Out of the frying pan

I have a friend who once explained to me the concept of a comfort zone and what it means to go outside of it. It happened a good few years ago so my memory is a little hazy, but it came with a useful visual aid. Enjoy my crude representation of one.


Your comfort zone, as you might imagine, is the place where you feel cosy, safe, and within the confines of what you know and are, I presume, confident with. It's a nice place to be and that zone grows larger as you accumulate experience by living your life.

Such experience requires a few expeditions into the unfamiliar every now and then. Call it your stretch zone: you're leaving the house but not venturing too far away from home, and you still know it's easy to get back if you start to panic. That could be a promotion, trying to bake bread for the first time, going to the cinema alone, or literally moving away; basically all of those things you do for the first time. After the second, third, or many other times, it's just part of what you do or who you are, so it's absorbed into your comfort zone.

Any further out and there be dragons, you've ventured far out of that comfort zone and into uncharted territory. For me, that was going on holiday alone for the first time. I used to be quite clingy at that age and hadn't yet come to terms with my own independence, so I had to overcome a fair amount of deep-seated thinking to actually make that happen. That was pretty daunting for the first couple of times (I eased myself in with a day in Paris, and then moved on to a week in Croatia) but eventually that also found its way into my comfort zone and now I love it.

You don't really want to spend too much time completely outside of your comfort zone because that might actually become overwhelming. Too much stress, too much anxiety, too much excitement, and just not enough of an opportunity to recharge. You can easily get burned out by pushing yourself too far, too much, and in the most extreme cases maybe you start to wonder if you can even get back at all.

Of course, this is all subjective and what I'm sharing comes primarily from my own experience.

Thanks to COVID and the lockdowns we've endured since 2020, I had a lot of spare time to get into the one thing that is more comfortable for me than anything else: my work. I bury myself into work as a coping mechanism, as do many of us, because it makes me feel like I'm useful and I feel like I'm pretty good at it.

I'm going to focus on the professional side of things rather than non-work stuff because I still feel like the work I want to do is important to me.

Even then, I could feel the stagnation from just doing stuff that I already knew how to do quite well. I was just maintaining and I started to become nostalgic about various failures that I'd been involved with that I also learned from.

On the spectrum of epic failure I can count a few memorable experiences, and I think all of them have been formative in a way.

I won't share them all, but one was asking to move to a scrum master role at my first London job, at an agency called New Bamboo. I didn't have the confidence at the time and I also didn't understand how to handle conflict very well. Given the option to return to development or resign, I chose to resign. I was well out of my comfort zone, I was ridiculously ambitious, but the company still invested in me doing that for 6 months or so and I left with far more experience than when I joined. That pretty much set the trajectory on my entire career and that kind of perspective has basically become part of my work ethic.

That's actually something I've missed a little bit: being thrown in the deep end and having no choice but to learn. I've also missed the level of accountability I was held to back then.

It's also why I left my previous job when, by all accounts, there was a promotion on the cards.

"Why on earth would you leave right before a promotion and potential pay rise?" I'm sure you'll ask, and all I can say is, I don't know, why not?

I guess for me, the frying pan has been burning dry for a while so why not check out the fire.

I've currently found myself in a more managerial position, which is new to me because now I have direct reports. I'm not just accountable for myself but the people on my team and of course, now, it's different, because I'm invested in their success.

I know how I've got here, because I've spent a decade flitting between agile coaching and software engineering, and particularly because I spent time learning how to be a coach in general.

I have no idea how well I will do though, except that there will be a lot to learn. Most of what I build off is from my experience being managed, and in that respect I've got a lot of good inspiration.

And I am so far outside of my comfort zone you wouldn't believe it, but it's exactly what I wished for.

On the topic of accountability, since I mentioned it, I think I'll write about that separately.