Episode #87 – How Clinging to the Status Quo and the Comfort Zone Can Bury Your Career

Samantha: Welcome to “The Animal Health Employment Insider,” brought to you by The VET Recruiter. In this podcast, executive search consultant and animal health and veterinary recruiter, Stacy Pursell, founder and CEO of The VET Recruiter, provides insight and practical advice for both companies and job seekers in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession. The VET Recruiter’s mission is to help Animal Health and Veterinary employers hire top talent, while helping animal health and professionals attain career-enhancing opportunities that increase their quality of life.

In today’s podcast, we’ll be talking about the danger of the status quo and the comfort zone. Stacy, thank you for joining us.

Stacy: Hello, Samantha. I’m glad to be here.

Samantha: Stacy, I am going to go “out on a limb” here at the beginning of this episode and guess that you are NOT a big fan of either the status quo or staying in your comfort zone.

Stacy: Samantha, you are 100% correct when you say that. I am NOT a fan of either of those things. In fact, I’m as against them as a person can be.

Samantha: Why is that, exactly?

Stacy: The main reason is that I’ve seen these things hold people back. I’ve seen professionals including some in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession not go after the things they want in their career because they maintained the status quo and they wanted to stay in their comfort zone.

Essentially, people sabotage themselves. Because they do that, they get into a “career rut” and they don’t even realize what they’ve done. After a while, clinging to the status quo becomes more important than growing their career. The crazy thing is that in most cases, the person believes that they’re doing the right thing. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Samantha: Stacy, how would you like to approach today’s topic?

Stacy: Well, first I’d like to talk about the comfort zone. Then I’d like to discuss the status quo. And finally, I want to talk about the role that fear plays in all of this.

Samantha: Okay, let’s start with the comfort zone. Why is it necessarily bad to be in the comfort zone? Don’t people like to be comfortable?

Stacy: Yes, Samantha, they do. And there isn’t anything inherently wrong with wanting to be comfortable. However, when being comfortable becomes a professional’s number-one priority, then it becomes a problem.

Always wanting to be comfortable can be dangerous.

Samantha: Dangerous? How could that be the case?

Stacy: We’ve used sports analogies before on our podcast, so let’s use another one. In the world of sports, the team that is most comfortable is rarely the team that ends up being the most successful at the end of the season. Instead, the team that is the most hungry is usually the one most successful.

And when I say hungry, of course, I mean figuratively and not literally, although they could also be literally hungry, too. Sports teams and professionals working in the Animal Health industry and Veterinary profession that are hungry achieve more and are more successful than those that are not hungry.

Now, don’t get me wrong. It’s okay to feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s okay to enjoy your success. However, the longer you feel a sense of accomplishment, the closer you get to what is called “sitting on your laurels.” As I said, it’s okay to enjoy your success. On the other hand, it’s not okay to “sit on your laurels.”

Samantha: So in this context, when you say that the comfort zone is hurting you as a professional, you mean to the point where the person starts to “sit on their laurels”?

Stacy: Yes, but there are multiple ways that the comfort zone can hold a person back from moving their career forward.

Samantha: What are those ways?

Stacy: Well, there are three ways, and the first way is that it gives you the illusion of job security. Ultimately, job security is an illusion, 100% job security is, at the very least. If you absolutely, positively believe that you will never, ever lose your job for any reason, you are indulging in an illusion. People lose their jobs all the time for reasons that have nothing to do with their performance.

It is true that some jobs are more secure than others, but NO job is 100% secure. The fact of the matter is that there are no guarantees. However, when people are feeling comfortable, they want to keep feeling comfortable. So they will not acknowledge, even to themselves, that 100% job security is an illusion. And that’s another way that staying in your comfort zone can be dangerous.

Samantha: Stacy, what’s the second way that the comfort zone can hold a person back?

Stacy: The second way is that it makes a person feel better about saying “No” to considering a new employment opportunity.

