Since the weather was un-condusive to being outside for long periods of time last month (I know that it is still winter–but the temps were well below normal for both the time of year and location), I did quite a bit of self-reflection.

More or less mid-month, I had a conference call with one of my coaches, and then she taksed me with the assignment of filling in/out my own comfort/stretch/risk/die diagram.

She gave me the task, when after talking it became obvious that I was floundering due to my inner critic/imposter syndrome getting the better of me–almost daily.

I actually like this diagram/thinking model better than other ones that label the outer three zones as: fear/learning/growth. The reason–it lacks the word fear. With this diagram–you can continuously dip your toes into the something new, and slowly stretch your comfort zone to include them.

So, now moving forward I’m going to use this model of thinking instead of the other.

The purpose of drawing the diagram and filling in the areas allows one to see where they stand at any particular point on different areas. I decided to do a combination of personal and professional development for my diagram.

My comfort/stretch/risk/die diagram

In addition to having it a mix of personal and professional development, I decided that I would also list some of my various strengths around the edge as well. My strengths include: learner, intellection, input, achiever, deliberative/ideation/arranger (via Clifton Strengths Assessment), curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking (via VIA Character Assessment). This way as I slowly start moving into the stretch zone, I can also make sure that my strengths are guiding me.

So the professional comfort zone was pretty simple to fill in–it really only consisted of three things: research at the bench, being in academia, and trying to find a research (bench) position in industry.

Then when it came to my personal comfort zone–those were basically all hobbies.

Heading into the outer portions is where the self-reflection comes in, plus knowing that as I did things within one area (say the stretch zone), it would become part of the previous zone (comfort zone), and things can and will always be added.

The stretch zone is a mix of personal and professional development tasks. The professional development tasks lean more towards learning about different possible industry directions (such as clinical research, regulatory affairs, and project management) and certain skills (such as programming and technical/scientific writing).

I’ve listed various hobbies, in addition to working on improving my mental and spiritual health within the stretch zone as well.

The risk zone includes things like having a functional part-time (or three-quarter times) side business established, starting a podcast, and branching out in my writing.

The ‘die’ zone includes things like traveling abroad frequently, giving a talk (or talks) at a conference or other large venue, and going all in on working (100%) for myself.

Just filling in that diagram was enough for the inner critic/imposter syndrome to drage me back into my comfort zone for a day or two. Hell, it took me almost two days to respond to a comment on the post in a group because of my inner critic.

In addition to that assignment, I took it a slight step further and generated a list of topics that I would enjoy writing and/or learning about on a continuous basis. I’ve seen/heard it so many times that one should look at the books they’re currently reading, their purchase histories, their hobbies, and their educational background.

My current list of topics to explore

When I looked at mine, I came up with a list that ranges from science (with various subtopics), history (again with various subtopics), anthropology, and other ‘school subjects’ to bird watching, reading, photography, cooking, spirituality, and numerous different crafts.

When asked if this helped me break out of the ‘I seem to be stuck’ mode–the answer was yes, because it reminded me that I enjoy doing research. It also reminded me that research doesn’t have to be done at the bench–it can also be done in books and via computers.

I told my coach that I was going to start looking at things as ‘research projects/papers’–do a survey of the surface, figure out what interests me, and then deep dive into the topic for awhile.

Truthfully this has been one of my biggest sticking points–trying to just choose one or two directions for a possible career change. I’ve realized over the past year that since graduating high school the things I enjoyed the most were: 1) undergrad–since there was such a large variety of classes one could take. It did take me awhile to get finished, but I was paying my own way–therefore I took classes I needed for the major in addition to classes that were of interest; 2) my first staff position (though there were some troublesome coworkers)–the main focus was helping with undergraduate research, so I had to have at least a brief understanding of the different projects that were going on in the department.

While I’ve been edging into the stretch zone (I have a blog up and running, and I’ve been getting better at evening meditations), I will still find myself being pulled back into the comfort zone (hence why I haven’t figured out the best posting schedule for the blog) before I edge back into the stretch zone.

Even with having a list of topics to start choosing from (knowing that I could add, and go more in depth with certain topics)–my inner critic/imposter syndrome managed to drag my ass back into my comfort zone for basically another week. The problem–I had too many ideas to choose from and I couldn’t decide between starting a history post/section, adding to the science section, or maybe focusing on book reviews.

The solution–I decided I would try to do a monthly ‘brain-dump’ of ideas and then pick a handful each week to work on.

March ‘Brain-Dump’

Doing this allowed me to still have a ‘choice’ of what I could research and write about—but from a pared down list. It is similar to how I decided to go about my non fiction reading and e-courses that I wanted to finish for the year.

The initial large list had sent me into ‘analysis-paralysis’, where the smaller list makes it easier for me to do things.

While it is a large list, I’m also comfortable with the fact that I many not cover or get to every topic on the list. The science (and history) topics are going to require a more in-depth outline and research time compared to the bird pages and blog posts.

Do things this way, will hopefully allow me to start stretching the comfort zone, moving the ‘risk’ to ‘stretch’ and contemplate on what other topics/ideas/things could be added to the ‘risk’ or ‘die’ zones.

I’m also going to be doing updates on the diagrams–probably in either three or four month increments, which means the first update will somewhere between mid-May to mid-June.