Have you ever heard the phrase “comfort zones are meant to be broken”? In our human mindsets (often tainted by years of “programming” within man-made social constructs and norms), it can be really difficult to justify why we have a reason to change.
In fact, we often have a heck of a lot of reasons to say within our comfort zones. Details Judith Bardwick in her text “Danger in the Comfort Zone,” “The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behavior to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.”
If we are performing and do not need to face risk, it becomes difficult to rationalize why we should change anything about our behaviors. In fact, even prior to the global pandemic in 2020 and consistent outcries from communities of color, specifically for Black Americans, to have equitable workplace environments and eradication of racist policies and practices, it still seems to be difficult for leaders to make courageous decisions in the best interest of human lives.
In the article “The Biggest Risk in Business Right Now is Grief,” Maria Aspan wrote, “Long before the pandemic, grief was estimated to cost employers up to $75 billion every year in lost productivity, while employee burnout caused up to $190 billion in health care costs every year.”
So what is it that keeps us as humans choosing compliant leadership over courageous leadership? It’s psychology and understanding self. Getting out of our comfort zones is uncomfortable. To provide you a cliff notes summary, the 1960s birthed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as Dr. Aaron Beck realized that most of his patients engaged with an internal dialogue. In short, it is a common therapy provided to people of all ages that implies the way one thinks and feels affects their behaviors. This is where we have often not prioritized how employees think and feel (just their outputs and performance), often not understanding the entire web of complex thoughts, feelings, emotions, and opinions most humans toil with on a daily basis. Multiply this for marginalized populations who often endure magnified and additional stressors.
In 2021, organizations can no longer operate from a place of compliance in regards to their efforts to evolve. Whether it is mental health supports for employees or deciding to engage in long-term commitments towards antiracism work (after the performative letters and social media posts), breaking through comfort zones on an individual and organizational level requires leaving our comfort zones. Period.
Humans are complex and to understand others deeply, we must first understand ourselves. The work of evolving is daily. It is intentional and it can be difficult. But you are worth it. And those you work with are worth it. We must support one another as so many of us have hidden our grief; have hidden our strife in the workplace to save face. I always like to suggest resources, so if you are struggling with grief, I recommend visiting keepinmemory.org as a starting place.
Until next time, stay courageous and stay the course for your personal mental health journey.
En Comunidad is a column that aims to unify communities through showcasing the power of human stories that share the heartbeat of leadership legacies in Indianapolis and the Midwest.
Justine González is an Indiana native and first-generation college grad having served in both Chicago Public and Indianapolis Public Schools. Her consulting firm, EducatorAide, partners with organizations to help cultivate culturally connected, equitable, and inclusive environments. For experiential learning resources related to culture, equity, and inclusion, subscribe to EducatorAide’s resource kits here.