Is Your Comfort Zone Holding Back Your Career?

Comfort zones exist for a reason.  

They keep us safe from danger, provide a sense of peace and safety, and give us confidence knowing no nasty surprises are lurking in our everyday lives. 

And as such, they are perfect for protecting us from making rash decisions, getting into awkward situations or risking embarrassing ourselves with impulsive actions.  

But the downside of your comfort zone is that it can hamper your growth. 

And that means stagnating in the same public sector job role when you really should be thinking about spreading your wings.  
So, is your comfort zone holding you back from achieving your full potential? 

When you stop moving forward, you stay in the same place – and while that may feel comfortable at the moment, it can mean you eventually start to slip backwards. 
I know it can be challenging to get out of your comfort zone – as a specialist recruiter, I’ve seen candidates hesitate to look for a new role within the public sector, waiting for the ‘right time’– and consequently miss opportunities along the way.  

So, how can you tell if you’re in a good place workwise at the moment – or in danger of stalling your career? 

In this article, I’ll look at some of the tell-tale signs your comfort zone may be holding you back, and then examine whether you should be thinking about staying where you are – or seeking a new pathway. 

1. Do You Have a Plan? 

Do you have a career plan?  

Maybe your goal is to be a Head of HR for an international charity? Or perhaps Finance Director for an NHS Trust?  

While you may not have a plan mapped out in detail, it’s good to have some idea of where you want to go in your public sector career.  

Not having a plan can see individuals drift from one job to the next without progressing; taking up whatever is on offer or what they are attracted to at the time. 

And while this may be ok in your early twenties as you can use multiple experiences to gauge what you want to do in life, as you get older, it’s worth thinking about what you want to achieve long term.  

And it’s not just about the financial reward – it’s about the satisfaction of achieving success on a personal level. 

2. Are You Progressing Your Long-term Goals? 

Even if you do have a long-term plan in place, ask yourself this question: Are you making constant progress towards those long-term goals?   

You spend a large proportion of your life in the workplace, and it’s critical to enjoy and feel satisfied with the work that you do, especially in the public sector. But being comfortable in your everyday working life can end up with you stagnating in that role.  

Everything you do in your career should be with the endgame in mind; from grabbing opportunities such as upskilling, meeting influential individuals, shadowing others at work – all these expand your experience and add to your knowledge bank for the future. 
If you’re not experimenting - taking on new challenges and exploring new opportunities – you’re not moving towards your ultimate ambition. 

3. Are You Suffering from Fear of Failure? 

Are you being held back by fear of failure or change? 

Fear, like your comfort zone, is there to keep you safe. But in today’s world, fear of failure can keep your career stuck in a rut. 

The desire to avoid failure is deep-seated in us all, we assume by sticking to what we know we will be less likely to make a mistake.

But taking risks is part of the process that boosts improvement and advancement.  

Remember, failure paves the road for growth.  

Making a move is a big step; no one can argue with that. Sometimes it feels so big that it’s easier to take the easy option of just staying where you are. But as the adage goes – ‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs.’  

Upheaval and change are part of life, and things are often not as difficult as we build them up in our minds to be. 

With some careful planning and the support of a specialist recruiter, you can transition smoothly and take a step nearer your goals. 

4. Are You Investing in Lifelong Learning? 

 Consistent training and learning new skills help to build your repertoire for future success. 

Trying out new things not only increases your employability, but it also gives you the chance to experiment and find out what you like (and dislike), so you are prepared to pursue positions that you know would suit you well in the future, as well as being able to add transferable skills to your CV. 

Not moving forward can mean you eventually start to move backwards.  

For example, if colleagues are learning a new database system but you choose not to – you’re going to be at a disadvantage when you are unable to use it and have to rely on others.  

It’s also worth bearing in mind that if you aren’t proactive in developing skills, there is the chance you could put yourself in a redundancy position. 

Upskilling means if you are ever unfortunate to be in that place, you will have other skills to call on that may help you via a sideways move in your public sector organisation, or put you ahead of the pack if looking for a new role. 
5. Should You Stay or Go? 
So far, we’ve looked at some of the questions that determine if you are trapped in your comfort zone.  

But it’s also worth noting that being in the zone isn’t always a bad thing.  

So, when is it ok to stay in your comfort zone? Here are some guidelines to consider. 
  • You are currently enjoying your work and feeling challenged; there’s still more to accomplish in your present role. 
  • Colleagues are jumping on the latest trend, and you’re tempted to join them, but if that move takes you to a place where you’re struggling, it’s probably not for you. 
  • You’re not a gambler. Your comfort zone can offer you a safe haven from where you can try new things and evolve slowly without taking big risks. 
You can build your career while remaining in your comfort zone, at least initially. The trick is to use it as security while you dip your toe in the water of discovery, taking small steps towards new opportunities and ensuring you continue to follow your career plan, growing and developing your skills, knowledge and experience.  

Achieving your career goals and being the best you can be, means knowing when you should stay in your comfort zone and when you should break free. 


Heather Clarke 
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About Harris Burns  
Harris Burns are specialists in Executive Search and Senior Finance appointments within the Public Sector; with particular expertise in NHS, Housing and Charity Sectors.   
With over 60 years' combined experience, we have extensive knowledge of the market, proven track records and established networks, allowing us to provide a wide range of services to both clients and candidates alike.  
To learn more about how we can support you to either build your team or career, contact us on 01952 743243.