What do you do when you have to take a huge leap outside your comfort zone?
Last week, I wrote about taking small steps outside your comfort zone. But there are times when life or work forces you far away from what you’re used to. How do you handle it then?
Several years ago, I was offered a temporary assignment as an auditor. My assignment was to visit our retail stores throughout New England to ensure that they were following proper procedures. All I had to do was to fill out a simple 40 question checklist to verify that everything was in order, and e-mail the checklist to the district headquarters. I’d be given a company car and a list of locations to visit.
My boss had been tasked with filling this assignment, and he had already decided that I was going to do it. To sell me on it, he waxed eloquently on the benefits: a flexible schedule with weekends off that would allow me to be home when my kids needed me; a desk at the district office so that I could get to know the district staff and the new district manager, which would surely lead to a promotion; and the chance to impress people with my analytical skills.
What could be the downside? My extrovert manager couldn’t see one. I could see a million of them. I had only been a retail manager for a couple of years, and felt that every other manager in the company must know more than I did; how could I audit them and be taken seriously? What if the new district manager found out that I was a fraud? This assignment was light years outside my comfort zone.
Ultimately, I took the assignment in order to spend more time with my children. As a retail manager, I was required to work a couple of weekends a month; the auditor assignment would exempt me from that, and allow me to flex my work schedule around the kids’ doctors’ appointments, music lessons, sports practices and games, teacher conferences, and the rest of the activities that every parent juggles.
My boss arranged for a brief training session, and scheduled my first audits to be close to home, at locations where I either knew the retail manager or the location was smaller than mine and I felt comfortable assessing their performance. Still, it was a bit unnerving, walking through the back door (if it was unlocked) of a strange store and announcing I was there to perform an inspection of retail practices.
I did audits locally for a couple of weeks and became comfortable with the format. And then came the Murphy’s Law day. You know, the one where everything that can go wrong will, and at the worst possible moment? I was scheduled for 3 audits an hour away from home. Things went downhill from the moment I programmed my GPS, which took me off the highway onto back roads.
At the second location, I went in through the back dock; the door was ajar, not good for building security. I found a clerk working in the back. I also saw 3 well-dressed people in the back; two men and a woman. The clerk couldn’t identify them.
I nervously went through the audit, trying to ignore the others. But at one point, I crossed paths with the woman, close enough to read her corporate identification. Oh, no. Instant panic as my career flashed before my eyes and disappeared. This woman was our new district manager! I wanted to crawl under a rock, or have Scotty beam me somewhere; anything to get out of this situation. But there was no avoiding her now. I swallowed my fears and shook her hand and introduced myself.
She left shortly after our introduction; she had been in the area for a funeral and had stopped by a random store afterward. Later, my boss assured me that meeting the district manager during a field audit was a good thing.
As I spent more time in the job, I became more comfortable with the audits, and was glad that I took the assignment. The district manager grew to rely on my opinion. Oh, and I did get that promotion I wanted at the end of my assignment.
Have you ever been forced far outside your comfort zone?