Stepping Outside of Your Career Comfort Zone

by May 31, 2022Career Development0 comments

Do you ever step out of your career comfort zone, or do you prefer to stick with what you know? Moving roles always has an element of risk – what is your own attitude to risk and what could be the reward?

Personally, I am a calculated risk taker. I don’t do anything significant without thinking things through. At periodic times in my career I have certainly stepped out of my comfort zone and changed the status quo. Each time it has been of my choosing and after much deliberation. Taking that calculated risk has reignited me, stretched me and facilitated my personal and professional growth.

In my recruitment conversations I often hear “I’m very (too) comfortable in my current role” and that, for some, is a very valid reason to keep with the status quo. Many people have had successful careers by keeping with the status quo, but if you lean towards being risk-averse I would invite you to periodically take time to challenge your thinking. Explore any limiting beliefs that may hold you back, and assess where the riskier routes would, or could, take you.

Some candidates I speak to have to reconsider their own status quo due to a change in their personal or work circumstance. This could be a change in leadership, company strategy, their line manager or the loss of colleagues through redundancy can have an unsettling effect. This change may also be forced – you could be removed from your status quo due to being at risk of redundancy yourself.

Some candidates I speak to are interested in a fresh challenge; they can feel a little stagnant, or under-utilised, or under-valued, and after considering the pros and cons, decide to move to a fresh challenge. I don’t meet too many who do that and regret the change. My earlier blog goes through some of the reasons why people move roles.

The rest of this blog will outline 5 different times in my career where I have deliberately stepped out of my comfort zone, changed things or mixed things up. I have tried to highlight along the way how my change in personal circumstance influenced my decision and how my attitude to risk can also fluctuate over time. Everyone is on a unique and personal career journey.

In my career I have left ‘permanent roles’ three times to step into the unknown and start new ventures. I have also left a permanent role to step into another permanent role that was certainly a significant stretch for me. More recently I have embarked on gaining a whole new set of skills which are far different to the technical GIS skills I used at the start of my career. Please allow me to take you on that journey.

1. From employee to entrepreneur

The first time was back in 1998/99 when I left the Rank Group (at the time they had brands such as Odeon Cinemas, Grosvenor Casinos, Mecca Bingo, and various pubs/bars/nightclubs) to start GeoBusiness Solutions. The catalyst for this was twofold:

  1. My colleagues and I had been approached by an established agency who invited us to create a consulting practice with them (it never came to fruition but it got us thinking about what the future could look like for the three of us)
  2. Some of our Market Intelligence team at Rank were being made redundant during a re-structure, something that was very unsettling for those of us that remained.

I was certainly up for the risk and it was a much bigger risk to my older co-directors who were married, had mortgages, and young families. I was relatively young (27), without dependents, and my biggest monthly expense was the rent in a shared house in Cippenham (sounds posh but it’s a suburb of Slough). It was the start of an amazing journey and I look back on that time with the fondest of memories.

2. Apply my skills to a different market

I joined Deloitte in 2008, right in the middle of a global recession. We were tasked with setting up a location planning consultancy against this particularly challenging economic backdrop. The work we did at Deloitte was interesting, for example: estate cost reduction at Clarks, potential US expansion for M&S and supporting the Woolworths administration. The problem was there wasn’t enough to sustain our team and I didn’t want to work on a range of other projects outside of my location planning specialisms.

I had been approached by Ian Thurman at CACI, on the back of someone recommending me, and so I took up a role as Head of Property Consulting Group. I have written a blog about my perceptions of CACI prior to working for them and how these perceptions changed.

I had some doubts about the role, but these were more about me doubting my ability to do the role. I was worried about following up after just 1 year at my previous employer (Deloitte) – I had to ensure I had a good innings at my next employer. I was worried that, despite it being a smaller business than Deloitte, CACI may be still a little too corporate for me. I was also worried that the role was using my skills in a completely different way.

The business I was responsible for at CACI was not advising retail brands on their expansion strategy, it was working with public sector, real estate investors, and advisors on their shopping centre and town centre developments. It seemed like a complete step out of my comfort zone.

I joined CACI and the Property Consulting team went from strength to strength. I quickly learnt how my skills could be transferable and went about growing and developing the team. I enjoyed learning something new and applying my knowledge and skills to a slightly different area.

