When I think of the term courage zone I instantly start hearing Danger Zone, a song from the movie Top Gun, playing in my head. A sense of excitement, risk and an element of caution all stir within.
I was first introduced to the term courage zone a few years ago by a mentor.
He explained that to achieve growth, we need to step out of what is comfortable, and move into areas that take courage. In doing so, our comfort zone expands, and more and more things become comfortable to us.
I had heard the term comfort zone many times before, but the term courage zone was new to me, interesting and intriguing. I had to learn more.
I came upon information from Sean Covey’s 7 Habits of highly effective teens. At this point I was well past being a teenager, clearly, given my Top Gun reference earlier, but I did not let that put me off. The description of the courage zone resonated with me. But then that was the end of it. I didn’t do much more than think about it for that short while.
Through my career I have tried new activities, challenging roles and had many a difficult conversation. In a way, I experienced being in the courage zone without recognising that was occurring. However, many of the times I was in this place, I was not enjoying it, feeling very much out of my depth of expertise and confidence.
After a particularly challenging role I retreated, and slowed down the trajectory of my career. I told myself that before I could contemplate going for a higher-level role again, I needed to master all the activities of my current role AND have all the skill and experience of the higher-level role.
I was not going to let myself go for a position unless I felt I had the direct skills required, acquired through the specific experience of that new role.
This seemed like a logical and reasonable approach. Moving forward, I continued in roles that I was capable of, despite at times feeling they did not suit or interest me.
I found myself drawn to roles that required frequent difficult conversations and confrontations over both sensitive and complex matters. I was competent, this was my comfort zone, and so I often found myself doing these roles even though it was at odds with what I thought I wanted to do with my career.
The limiting beliefs I put upon myself gave me exactly that – roles that limited my satisfaction. More significantly, these beliefs constrained me from pursuing activities that would have brought me growth and furthered my potential.
I am still working through this, un-doing over a decade of negative thoughts and doubts about my ability, place in the workplace and potential. So far, I have made some progress. This year I am putting my foot on the accelerator.
Having greater awareness of the concept of comfort versus courage zone has helped.
When I look back, it is the times I was in the courage zone that I learned the most about my capability and my strengths. I could see them in action.
Although these times are usually accompanied by fear and doubt in the moment, the fact I have taken action is where the greatest learnings have come from.
As we know, experience counts. But sometimes we need to learn our lessons more than once for them to stick.
My Comfort Zone
At work I am often complimented on my planning skills. I like planning, because it requires thinking through the upcoming challenge and working out how to address possible scenarios. It involves problem solving and preparing.
However, there are times I spend so much time planning that the action is slow, or worse, never comes. I would spend so much time planning for perfection, but in reality, I was putting-off, procrastinating, postponing. A perfect plan is not much use to anyone if no action is ever taken.
The positive feedback about my planning skills only served to reinforce my bad habits of planning, planning, planning, but not backing that up with enough trying, acting, doing. As a result, I have felt ineffective, allowing the pretence of doing good planning get in the way of real productivity.
In Order to Change I Had to Change
I wanted to break out of the limitation I’d put on myself that I could only do roles that I had conquered before. I realised I had held myself back for too long. So, I sought an opportunity to try something different and broaden my skills and experience.
After some time in that new role, I still felt unhappy. I realised I was in the same behaviour patterns of staying in my comfort zone, prioritising those tasks that I felt most capable of doing, at the cost of the more challenging tasks.
On paper I had stepped out of my comfort zone, finally trying new activities, different content and work. But because I applied the same approach, I was not getting the full benefit of the opportunity afforded to me. It was a different job, but with the same approach, I got the same result.
I remembered the idea of comfort versus courage zone. I found Sean Covey’s description again, this time printing it out as a visual prompt to get my butt into gear and start moving. The words were encouraging and uplifting:
Welcome to the courage zone! Adventure, risk and challenge included! Everything that makes us feel uncomfortable is found here. In this territory waits uncertainty, pressure, change, the possibility of failure. But it is also the place to go for opportunity and the only place in which you will reach your full potential.
This inspiring account reminded me of what the courage zone was really about. I had to actually step into it, not pretend to step into it. I had to feel it – the excitement, the risk and the caution all at once.
I knew I needed to change myself. I had spent so much time feeling ineffective. Because I wasn’t working to my true potential, my confidence was at an all-time low. Deep down I knew I was capable, but my confidence level did not match my ability. It was compounding my feelings of being ineffective.
Closing the Confidence Gap
I took a big step into my courage zone. I moved to a different job, in a different workplace, with new people, systems and processes. I created a new set of conditions to prove that I am capable and confident.
The result is… I nailed it!
I grew professionally, but more importantly, I grew personally. Through the experience I learned so much about myself. I felt my confidence grow to match my level of skill, closing the confidence gap. I discovered what was of value to me.
There is a lot that went on in my time in the courage zone, but that is for another post.
For now, the lesson I want to share is that growth is part our life experience. To achieve growth, we need to step out of our comfort and into our courage zone.
Or to put it another way, taking inspiration from the Danger Zone:
You’ll never know what you can do, until you get up as high as you can go