Standing still is going backwards. And if you’re feeling complacent about how your career is panning out, you can be sure you’re standing still, one way or another. Even if things are looking peachy right now, are you developing the skills and network which will assure your career future in five or ten years’ time? Even if your industry and business are flourishing, are you prepared for the ways that disruptive tech and societal change might turn that all around in an instant?
Too much stress over a long period of time is draining and damages your health. However, the diametric opposite – outright complacency – is also a long-term option to be avoided. Things change, and if you’re not looking to the horizon for what’s coming next, then you risk becoming a dinosaur overnight without the flexibility of skills or attitude to get your career back on track.
There are many ways to break away from being complacent. You could try harnessing your skills through challenges, which will push you out of your comfort zone and into “flow” for the sort of stretch that promotes personal growth. With an overarching plan, goals and milestones, and a coach or buddy to keep you accountable for challenging yourself in small ways every day, you can break through the barriers of complacency and be prepared for whatever your career throws at you. Here’s how.
1. Figure Out What Is Holding You Back
The first step if you want to break away from being complacent is to figure out what is holding you back. Perhaps you know your current job is a dead-end street but still find yourself trailing into work every day without any real plan to move onto bigger and better things. What’s stopping you?
For many of us, the fear of failure holds us back. Face this fear, and work out what is really the worst that could happen if you put yourself out there. In the case of finding a new and better job – how badly could things go? Perhaps you put a foot wrong, stopped performing well in your current role, and got fired. That’s pretty tough going. But what steps could you take to get back to point zero, even if this did happen?
Could you save enough money in an emergency fund before starting to mean you had a buffer of time to find a new job? Do you have people in your network that could help you get back into a position which is at least as good as the one you currently have? Could you take temp or independent work to see you through if you really needed to?
Facing the worst case scenario, and then realizing that there are ways through and back to the same (or a much better) place if things really did go horribly wrong, is often enough to prompt action. Consider how you will feel if things go wrong in 10 minutes’ time, 10 months’ time, and 10 years’ time. Think again what will happen in these timescales if you do nothing but maintain the status quo. Which is worse?
2. Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
So, you have now, hopefully, persuaded yourself of the need to get out of complacency. First, we will try a little experiment with stepping outside of your comfort zone. Pick something that scares you. Even better, explain what you’re doing and ask a friend to pick something for you to make sure you do not give yourself too easy a task.
You could try the following:
- Get a stranger’s phone number (daytime, no alcoholic lubrication allowed).
- Do something completely unexpected in a public place (do a little dance, lie on the floor, hug a passerby); pick something that will not get you beaten up or arrested.
- Give a colleague a compliment, unprompted.
- Perform a random act of kindness.
- Join an evening class as a complete beginner, get used to being very bad at your new skill at first!
- Go to a networking event. And actually network.
- Choose a celebrity, business leader, or other person you admire, and call them. Search out their office number, and try to get them on the line – make sure you have some really good questions prepared to make it worthwhile.
In many ways, what you do is less relevant than confronting the brief awkwardness you feel when you try something new or out of your comfort zone. Get used to it, and it gets easier every time.
3. Set Goals and Habits
Next is to make these small steps away from comfort less of a novelty and more of a habit. Choose a specific goal, either personal or professional, and map out the steps you might need to take to achieve it. Deliberately choose something that is a challenge – it could be achieving a professional qualification or running a marathon. The impact of setting out to do something, and looking back at the journey from the point of having achieved it, is the same.
Whatever your goal, figure out the tiny habits you will need to build into your day to get closer towards it. These should be small things – ideally, so insignificant that you cannot talk yourself out of them. If you want to get fit, for example, start by doing one push-up every morning directly after getting out of bed. Build this once you are accustomed to it, and before you know it, you will have a whole workout without it feeling like a chore.
Remember that small changes made now can add up to a big difference down the line.
4. Get Help
Finally, make sure you keep the momentum you’re building to break out of complacency. Finding a coach, mentor or buddy to help hold you accountable can make a world of difference. Perhaps a colleague or friend has a similar goal to you – buddy up to support and challenge each other. A little friendly competition goes a long way.
Alternatively, you could look for someone who has already travelled the same path you are on now. Whether it is finding a connection who already works in the business you aspire to join, or someone who has achieved the qualification you’re working towards, get them to offer you advice and guidance on the way to keep you on track.
If you want an independent voice to help you along the way, consider looking for a coach; platforms like Coach.me allow individuals to connect with professional coaches through text-based coaching for only a few dollars a week.
Complacency, in its own way, is just as damaging to your career prospects as burning out through stress. It eats away at productivity, performance and morale, and can mean that where you once did a good job, you have become average – and on the way to being a problem with all the ensuing issues that this brings for your career aspirations. Break away while you can, and challenge yourself to grow. Not only will it do you good professionally and personally, a bit of challenge will make life a little bit more exciting, too. Good luck!
How have you broken away from being complacent? Share your tips and stories with us in the comments section below!