3. From perpetuator of ‘clone high street’ to helping people get fit

The third time was in June 2015 when I left CACI to set up a 24-hour gym in Bicester. I loved my work at CACI advising Europe’s leading property investors, managers and advisors on all things retail. Despite CACI’s size the leadership encouraged enterprise and innovation and collectively we developed an excellent reputation in the market. We built a great business, with amazing clients and a team that I was (and still am) incredibly proud of.

comfort zone - anytime fitness

During these successes, my personal life went on a bit of a rollercoaster. I’d been married (and divorced), I had 2 wonderful children and a mortgage – certainly a lot more responsibility. The decision to move was largely driven by a need to be nearer my children in the north-west and to do something completely different. I was feeling a little burnt out and had certainly lost my mojo. The long distance travel (from my home in Liverpool to my office in Kensington) was wearing me down and I also felt that me staying at CACI was blocking the progression of some of my direct reports.

Investing in a gym business allowed me to regain my mojo. After many years as a location planner advising what to do with other peoples’ money, I was finally practicing what I preached – I had real skin in the game. Secondly, I love meeting people and hearing about their fitness journeys; witnessing them progress through that journey at our club was very rewarding. I know that I get a tremendous amount of pleasure in playing even a small part in other peoples’ success.

4. From management consulting to recruitment consulting

The fourth time was in late 2017. I had been working as a contractor at Grant Thornton within their Insight & Analytics team. Another great place to work with some amazing people and interesting clients. After a period of time there, they approached me about joining them on a permanent basis. I was about to sign a permanent contract when my beloved Mum was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia and it prompted a fairly radical rethink.

Despite the amazing opportunity, I decided to politely decline the Grant Thornton offer. I felt I was not able to provide the commitment and drive that the role and hiring partner deserved. I was torn between supporting my Dad and spending quality time with Mum, against the need to continue to financially provide for my family. I decided to take a sabbatical and spend some quality time supporting my Mum and Dad. I have no regrets about doing that and was fortunate enough to be able to afford a short period of time without regular income. Supporting Dad (and my brothers) in caring for Mum was the most rewarding and harrowing job I’ve ever had to do.

Mum’s move into a nursing home prompted my return to full time work and I joined forces with my brother to develop our recruitment business: Red Tiger Talent. I had recruited staff throughout my senior career but I had no experience of being a professional recruitment consultant. It was time for a fresh challenge!

5. From head hunter to coach

My latest career change (note how I am deliberately avoiding the word ‘pivot’) centred around a decline in our recruitment brought about by the pandemic and a need to diversify as a business to survive. This is where Red Tiger Coaching was created. We had the sole purpose of supporting anyone who had been affected by the employment uncertainties caused by Covid. We have helped several people since our initial formation in September 2019, and our client testimonials tell a great story.

In January 2022, fast approaching 30 years since I last did some formal learning (my Masters in GIS), I embarked upon an adult learning course: an ICF/Postgraduate Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching. This has been an interesting and transformational change for me personally. Firstly, this is not a journey I did alone. I had the pleasant company of 14 other colleagues on the course, a group who laughed, cried, got coached and learnt a lot about each other and ourselves along the way.

Secondly, I had the support of my Red Tiger colleagues, Steph, Andy, Paul and Chloe – as an invaluable sounding board and willing volunteer coachees to practice on. Thirdly, it couldn’t have come at a worse time for me as our recruitment business was busier than it has ever been. The course time provided valuable respite from the relentlessness of recruitment, but it also led to some early mornings and late nights to catch up on my ‘day job’.

Take comfort in trying

I don’t want this blog to take the moral high ground about the benefits of changing the status quo. Sometimes it is better to stick with what you know. I have hopefully highlighted some key moments in my career where I have decided to change, to take a risk, and I have no regrets about any of the outcomes. In my own career a change was as good as a rest – each change provided me with a renewed vigour, with a need to learn, with a drive for success.


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Published by Steve Halsall

Steve is the founder of Red Tiger Consulting. He has worked in Location Planning for over 20 years – both on the consultancy side and client side. His passion is building successful teams that evolve their capability (skills, software and data) to meet the ever changing requirements of analysis. In his spare time he is mainly kept busy with his two children, falling in and out of love with Liverpool FC and at some point he wants to re-start his golfing ‘career’.

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