on how to develop your own stretch zone, and how to identify when your comfort zone is holding you back.
Eventually the familiar routine of your comfort zone will keep you from learning, and experiencing new things that are potentially good for us. It is also likely to prevent you from building a thriving business.
Now that you are armed with a new approach for maximizing your potential (without having to hold off on your vacation for another seven years), look to identify where you may be sitting within a comfort zone, and go transition into your own stretch zones. You might just find that the resulting discomfort will lead you to uncovering some new and exciting successes.