Comfort Zone or Starting Zone? You decide.

Recently, I was asked to help a company improve its systems, its operations, its support and its troubleshooting. The request started as a need to improve performance and stability in some key systems — a perfect techie assignment for me. But, by the time the contract was signed, there were words like processes, procedures, and (gasp) organizational structures. Talk about taking a performance engineer out of his Comfort Zone.

I’ve always gotten a thrill solving techie problems. After a while, clients started asking me to help them bake in performance and monitoring from the get-go so they wouldn’t need me to work a miracle at the eleventh hour. That’s been my Comfort Zone for 25 years. Now I was being asked to work on these other “soft” topics. Was I the right person for this assignment?

Turns out I was.

I’ve done performance tuning and performance design for so long that I know what the finished product should look like. I also know in what order things must get done to reach your performance goals. Knowing what the end-product looks like makes it easy for me to lay out the roadmap for enhancements.

I applied the same logic and experience to this assignment. First, I had to determine what the final state should look like. I didn’t know the answer off the top of my head, so I had to read about maturity models for APM and DevOps. I had to chat with my colleagues. I had to ask many silly questions like “what’s the difference between a process and a procedure?”. But once I got a clear picture of the end state, I used my normal gap-analysis techniques to build a roadmap for the client.

Turns out that underlying all my years of technical performance brilliance was a problem-solving technique that can be applied to all kinds of situations.

On your career path, is it better to stay in your Comfort Zone or is it better to wander into the unknown? As I’ve learned over the years, there is no “better” only “different”.

Once I took on this “different” assignment, I was astonished to see how much material had been written about it, material that had been there all along, I just hadn’t seen it (or needed it). That reminded me of a pet phrase I learned in a college psych course: “I’ll believe it when I see it” was turned into “I’ll see it when I believe it.”

The quote “do one thing every day that scares you” has been attributed to many people: Eleanor Roosevelt, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ralph Waldo Emerson to name a few. The exact quote appeared in a June 1997 essay by Mary Schmich, a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, an essay that went viral even without the help of today’s Internet.

I’m not sure I’m ready to be scared every day. There is something to be said for doing what’s familiar. After all, it’s called a Comfort Zone for a reason.

However, as this recent assignment showed me, maybe the term Comfort Zone should be renamed Starting Zone. Comfort Zone sounds like it’s a place I’m going to stay forever. Starting Zone, on the other hand, sounds like the Comfort Zone that I’m in now, from where I’m going to start my move toward another Comfort(able) Zone.  Because, after all, sometimes its all in how you see things, and I find that to be true in work … and in life.

Ken Gottry is a performance engineer whose wide-ranging technical expertise ensures that systems perform, are secure, fail over and are easy to operate and troubleshoot. If a DXC client has technical questions about anything other than application coding and data models, they go to Ken.


  1. geosupergirl says:

    Love this blog Ken. Time for me to step out of my comfort zone…… every week we try to go somewhere we have never been too before physically, every week I try to find an hour to write, stretch my mind and creativity. Every day I try to read something new. Stepping onto the launch pad is scary but once there I agree it certainly is fun. Going on the journey with others and helping others climb onto that launch pad is also fun. You then have othersome to reminisce and share the journey with. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and writing your blogs.

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