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Legal Career Planning: Is Your Comfort Zone Letting You Down?

Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick
How many times in your life have you been told to step out of your comfort zone? Probably a lot more than you could ever remember.

Our minds go to a lot of trouble to keep us safely shored up in our comfort zones, where we carry out our normal routine, content in the knowledge that we have the skills and learned behaviours required to manage the situations we regularly face, whether at work or in our private lives.

Comfort zones exist for a reason; they provide a sense of peace and safety, and the confidence that comes from knowing what to expect. As such, they do an excellent job of protecting us from danger, impulsive decision-making, and potential embarrassment. However, the flipside is that our comfort zones also protect us from growth.

Sometimes, a comfort zone is just a cleverly-disguised cage, holding you back from achieving your true potential. When you're "comfortable" in a position, you stop striving for greatness, which means that you stay in the same place rather than moving forward. Although staying still can seem like a good thing at first, it can too often hold you back – especially when it comes to standing out in your legal career.

Here are 5 ways your comfort zone might be holding you back from achieving your professional ambitions.

1. You're Not Reaching Your Goals

Everyone wants to feel comfortable in their jobs; we spend a large portion of your life at work, so it's crucial to feel satisfied with what you do. That's why firms invest so much time into company culture to attract the right legal talent.

However, when you're too comfortable in your position, you can begin to be swallowed by it. Eventually, you realise that you're not making any progress towards your long-term goals, you're just standing in place.

There's a common idea among successful people that you're either moving forward, or you're letting your ambitions die. As long as you're sitting in your comfort zone, you're not moving forward.

If you stay in the same place for too long, you may miss out on opportunities to explore new roles and challenges that improve your quality of life. For instance, you might be happy as a paralegal now, but ecstatic about going to work each day as a solicitor one day in the future.

2. You're Not Networking

The easiest way to change up your work life and step out of your comfort zone is to look for ways to network and collaborate with others. Take advantage of opportunities to work on challenging projects with others on your team. Even if you discover that you don't like the work, you'll still be investing some time into networking, which can be crucial for your future.

Whether it’s done online or in person, networking can be challenging; talking to people we don’t know and advocating for ourselves are things most people would rather avoid, regardless of their qualifications or experience. However, expanding your professional network is an essential part of career development in today’s competitive job market.

Not only will regular updates on LinkedIn allow your network to keep up with the work that you’re doing, but it can also serve as an excellent tool for recruitment. You wouldn’t want to miss out on the next big step in your legal career, just because networking was outside of your comfort zone.

3. You're Afraid of Change and Failure

Fear isn't always a bad thing; it can sometimes keep us safe from dangerous experiences. However, fear of change in the modern workplace is often detrimental to career development. With the ever-changing landscape of the legal sector, if you're unable to evolve with the times, you may find that your career is stuck in a rut.

Often, a fear of change in the professional world comes from the desire to avoid failure. We assume that if we stick to the things we know, we'll be less likely to make mistakes. However, the best employees know that they need to take risks from time to time.

If you’re a litigation fee earner, for instance, you might be great at consistently handling mixed caseloads, but to truly excel in your role, you also need to be able to network in order to drive the success of your law firm, which might mean reaching outside your comfort zone.

As with being afraid of change, being afraid to fail will keep you a prisoner in your comfort zone. Rather than going after what you really want to do, you’ll only focus on what you know how to do. We shouldn’t be afraid to fail, however, because failures pave the way for improvement and growth.

4. You're Not Experimenting / Developing New Skills

The only way to discover your potential in any career is to experiment. You aren't born knowing what you're good at and what you have a passion for. You only find out more about yourself when you take on new challenges and explore unique opportunities by pushing your limits.

Trying new things in the workplace improves your chances of thriving in your career. You'll learn more about what you like and dislike about your role so that you can pursue positions that suit you better in the future. Plus, you show that you have an experimental side with new experiences to place on your CV, which improves your chances of standing out to a future employer.

While working on the same projects all the time might make you feel comfortable, it doesn't put your abilities to the test. On the other hand, stepping outside of your comfort zone to explore something new will allow you to develop new expertise.

Twenty years of employment as a legal secretary is excellent, but not if you haven't gained anything from it. On a successful legal professional’s CV, you'll see endless accomplishments that came from each of the roles they took on, no matter how long they stayed with a firm. A career is much more than just a profession; it's a way to develop your knowledge and talents as an individual.

5. You're Starting to Settle

Finally, if you stay in your comfort zone for long enough, then you might be conditioning yourself to settle. Even if you're no longer happy in your role, you'll tell yourself that it's better to stay where you are than try something new.

This prevents you from pursuing a life where you're delighted by your career. You may even reject opportunities to grow and explore new things because you're afraid of the uncertainty the future holds.

The most successful people know that sometimes, to accomplish great things, you need to be willing to embrace change. You don’t have to be a risk taker, but you should be confident in yourself to know that if you do fail, you’ll learn from it and grow from it.

Future employers want to see that you are willing to try something new as evidence that you’re motivated and passionate in your professional endeavours. Don’t let your fear of the unknown or of failure hold back your career; you alone have the power to transcend the boundaries of familiarity and comfort that you’ve established for yourself.

When to Stay in Your Comfort Zone

While comfort zones can be limiting, they're also helpful at times, too.

You need focus and energy to grow and develop successfully. If you're continually stretching yourself in every available direction, you might end up feeling overwhelmed. Burning yourself out at work isn't the best way to reach the top when it comes to your career. You need to find the right balance between comfort, and risk.

Achieving excellent things in your future doesn't have to mean destroying your comfort zone. Sometimes, it's just about knowing when to dip your toes in and test the waters. Consider your personal threshold for fear and change and build a strategy around it.

For instance, when working on your development plan, pick a few "stretch" goals to take you outside of your comfort zone, and balance them with tasks you feel content about. If you're not sure where you should be stretching yourself, it may be time to speak to a mentor, or a specialist recruitment consultant, like Clayton Legal.

About Clayton Legal

Clayton Legal has been partnering with law firms across the country since 1999 and during that time has built up an enviable reputation for trust and reliability. We have made over 5,000 placements from partners to legal executives, solicitors to paralegals and legal IT personnel to practice managers.

If you are building your legal team or looking for your next career move, we can help. Call us on 01772 259 121 or email us here.

If you would like to know more about recruiting trends in the legal sector this year download our latest guide here.

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