The ABC’s of Professionalism
Let’s play a game. Identify phrases and titles containing the word “zone.” I’ll help you get started: time zone, no-fly zone, construction zone, The Twilight Zone, The Dead Zone, school zone, temperate zone, end zone, zone defense, red zone, strike zone, buffer zone, zone in, zone out, flood zone, comfort zone, and “in the zone.” These are mine. You have 60 seconds, GO!
The variety of uses for the word “zone” is impressive. A Google search of “zone” produced 416,000,000 hits. (I didn’t go through all of them.) Two zone concepts are especially relevant to professionalism: “comfort zone” and a psychological phenomenon known as being “in the zone.”
“A comfort zone denotes the limited set of
Comfort, in all of its physical and psychological forms, is wonderful for rest and rejuvenation and a necessity for the next day’s challenges. It is also an ideal reward for a job well done.
“Words of comfort, skillfully administered, are the oldest therapy known to man.” — Louis Nizer
“Rest: the sweet sauce of labor” — Plutarch
Yet, it is precisely these therapeutic qualities that give comfort its potential to become a dangerous trap. Comfort is about self. When it becomes a goal, it is one short step away from becoming an obsession. As a goal, comfort is likely to lead to short-sighted, success-limiting compromises. In other words, love of comfort is counterproductive to professionalism.
“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” — C.S. Lewis
“We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about” — Charles Kingsley
“To make a goal of comfort or happiness has never appealed to me; a system of ethics built on this basis would be sufficient only for a herd of cattle” — Albert Einstein
“Man has always sacrificed truth to his vanity, comfort and advantage. He lives by make-believe.” — William Somerset Maugham
Personal observation has convinced me that comfort experiences cause a person to draw boundaries that define his comfort zone, building a trap with comfort as the bait. As time goes on, the seductive nature of comfort further exploits human nature to tighten these boundaries producing a death grip.
“A certain degree of physical harmony and comfort is necessary, but above a certain level it becomes a hindrance instead of a help. Therefore the ideal of creating an unlimited number of wants and satisfying them seems to be a delusion and a snare.” — Mohandas Gandhi
“The lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest and then becomes a host, and then a master” — Kahlil Gibran
There are different types of comfort zones each with different hazards. For example, dreams can be a trap. When the dreamer is full of fear and void of hope, his most vivid dreams are little more than wistful impossibilities. Perpetual dreaming without action is a trap.
“A dream is your creative vision for your life in the future. You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown.” — Denis Waitley
“To the degree we’re not living our dreams, our comfort zone has more control of us than we have over ourselves.” — Peter McWilliams
“All the concepts about stepping out of your comfort zone mean nothing until you decide that your essential purpose, vision and goals are more important than your self-imposed limitations.” — Robert White
As with food and medicine, a certain amount of physical comfort has value in maintaining good health. Conversely, excesses can lead to deadly addiction. Professional wisdom is the key to recognizing the time for comfort and accepting the need for adversity. It comes down to timing, moderation, and balance.
“Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable.” — Finley Peter Dunne
“There is a time for everything, and
a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,”
— Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1-3
Love of material possessions is a self-obsessed form of comfort that devalues people and relationships.
“The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.” — Pope John Paul II
“Greed, like the love of comfort, is a kind of fear.” — Cyril Connolly
Story of the Rich Man…
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?”
“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.”
“Which ones?” the man inquired.
Jesus replied, ” ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.'”
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?”
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
— Bible, Matthew 19:16-26
For most people, physical comfort is real and measurable. For instance, we know about how often and how much to eat to feel satisfied. Intellectual and emotional comfort is more complex, therefore more elusive. Sometimes emotional comfort can be found by singing or focusing on an uplifting person, place, or thing. Another way is to employ apathy and ignorance to block out unpleasant realities. Still another is to become a self-appointed expert. These people confuse personal opinions with facts.
“We find comfort among those who agree with us — growth among those who don’t.” — Frank A. Clark
“If you’re in a coalition and you’re comfortable, you know it’s not a broad enough coalition” — Bernice Johnson Reagon
Imagine driving up the long winding road of “Happiness Hill” with a wide variety of successes available at every milestone. Now, think of your comfort zone as being the same thing as trying to drive uphill with the car in neutral. Not only is it impossible to coast uphill to these successes, eventually you will begin coasting backward toward the bottom. There’s a saying in the business world, “If you’re not growing, you’re dying.” The adage is as true for human beings as it is for businesses.
