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Giving Up Control and Leaving My Comfort Zone

I know a lot of people hate their first job out of college. With no work experience, freshly minted graduates are forced to accept entry-level jobs that involve a lot of grunt work. If you’re lucky, you’ll find a job with plenty of room for growth, so you don’t have to continue doing menial tasks day in and day out for the next 40 years.

I’m at the turning point in my career right now – we recently brought on two new people in my department, so after four years I’m finally no longer the low man on the totem pole. The extra hands mean I can take on more interesting and challenging tasks. It also means I can delegate some of the menial tasks I had been doing to the newbies. Interestingly, I find myself clinging to many of those menial tasks.

I spent four years figuring out how to optimize efficiency and perfect execution of these menial tasks. They may be boring tasks, but damnit, I do them really well! They give me a sense of accomplishment because I don’t struggle to complete them, I don’t run into roadblocks or procrastination, I just do them and cross them off my list. Some of the new projects I’m working on are difficult and frustrating. I’m doing a lot of writing about one of our products, with three people shouting their ideas at me, and it’s my job to make all three of them happy. When I get particularly frustrating feedback from one (or all) of them, I just want to abandon that project and ┬áturn to my comfort zone of menial tasks I know I’m good at.

Additionally, I have this completely misguided notion that the newbies aren’t going to be able to execute these menial tasks as well as I can. Why I would be concerned that an intelligent college graduate couldn’t figure out how to fill out a form, create a mailing list, or edit a recorded speech to remove “um”s is beyond me. My boss keeps telling me to delegate those tasks to the newbies, but I’m having a hard time letting go.

There are two issues at work here: first is my fear of leaving my comfort zone and taking on new projects that I’m not as good at yet, and second is letting go of this silly notion that I’m the only one who can remove “um”s from a recording.

Four years ago, I was the newbie. I didn’t know how to do anything. The first time my boss asked me to schedule an event, I called up our event manager and she asked me dozens of questions that I didn’t know the answers to. I had to say “let me check on that and get back to you” to nearly everything she asked me. But I learned. And so will the next person. I will also learn how to deal with three people shouting their oftentimes opposing ideas at me. At some point that will become comfortable to me. And then I’ll have to hand that job off to someone else when it’s time for me to move on to my next challenge. And they’ll learn how to deal with it too.

It’s a little early to set my goals for 2013, but I think this might be one of them. I need to learn to let go. Let go of my comfort zone, because that’s the only way I’ll grow. Let go of my need to control all the menial tasks, because in doing so, I’m sending the message to our new hires that I don’t trust them. They are capable people. And so am I. We can all take on new challenges and learn new skills. We’ll make mistakes, but we’ll get through them and come out ready for the next challenge.

6 Responses to Giving Up Control and Leaving My Comfort Zone

  1. You are going through the same growing pains that nearly every successful business owner has gone through. Luckily for you, you are learning with someone else’s company. Trust me, it’s much more stressful hiring your very first employee and giving up control of your struggling small business! It’s almost like hiring a babysitter for your child for the first time…

    I would recommend reading The E-Myth Revisited by Michael E. Gerber. I read it about 11 years after I started my first business, yet it still gave me a lot of ideas to make my company more efficient. In there he talks about putting systems in place so anyone can do any job successfully. A “system” is any process for a task — don’t think of it as just computer systems. A system can be a checklist and descriptions on how to properly clean a hotel room, for example. Basically, it is the idea that a business should be run as a franchise, even if its not.

    It looks like your company needs some of those systems in place. For example, you shouldn’t have been thrown into a situation where you called the event manager without knowing what questions she would ask. That was a waste of her time and your time. There needs to be a checklist in place so that each person calling the event manager will know exactly what information she needs. Spend 30 minutes putting together that checklist and your company’s “event planning system” will go much smoother for your newbies. It will give them confidence because they have a step-by-step guide on what to do, and it will give you confidence knowing that there is a very high probability that the task gets performed to your satisfaction.

    Start with the biggest time-wasters and most important tasks. That way your underlings will be as productive as possible as soon as possible.

    • Thanks for the book recommendation, I’ll look that one up.

      The problem we face is that we’re still a fairly young company, so processes evolve a lot as we grow, and it’s a struggle to keep our documentation up-to-date. So when we were hiring new people, we made a list of the tasks that would go to them and I updated the documentation for those processes. But other things continually come up, and now that I haven’t budgeted time for updating documentation, it seems so much easier to just do the task myself rather than spend time teaching someone else.

  2. I had the same problem when I first started working in a corporate environment.

    I soon leaned that for me to be promotable I needed to be able to leave all the smaller jobs behind and move up the value chain.

    • You’re absolutely right, it’s just a struggle for me. My department hadn’t grown for four years, so I got very comfortable doing the small jobs. With a larger department it’s clear to see room for growth now, so I have to step up to the plate.

  3. Terrific post. It’s human nature to cling to a security blanket and what you’re comfortable with. You worked hard on being efficient and the company expert of your area, no sane person would give it up so easily. However, the longer you hold on to the comfort zone items, you could be unknowingly making yourself irrelevant. Your skills and growth would stagnate. I suppose you have job security since you are the only one who knows about it. But that means you are bound to your current job forever. Leave your comfort zone and give yourself more options. You can thank me later!

    • Thanks for the comment. It’s hard to let go, but I’m working on it. Hopefully within the next few months I’ll have transitioned most of my old tasks to the new hires and I’ll have more room for growth.

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