Inside the Stretch Zone
As a teenager, brought up in a small village in the West Country, the idea of living anywhere else seemed inconceivable. I was very sure that I’d always live close, as generations of my family had.
The problem was I was quite talented academically and faced a general expectation that I would go to university; a big thing as I’d be the first member of our family to do this. When the time came, I applied for all the most rural universities I could find; strangely, this ‘smallness’ felt more important in terms of my Comfort Zone than proximity to home.
I didn’t go to university, much to my Dad’s annoyance. I lied to myself and others about the reasons. The real one was that the only offer I had was from Salford, Manchester – a frighteningly big city. Of course, I can now recognise my decision not to go as a wasted opportunity. Not only was the course perfect for me (English Language and Contemporary History) but Manchester is, of course, a fantastic and very cool place to be.
That’s the thing about Comfort Zones; they can be debilitating, as the space outside them tightens around our safe space like a noose.
A few years later, I was invited by the bank I worked for to attend an interview in London for a job in Head Office. (‘Invited’ implies more choice than I felt I had.) I went, reluctantly, and was 100% sure that I would not be moving to London! What I hadn’t counted on were the boozy lunches that were so much a part of the culture in London back then. I wasn’t used to drinking at lunchtime and came back having somehow accepted a post in Kings Cross.
That first big step into my Stretch Zone paved the way for every step into the unknown I’ve taken since. I applied for a job in Harrogate without having the foggiest idea where Harrogate was (I thought maybe it was on the coast somewhere?) and ended up living in Yorkshire for some of the best years of my life. By now, I was an openly gay man, and rural England no longer felt like a safe, comfortable option. Still, my new partner and I took a spontaneous step into the wilds of Cumbria, where we were pleasantly relieved to discover a warm welcome (that didn’t involve the torches and pitchforks our own prejudices had led us to expect). With my brilliant team, I’ve built an ever-evolving business that is now 21 years old. I’ve worked with clients in almost every city of the UK and a few moves later I now find myself in France, where I face daily challenges with the language and getting to grips with how things work. Some might think (including my team) that I’ve become addicted to change.
It’s important to spend some time in your Comfort Zone; it’s a safe haven in which to recharge, reflect and rest. But ultimately, resilience comes from spending time in our Stretch Zone – that space where we feel nervous, excited and a little scared. It’s here that we learn new skills and develop our ability to both embrace change and respond positively to changes thrust upon us. (A misconception many have about their Comfort Zone is that it will always be there.)
It’s in our Stretch Zone too that we’re likely to find determination, drive, and purpose. And here perhaps where we’ll make the most valuable connections to others; those which help us realise our untapped potential.
Beyond the Stretch Zone lies the Panic zone, where the fear, or blind terror, can be so strong that adrenalin pumps through our body and the primitive flight or fight survival instincts kick in; instincts that are often unhelpful in the 21st Century corporate world. The Panic Zone is not a place any of us want to be in for long and spending too much time here can be damaging to our mental and physical health.
But here’s the thing; the more time we spend in our Stretch Zone between the darkness of our Panic Zone and the warmth of our Comfort Zone, the more we are likely to increase our capacity for resilience and expand our horizons and opportunities. And the less power our Panic Zone has over our daily choices and lives.
So, what are you going to do this week, that involves stepping into your Stretch Zone?
Until next time...
Co-founder and Commercial Director at Glasstap® (www.glasstap.com), the company behind Trainers' Library® (www.trainerslibrary.com) a service relied on by trainers in more than 40 countries, I retain overall responsiblity for the...