“If we’re growing, we’re always going to be out of our comfort zone.” — John C. Maxwell
“Comfort zones are plush lined coffins. When you stay in your plush lined coffins, you die.” — Stan Dale
“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” — Brian Tracy
“Minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled, ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort.” — Charles Dickens
Professionals know and accept that they must shift in and out of their comfort zones as often as needed both to avoid death at the bottom of the hill AND to make steady progress toward the top.
“In a state of focused attention or energy
Imagine a line graph. On one end is the comfort zone that represents stagnation and slow death. On the opposite end is something athletes call The Zone, which refers to a special state of consciousness and the extraordinary achievement it produces. This special phenomenon occurs when talent, preparation, attitude, and focus converge to produce results that seem to go far beyond the performer’s realm of capability.
“being in the zone, that magical place where mind and body work in perfect synch and movements seem to flow without conscious effort.” — Alice Park, “Getting and Staying in the Zone”, Time Magazine, Jan. 8, 2006.
“Suddenly all is quiet. The other nine players? They’re all moving in slow motion! I’m at normal speed! I know where everyone’s going even before they know themselves. The basket is huge, maybe six feet across! How can I miss? It’s like throwing a rock into a pond.” — Michael Jordan, < http://www.basketballshootingcoach.com/contact_us>.
“Looking back on the seven birdie putts and two eagle putts, I’d no idea how well I was playing. It was eight shots better than the average score on the back nine in the end.” — Padraig Harrington, “Padraig Harrington Wants to Become Michael Jordan of Golf” by Ciaran O. Raghallaigh, 27/07/2008, .
Sports psychologists identify one more ingredient needed to find The Zone: FUN!
“Mike Holmgren … understands why the legendary quarterback [Joe Montana] was so effective under pressure. Holmgren says, ‘I think he had a great ability to have fun playing and have fun practicing and have fun going to work’” — In the Zone, by J. Mitchell Perry, J. T. Perry, Steve Jamison, 1997, p. 54.
“Being in the zone is a state of total involvement in a task without the mental burden or worry, doubt, or fear about results.” — Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D.
The Zone is not reserved for world-class athletes. Anyone can find himself in The Zone. As evidence, I offer Exhibit A, the story of John Smith. (Yes, that’s his real name). It was June 8, 2002 at National Golf Links near Springfield Ohio where I witnessed The Zone by one of my fellow “golf maniacs” as we sometimes call ourselves. John must have started with a birdie, because I distinctly recall half-jokingly that he should putt everything out, no conceded putts, so his “course record” would be legit.
John’s course-adjusted handicap that day was 11, an honest 11. A reasonable prediction would have him scoring in the low 80’s plus or minus 5 strokes. Let me be clear about one thing. The guys in our weekend group are not inclined to make outrageous bets. A one-dollar Nassau is more our style. But, if John had been so bold that day as to suggest he would flirt with the course record, there’s not a guy in our group who wouldn’t have offered a sizable bet against him – even if he had made the prediction halfway through the round. Thankfully John is not the bragging type or who knows what might have happened. What did happen was John quietly found The Zone for an entire 18-hole round. He hit fairways and greens like a pro and made putts like a machine. When he wasn’t perfect, he made up for it on the next shot. The nearest he came to slipping out of The Zone was at the par five 12th hole. Hitting hole-high in two shots, he chunked his chip shot, but maintained his composure and got up and down to save par. In the end, John Smith accomplished the inconceivable for a weekend golfer: 3 under par, 69 gross score, 58 net score, and soundly beating the runner-up 4-handicapper by 8 strokes!
As I’ve already stated, The Zone is not an exclusive club for athletes. musicians, writers, actors, artists, managers, manufacturers, health care workers, teachers, engineers, clerks, and salesmen can also find it in their professions. In fact, anyone, professional or not, could someday find himself in The Zone. The principles of professionalism described throughout this series simply increase the odds of getting there more often, staying there much longer, and doing so when it counts the most.
© Copyright February 2009, Clancy Cross. All rights reserved.
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