Enter the learning zone: 6 steps to job satisfaction and career growth

“Outside your comfort zone is where the magic happens,” says everywoman expert Pippa Isbell. Yet the comfort zone is exactly where 27% of Network members currently find themselves.


How do you behave when faced with a challenge?

Run (11%)

Gulp and go for it (77%)

Dive in (11%)

Source: ewNetwork: October 2015


‘Comfortable’ though a safe, easy, anxiety-neutral working environment may be, you’ll rarely end a business day satisfied that you’ve really moved things forward.

Leaving your comfort zone requires a small assertive step beyond its boundaries into what we call the ‘learning zone’ - where growth happens. It does not require a gargantuan leap forward into the unknown, otherwise known as the ‘panic zone’, whose environment is likely to see you run back to your little corner of safety to dig yourself in deeper. In the webinar Stepping up: putting yourself forward at work, Pippa Isbell outlines her steps for getting the transition right.


Step one: really examine your own comfort zone.

Our workbook ‘Step up! Are you ready to put yourself forward at work?’ contains a quiz to get you thinking about where and why you’re stuck. Spend some time thinking about what’s really holding you back. A common sticking point might be that you’re unwilling to put yourself forward for an opportunity you’ve little experience of. This requires a mindset switch – it’s through taking the leap that you’ll gain that experience. Factors and events in your own personal work history may have damaged your confidence, and in turn had a limiting effect on your ambition. You may be a textbook perfectionist - so afraid of not being perfect that you forget to actually try. Or perhaps you’re lacking inspiration in the way of role models or supervisory support. Be as honest as possible in your assessment and look for ways to tackle these blockers, perhaps with the help of a mentor, or by browsing our topics pages for relevant thinking.


Step two: work out what your goal is.

The aim of whatever stretch assignment or growth-orientated task you eventually choose, is to bring you one step closer to your overarching career goals; to be discerning about relevant opportunities rather than spread yourself thin. So before you plot your route out of you comfort zone, it’s useful to have an idea of the final destination. This doesn’t mean you have to know exactly what role you want to be in when you reach retirement; but it is helpful to know what skills you want to develop en route, what type of role you want in the future and the types of experiences you want to have. Do some soul-searching: ask yourself what really matters to you.

READ MORE: Quit talking, start doing: a guide to making your dreams a reality


Step three: make a plan.

Remember the old adage: if you want to eat an elephant, you have to first divide it into bite-sized chunks. Consider the baby steps you’ll need to take to move into the learning zone. As well as the actions they’ll require you to perform, take a brave and searching view of the behaviours you’ll need to bring to play. What will you have to confront about yourself? What excuses are you likely to make along the way for why you should retreat to the comfort zone? One way to tackle this: take a piece of paper and draw three columns. In column one note what it is you’re currently avoiding. In column two note the reasons why. In column three think about the first thing you can do to get around the problem.

I am avoiding…

Networking events


I dislike striking up conversations with strangers and struggle to keep them going.

First step to overcoming the problem

I can enlist the partnership of a colleague with whom I can attend networking events to reduce the pressure on me to be the sole conversation starter.


Step four: call in the cavalry.

Never is your network of trusted colleagues more critical than in times of anticipated change. As you inch away from planning and ever closer to action, it’s time to draw on the support of others. Pippa Isbell, whose own avoidance, excuses and action plan are reflected in the table above, reveals that she was able to draw a great deal of confidence from the fact that her connections were surprised at her dislike of networking given how easy she is to talk to. Think about who might have some valuable feedback you can use, whether it’s taking confidence from the positives, or finding lessons in the constructive feedback.


Step five: Go to battle with your demons.

As you’ve progressed through each of the previous steps, you might have been fighting the single biggest cause of your comfort zone’s stickiness: your own limiting beliefs or fear of failure. It’s time to dispel that voice in your head. Write down what it tells you – in black and white it mightn’t look as daunting as it appears in your own mind. Examine it deeper: once you’ve written it down, add the word ‘because’ and try to finish the sentence as fully as possible.

“I’m not good at networking…”



“…I haven’t had enough experience.”

“…I get tongue-tied.”

“…I hate walking into a room on my own.”

“…I don’t even know what events are going on.”

It’s easy to see from the above how the “belief” can keep you stuck in a place of negativity; but by exploring the “because”, many solutions present themselves. In this case: lining up some practice in the form of a small event; preparing some conversation starters beforehand; taking a friend or colleague to an event with you; doing some research on the industry-specific events taking place.


Step six: Just go for it!

Don’t prolong your investigations, plans and analysis to the point where they stop you acting. The groundwork you’ve laid will keep the panic zone at bay, so just dive right into the learning zone. Remember: if something goes wrong, you haven’t failed. For as long as a project is incomplete, you simply haven’t achieved your goal yet.


More like this on the everywomanNetwork

Willpower: 3 principles to help you achieve your goals

Award-winning women share their business goals – and how they plan to achieve them

Stressed? Why daydreaming can help