That’s because when you’re in the comfort zone, you’re subconsciously looking for ways to stay in it. Considering a new opportunity forces you to step out of the zone, if only briefly. Your first priority, whether you realize it or not, is to stay in the comfort zone. And as we’ve mentioned, when you make staying in the comfort zone your top priority, that’s when you can run into trouble.

And that brings us to the third way that the comfort zone can hold a person back. It stops you from being proactive. Instead, it makes you reactive.

Samantha: And Stacy, are you saying that’s a bad thing?

Stacy: Well, when it comes to a person’s career, I definitely would not call it a good thing. In terms of growing your career and enjoying more professional success, being proactive is the preferred method of doing so.

We’ve talked about leverage before, and the way to have leverage in your career is to have more options. The more options you have, the more leverage you have. It’s a pretty simple formula. When you’re proactive, you create more options for yourself. With those options comes more leverage and the ability to make better choices.

Samantha: But when you’re reactive, you don’t have those options or that flexibility, is that it?

Stacy: Yes, that’s right. When you’re reactive, you have fewer options and sometimes choices are made for you. And no one likes having their decisions made for them, especially if the decision is not one they would have chosen.

The best time to look for a job is a prime example of this. The best time to look for a better job is when you already have a job. That’s because you’re moving from a position of strength, which gives you more options, as opposed to a position of weakness. That’s being proactive and it gives you more leverage.

But when you only look for a job when you’re unemployed, that’s being reactive. That leads to fewer options and less leverage, and in many cases decisions are made for you, as opposed to you having the ability to make the decisions.

And this brings us to the status quo.

Samantha: Stacy, how does the status quo relate to the comfort zone?

Stacy: It’s a logical progression. When a person is in the comfort zone and they make it their top priority to stay in the comfort zone, they want to maintain the status quo. That’s because, from their perspective, they are one and the same. The status quo is the comfort zone and vice-versa.

The big problem with all of this is that growth is nearly impossible within the comfort zone and the status quo. Trying to maintain the status quo is another way of saying, “I don’t want to go anywhere, I don’t want to grow anymore, I just want to stay where I am right now forever and ever.” Not only is this not something to aspire to, it’s really not that practical, either. The status quo never lasts forever. If you don’t move past, something will happen that will force you to move past it.

Since that’s the case, it’s always better to move past the status quo on your own terms and not on someone else’s terms or because of something that someone else did.

Samantha: Is this where fear enters the picture?

Stacy: Yes, it absolutely is. Fear is one of the driving forces in this whole equation. In fact, for some people, it’s the biggest driving force. Fear often convinces people to stay in the comfort zone and not attempt to move out of it, even if bigger and better things are waiting for them.

And I don’t want to downplay fear. There might be those in the audience who are saying to themselves, “Stacy, you don’t know what it’s like.” But I do know what it’s like. And I do know that fear of change and fear of the unknown are natural emotions. It’s normal to experience a degree of fear when considering a new opportunity or facing a job transition.

Everyone faces fear eventually. However, those people who are able to overcome their fear and break out of their comfort zone are typically the ones who enjoy the most success.

Samantha: Stacy, fear is a real emotion, but sometimes what’s behind the fear—what’s causing the fear—is false. Is that right?

Stacy: Yes, that’s right. The emotion is real enough, we all know that. But the circumstances causing that emotion are sometimes not. To put it another way, the fear is not based on anything that will actually happen, but only on what the person thinks might happen.

And of course, I have an acronym that I like to use that depicts what fear really is in most situations. That acronym is:

Fear = False Evidence Appearing Real

The bottom line is that fear can make a person stay in the comfort zone and cling to the status quo. However, if you do that, then you’ll be reactive instead of proactive, and eventually, you’ll have fewer options instead of more options. If you choose to stay in the comfort zone too long, when you’re finally moved out, it will be because of forces beyond your control. At that point, you may no longer be in charge of the decisions regarding your career.

And THAT is something to really be scared of.

Samantha: Once again, Stacy, this was great information. Thanks for being here today and thanks for sharing with us.

Stacy: Thank you, Samantha. I look forward to our next podcast!