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Who said career satisfaction is outside your comfort zone?

Comfortable at work but feel pressured to move beyond your comfort zone? Career practitioner Helen Green breaks down the stigma associated with staying in safe waters when it comes to career.

Career advancement advice abounds helping us secure that promotion, upskill and be the person we were destined to be. Terrific advice on many levels, though it is not surprising that some working parents feel pressured and inadequate in the race to please others, juggle multiple responsibilities and stay relevant.

To some, staying in your comfort zone at work has negative connotations: disengagement, complacency, stagnation. But it doesn’t have to be that way. 

Without diminishing the many wonderful personal and career benefits that can be associated with stepping out of your comfort zone at work by taking a promotion or changing employers, the flip side can be a place of personal growth and development too.

There are many reasons why staying in your current role is just fine if you choose to and are happy. This does not necessarily equate to you failing to ‘thrive’ or lacking in motivation, ambition or adaptability. Feeling at ease and in control at work is important for the wellbeing of you and your family. Here are just a few reasons you might want to stay put.

Personal motivators

We work for a myriad of reasons. Success is personally defined and value-driven. Too often we judge colleagues, family and friends through our own lens.

You might stay in your current position as it serves your goals, values, needs and other commitments at the time. You might LOVE your job and be content with your responsibility level.

Becoming a parent is life-changing. You’d be hard-pressed finding a new parent whose priorities and perspective haven’t shifted. Some may find that family becomes the new motivation, and that’s perfectly OK.

Timing matters – a personal reflection

On a more personal note, I launched Career Confident four years ago after a long career in the university sector. Starting a business was both exhilarating and terrifying. I was way out of my comfort zone but had found my passion. Yet, I did so as the timing was right for me.

Early in my career, I was actively seeking promotional opportunities. I could not understand anything less and recall being perplexed when a talented woman I worked for declined what I considered to be an incredible career opportunity. Later, I felt I had been very judgemental when I learned of her multiple caring responsibilities. Her work provided the stability and support she needed at that time.

The tables turned. When my children were very young, I’d come across internal and external opportunities that excited me, and occasionally I’d be approached to apply, which was flattering.

On the one hand, I had the skills, desire and expertise to do the jobs, though, on the other I knew I did not have the headspace or energy to cope with the associated hours, stress and responsibility. For me, the timing was wrong. This did not mean I wasn’t interested in career progression or ongoing development.

Colleagues and company culture

If you work for a progressive company with an inclusive team culture and professional development opportunities, that is ‘gold’, as my teenagers would say. In my experience, happy parents are far more likely to thrive at work and be more productive. Indeed, companies are increasingly looking at how to develop and retain good staff and create highly functioning teams. It is little wonder working parents are attracted to staying with a good employer. Staying put can sometimes be a great strategic career move, facilitating opportunities when/if the time is right.

Consolidating your expertise and belonging

It takes a while to become good at your job. For many, there is real satisfaction in having expertise, consolidating your skills and belonging somewhere. In many roles, no two days are the same. 

Recently a client asked me to review her application for a senior nursing position. It soon became clear she did not want the role, though others were encouraging her to apply, and she was worried it would look bad if she didn’t. Yet, she enjoyed her current role and felt she had more to learn in her job.

Instead, she negotiated a secondment at the same level, working in a different clinical setting of the hospital, broadening her experience. A great outcome for her.

Life matters – what is on your plate?

A BIG one. You might stay put for reasons which have less to do with work and more to do with life. They might include: salary and conditions, proximity to home, the job fitting in with a partner’s work schedule, feeling ‘home’ at work, flexible work arrangements helping you manage other substantial responsibilities like raising your children and/or caring for others. Similarly, you might be dealing with a life change or battling health issues, making the prospect of embarking on a new position daunting.

When other pursuits take you out of your comfort zone

It is too easy to assume, if you have worked for a while at the same level or a long time with the same employer you are stale and lack resilience. Yet, you may be stepping well out of your comfort zone in other facets of your life including: trying stand-up comedy, learning a language, working two jobs, studying, pursuing a challenging fitness goal, volunteering for a cause that’s important to you or joining a board. Growing, learning and skill development doesn’t just happen at work, and often we have no idea what our colleagues are doing outside of work.

Stepping back – finding your fit

I have enjoyed helping people achieve their goals—whatever they might be.

I know several people of varying ages who chose to move down the career ladder for a host of reasons including: shorter hours, less travel, fewer responsibilities or no direct reports. This can be challenging and often attracts eyebrow raising from others, though the outcomes can be worth it.

So, staying in your work comfort zone can be a good thing. Be realistic and prepared though, as change is often on the horizon. Being comfortable and bored or unhappy is a different matter altogether.

Written by Helen Green. Helen is a careers practitioner and writer. She is Director of Career Confident in Melbourne’s South Eastern suburbs. Helen is a professional member of the Career Development Association of Australia.

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