How leaving your comfort zone will change your life

There is lots of talk about leaving your comfort zone these days. Doing it means change, and most people don't like or fear change. There are huge advantages to do this once in a while though. In this post I cover some of the bigger changes in my life and what helped me to manage that fear.

How leaving your comfort zone will change your life
Photo by Graham Holtshausen / Unsplash

A decade ago I did not hear anyone talking about comfort zones much. With globalization on the rise though the "comfort zone" is ubiquitous. Opportunities to leave your comfort zone pop up everywhere. Still, many people I know keep staying in their comfort zone. Although "comfort zone" reads very cozy, leaving it has a dimension to it that gets most people scared. There is light at the end of the tunnel though.

In this post I want to talk about what it is that makes people anxious when they want or need to leave their comfort zones. I will also describe a few instances of me leaving my comfort zone big time and how it made me feel.

Leaving your comfort zone

In my experience, there are two kinds of leaving your comfort zone. The first one is initiated by yourself. It often requires a strong desire to change or achieve something. Maybe you want to improve your health, do more sports, sleep longer, plan the next career step or ask someone for a date. To be successful you need to overcome the initial fear of diving into unknown waters and get started. Usually, you are on your own which can make it intimidating when you are not used to this feeling.

The second kind is initiated from the outside. Even when you play it safe sometimes an opportunity comes up, for example, in your job or in your relationship/family. The fear of change will most likely still exist. However, you might get support from the person who gave you the opportunity.

Besides fear, there are other factors that keep you in your comfort zone. You might dislike change. Change means uncertainty - but also development and growth - and usually happens outside your comfort zone. You might be lazy. Setting up that recurring exercise schedule might make you shiver. It will be just too exhausting. Like me, you could be an introvert. If you want to grow your social network or work on your promotion, you need to get in contact with other people. You will need to present yourself and your ideas. You need to show confidence. That can make you feel uncomfortable.

Two things could get in your way when you want to leave your comfort zone. First, you might not even get started cause the fear or other factors overwhelm you. In this case you just stay on your cozy zone. Second, you might overcome the initial road block but during your journey tough times bob up - and you give up.

You can consider accepting support to mitigate the feeling of fear and the risk to quit early. You can think about talking with a friend, family member, coach or finding a community. Find a mate that supports you during your journey, someone who might even have been in a similar situation as you are. A person that was not directly involved helped me a lot when I left my comfy zone. In the discussion with this person my fear or worries could be re-framed. I also started to disassemble my challenge into smaller, manageable steps. In the end, I rather felt that I am about to grow and develop my mindset instead of feeling fear.

Leaving my comfort zone

I am German and it is true that many Germans like to play it safe. When I start thinking about pursuing a big change, I find myself meandering through thoughts and worries: "What if...". I start writing down pro and con lists for the change. In short, I spend a lot of time thinking if I should leave my comfort zone or not. Instead of just doing it and figure out early - by doing it - if it is worth it. It is a strategy to trick my mind into thinking that I am already changing by spending time on this change without actually doing anything tangible.

Having a tendency towards pefectionism doesn't help much in that regard. You believe you can only pursue the change when you have all the information, when you are already an expert. The thruth is that you can only become an expert when you do something.

Leaving the zone

Leaving my comfort zone in the past almost always ended in new learnings or that I benefited in some way from the change. During my Bachelor studies a professor of mine announced that there will be internships available near Princeton, New Jersey, at Siemens. I never thought about being that far away from home, nor did I think about an internship at Siemens before. Regardless, I thought I could apply and probably they would not take me anyways. As luck would have it, they answered positively and alreay started the process. So, I could not simply say no.

Me jumping from a platform into the sand, Sandy Hook, New Jersey (2008)

I was so far out of my comfort zone that the first few weeks alone on a different continent, without friends or family, with the need to find a room to stay where extremely difficult. When I think back to that time, it was probably the most stressful time in my life back then. However, it also forced me talking to people I don't know, asking questions I would not normally ask, build connections and deal with problems that I wouldn't have dealt with at home. All this experience has helped my a lot in my life and made me more independent.

Leaving the zone again

Later in my job I was offered taking over the Tech Lead role for a team in which most people have been older than me. I believe that I had the right values and started building skills necessary for being a Tech Lead. When I got the offer though, I feared that I could not handle this change. In fact, I had never been in this role before and I never even thought about what it meant to be Tech Lead. Plus, the company was very young and there weren't any role models that I could learn from - not even the role itself has been very clear.

I started the usual mind meandering again, thought about struggles before they happened, worried about everything. I decided to take on that challenge, mainly because I would never know when this would be offered to me again. Luckily I was not alone as I got lots of mentoring from an Agile Coach back then. He helped me reflect, adapt my mindset and change my behavior where necessary. Again, the first months have been stressful and I needed to learn a lot. I worried more than necessary.

solarisBank Core Banking: beginning of a journey | Blog | Solaris
From monoliths to microservices - learn about the birth and growth of of in-house core banking at solarisBank and the challenges it brings.

This decision was the right step as I could help forming the role of the Tech Lead in that company and influence a lot of important decisions within engineering. In the next team at that company, the previous decision helped me in being selected as the Tech Lead for a green field project to build a core banking system from scratch. This has been the most challenging and exciting time in my career so far. I personally learned a lot and gained even more confidence.

Leaving the zone big time

In 2022, we started thinking about moving to China and the steps became more concrete. I had the support of my family for this big change and I most likely would not have done it without that support. Initially, I struggled a lot with the idea of living in a country of which I could barely speak the language, where (work) culture would be vastly different from what I know. The steps towards the move were intimidating.

For this life changing decision I happened to have the support of an older mentor. When I told him that I found a job in China and that I signed the contract, he sensed my fear of taking the next steps and said: "Now that the most important thing has been dealt with, the rest is just administrative tasks you can work on one by one." He was right, and I am good at working off administrative tasks (although I often don't enjoy doing them).

So far, this move, actually living and working in China has been the biggest challenge in my life. Even after we settled with the bare minimum in place, I had worries and in the few moments that I had time to reflect, I sometimes thought about moving back. This is the time when having a mentor, coach or friend can help a lot to re-frame your thoughts. Luckily, I found several mentors and a coach. Also talking to people that experienced the same helps me a lot. In fact, almost everybody I talked to who made such a big move struggled again and again and thought about moving back more than once.

Irrespective of the time we will stay in China, I already know that it has been the right decision, even with that many past and ongoing challenges. I truly believe that when I look back to that decision and to the experience sometime in the future, I will have a positive feeling as it expands my mindset and positively changes my view on the world.


There is a short book called "Do it Scared" by Scott Allan which is all about leaving your comfort zone and dealing with the fear you will face when big decisions need to be made. Reading a book and digesting it is different than facing such situations in reality though.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone for a while. Life is not a sprint and leaving the comfort zone will put you under stress. This is the time when you learn, grow and gain experience. This is the time that will make you more confident, robust, resilient.

Being under permanent stress is not good though. I needed to learn this the hard way. That's why, being in your comfort zone is necessary and oftentimes good. You will find yourself in situations that you can manage well, that limit stress and in which your body has time and energy to recover. However, growth in those phases will be limited. Only when you leave that zone, you will be able to develop considerably.

In the end, it is all about learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Learning this requires to actually put yourself out there, bite the bullet and face that fear - and understand that you can do it! Everyone is different, but I found it very helpful to share my worries with someone that is not directly involved and have those worries being re-framed.

When did you last leave your comfort zone? How did it make you feel? In retrospect, was it a good decision to do so?