Posted on: April 15th, 2024

Growth in the Workplace

By: Jason Kniola, LMHC

Most of us want to advance in our careers in some way. For some, this means earning more income, for others learning new skills, and for others it may be working on interesting and challenging tasks. Whether actively engaging in growth and change or not, change does arrive, and in it, an opportunity for growth. In all cases, in the professional world it is generally expected that as you advance you take on more responsibilities, new tasks, and grow in your role. However, growth comes with common stressors that can be managed with some useful strategies. Let’s talk a bit more about growth in the workplace and how to accomplish this.

Generally, we all have a comfort zone. This is the zone in which we feel competent and confident. The comfort zone is relatively easy to maintain. We can run mostly on “automatic pilot”. Stress levels are low. Resources are plenty. The upside of the comfort zone is obvious…it is comfortable and predictable. The downside is stagnation, boredom, and lack of purpose and meaning. This downside is what often propels us from comfort to seek growth.

Along the journey from comfort zone to growth zone are predictable stages and obstacles. Knowing the map of this landscape and some of the potential pitfalls can give a sense of hope and lessen the occurrence of missteps.

There are many models to help bring understanding to the process of growth and change. The diagram below is a helpful depiction of what the process of moving from comfort toward growth can look like and some of the characteristics of the stages or phases.

As described above, the comfort zone is where we feel safe and in control.  When we actively seek new responsibilities and roles we leave comfort and enter the fear zone.  We are also thrown into the fear zone when responsibility and role changes happen from an external source.

In the fear zone we are met with doubt and discomfort.  This is often the barrier that turns us back from the journey towards the opportunity for growth.  Fear can take many shapes.  Below are a few examples:

The fear zone can be a trap in which motivation and hope is drained out.  Energy is lost with each fearful thought that does not lead to an actionable learning zone choice.  When we are aware that we are in the fear zone we can avoid pitfalls and apply the fearful, anxious energy toward learning.

The learning zone is where we begin to adapt to change.  Energy is poured into acquiring skills and completing tasks.  Each action in the learning zone is empowering and begins to reduce fear.  When we accumulate enough experience and knowledge in this zone we are propelled into the growth zone.

The more we are familiar with the landscape of these zones and find our way repeatedly through from fear to growth the more confidence, hope, and purpose we gain.  We often want shortcuts.  We want to leap from comfort to growth.  However, this is not possible.  We have to face the fear, learn new skillsets, and grow out of the comfort zone.

The first step towards growth is recognizing the process of change.  Next, we can begin to challenge our maladaptive habits that slow our progression towards growth.  Therapy can be an effective means to sort through these issues in an objective way, learn positively adaptive skills, and increase our chances of success and positive change.

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