How Successful People Handle Challenges Outside of Their Comfort Zone


Not every project that lands on your desk is going to fall smack dab in the middle of your wheelhouse.

Being able to achieve success on deliverables that may require a technical or managerial skillset you lack can often come down to how you handle your approach to these tasks. Learning how to proceed can mean the difference between showing your manager that you’re the go-to employee for difficult projects and showing your manager that you’re unable to handle anything outside of your comfort zone. Even more importantly, demonstrating success could be your ticket to a promotion within your company, showing that you’re capable of doing bigger, better things than you’re already doing.

  • Treat the challenge as a learning opportunity

First off, change your mindset. Don’t approach the project as an impossible ask from your boss that you cannot handle. Perhaps she is giving you a challenge on purpose to test your mettle. By treating the project as an opportunity to demonstrate your value as opposed to a burden, you may find yourself more enthusiastic to work on it and, in turn, you may find yourself performing even better than you had expected.

Start by assessing the particular needs of the project. Does it require a certain level of computer technology competency that you lack? This is your moment to perhaps gain that knowledge. You may even find the challenge to be an opportunity to learn more from another member of your team who is proficient with the necessary technology.

  • Be honest but don’t sacrifice confidence 

Not every project will require technical skills—some may require people management skills that you have yet to tap into. If your manager assigns you a project that requires you to oversee a team for the first time—or to work with a different team than your go-to group for the first time—be upfront with them that this is a new role for you and actively seek their input.

By attempting to court feedback and opinions from your team, you will gain helpful insights you would otherwise not be able to generate on your own. Furthermore, you will face a lower risk of alienating the group by charging ahead on your own trajectory, attempting to feign confidence you lack. People are quick to pick up on weak leaders masquerading as overconfident ones. Better to be transparent and bring the team to the table than to lose their buy-in.

Understand, however, that there is a balance. Strive to manage your team with honesty and transparency when you do not have an answer to a problem. But avoid being excessively self-effacing or self-deprecating. The team will value your soliciting their input more if they can still sense that you’re in charge.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions

When your manager brings you an assignment that you fear you lack the skills to accomplish, asking questions is a sign of bravery—not weakness. It’s perfectly fair for you to ask your manager who else within the company would be a helpful advisor on this project—someone who has worked on something similar with success or someone who has great proficiency in an aspect of the project whose opinion could be integral to your work on it.

This type of inquisitive response to a major task shows that you are willing to thoughtfully take on a new challenge without forging straight ahead and risking failure for fear of seeking help. Most managers will prefer that you excel on a deliverable the first time, rather than getting so far ahead of yourself that you waste time having to redo it later. It also shows that you’re willing to do your research to grow. As opposed to asking your manager to answer every question personally, you’re ready to seek insight from other leaders around the company who your boss admires. This kind of initiative is helpful to your manager in two ways. Firstly, it takes the burden off of her to train you—she’ll be grateful to escape any hand holding on the work she is delegating. Secondly, it shows her that you’re able to do your homework behind the scenes but still seek and value her expertise.

Bottom Line:

When a project arises and falls onto your desk, always accept the challenge—even if you may lack the skills to accomplish it at first. Use this pivotal career moment as an opportunity to grow your abilities, demonstrate your adaptability and create a strong network of allies who can provide helpful feedback within your company.

About the Author

R. Kress is an Emmy Award winning journalist whose reporting and writing has appeared in national media from NBC News to the International Herald Tribune. She has covered news from cities around the world including Jerusalem, Krakow, Amman and Mumbai.