Learn How to Step out of Your Comfort Zone: An Interview with Tricia Broderick


In this interview, Tricia Broderick of Pearson talks about her upcoming presentation, the importance of mastering the act of getting out of your own comfort zone, and tips and practices for lessening the anxiety associated with stepping out of your normal boundaries.


Cameron Philipp-Edmonds: All right. Today we are joined by Tricia Broderick and she will be giving a presentation at Agile Development & Better Software Conference East 2014 down in Orlando and her presentation is titled "Get Out of Your Comfort Zone—Now." All right, to start things off, Tricia, thank you for joining us today.

Tricia Broderick: No problem. Thanks for asking.

Cameron: All right. Can you tell us a little about yourself and your role at Pearson?

Tricia: Sure. I saw this earlier in a presentation I saw earlier in the year, so I'm going to steal it and leverage it and give kudos to Blake Nyquist, but I'm a recovering developer. I was a computer science grad from Michigan State University. Did development both in a consulting capacity and a practitioner capacity, from everything from MainFrame to J2E across the board.

I moved into project management, realized I actually kind of liked it and could add value and from there I've taken on a variety of roles from  project management, management of project management to director of development to just general agile coaching and training.

Today, I'm at Pearson Education in Centennial, Colorado where I am the manager of project management. What that ultimately means is I'm helping to grow really individuals that will help guide and help create high performing teams via the, whatever title you want to use, project management, ScrumMaster, whatever. Also do a lot of agile coaching within that at scale.

Cameron: All right. Fantastic. Now, what led you to the idea of your presentation?

Tricia: I approach my presentations probably different than majority of speakers in the sense that I tend to think about what am I embarrassed to admit, because that's probably the subject that needs to be shared. So I kind of approach my topics from a 'none of this is easy' and really to connect and not feel like someone is just talking about Nirvana-land that wouldn't apply to you. I talk about topics that I've struggled with, that I've looked at and tried to figure out how to overcome and what my journey has been.

For this idea it was, especially, in the past two years, kind of pushing myself further and further out of my comfort zone and realizing what it's done personally for me, what it's done as I've helped lead others and what it's meant and how far from easy it can be even when you're the one talking about the subjects. So it just seemed to make sense to me that this was a larger conversation to have.

Cameron: So it's not just so much the fact that you know about your topic, you're living it.

Tricia: Yeah, absolutely. I try very much to make sure that all of the topics I speak on is something that I practice what I preach and expose not just the positive happy moments but the raw honest ones that you struggle with.

Cameron: OK. Now as your presentation mentions, the tech industry is rapidly evolving so it's important to increase our mastery, but can anyone truly get comfortable in their mastery or is it just like the industry, should people be constantly evolving regardless of the skill level or outside perception they may see?

Tricia: You know, it's interesting. I think that people really need to redefine what mastery means in their minds. There was a time where it was really easy to, or not easy, but there was a time that you could master a technology and really be above and beyond other people and that technology stayed around for an extremely long period of time.

You could get a niche and not only have a niche, but be very valuable to your teams. I actually ended up realizing in a lot of cases that what my value was wasn't my specific technology knowledge or platform or tool, but really my cognitive skills in terms of my problem solving, in terms of my ability to communicate, in terms of how I adapt to situations and how I learn and how I grow. Now I'm not trying to say that everyone should be a generalist and there's no value in specializations. I'm not in that camp, but there is an importance to more about becoming a master of learning than there is of a master of technology.

I am much more dependent on and have a higher level of trust in those that I know that can pick up and learn something quickly and continue to grow and adapt from that, than I am to say this is the one thing this person knows, but they are a master at it, right? So I think it's redefining, not just having this discipline and specialization, but really becoming a master in growth, in learning and in what you can accomplish from that.

Cameron: OK. In this day and age as the industry evolves it's not really just enough to have a mastery of a certain knowledge. You also have to have a mastery of your ability to adapt and use that knowledge in your everyday practices.

Tricia: Absolutely. It's just we can't say things like software development is an art and a craft and then expect it to be static.

Cameron: OK. For some things there are some aspects you know if you are a master in a certain discipline you can get certifications, you can get recognized and have proof of that, whereas your ability to adapt and your ability to grow or your ability to think critically or be a creative problem solver, there's not that certifications for that. How can you really fix that perception?

Tricia: Yeah and that's tricky, right? I argue, there's a huge debate, right? You get both sides of the fence of certifications having value and not having value and there are certifications that I do believe have value, especially when they're just technical competence of a tool or of a technology, but you're right. What's the certification? Even the ScrumMaster Certification, what does it really mean? I've actually had conversations with people where someone was like, "I can't get a job, but I have a ScrumMaster Certification."

I'm like, "What's your experience?" "Well, I have none, but I have the certification." You know? It doesn't work that way. On the flip side, I think that at the end of the day when you look at people in an organization that are just constantly getting new opportunities, that are constantly making and creating new opportunities. Not just receiving them, but actually helping to find them.

That individual isn't always because they have the most depth knowledge of Sequel, right? It's the person that people can trust and depend in a variety of situations because that's what they're doing is they're creating new situations.

Again, I'm not saying there's no value in that architect of database and what that is, but I sat down once with someone and he brought a problem to me. In that moment it wasn't about me looking at him going I know you have the right answer. It was, I know you can handle whatever comes from whatever answer you give. That for me is that superstar. That person that you can rely on and trust and that doesn't come with a piece of paper and a certification that you can go out and get.

Cameron: Right and then for a lot of those things, there reason why they get that piece of paper that proves their mastery or proves their adeptness at a certain skill is because it's comfortable to them. You kind of fall back on that. Even though they don't have the experience they can say "Oh, well I am ScrumMaster certified." Is getting out of your comfort zone something that's a quick fix for some people or something that takes a lot of time and effort?

Tricia: There's nothing quick about it. You can do little steps and do something that just barely pushes you out of your comfort zone.

I highly recommend that, but truly getting to a point where being comfortable in the uncomfortable, knowing how to talk yourself down, the little voice in the back of your head, knowing how to overcome that and then having the confidence that backs that, right? To having the experience and the situations to draw on, that's something that time and experience can only give you, right? No piece of paper can give that to you. It is not an easy thing and it's kind of in some cases can be the fake it til you make it.

Cameron: Right, right.

Tricia: But when you really get to that stage, there is a transition point when you know that you're there. Not that you suddenly are super comfortable in the uncomfortable, it's just that the choice of not going after that even though it's uncomfortable doesn't seem realistic. Right? It's no longer a choice to just stay in my comfort zone. I think that's when you really understand that you've crossed over to that other side of being able to push yourself, to growing at another level.

Cameron: OK. You talked about pushing over to that other side, that next level type deal. Is this something that happens or can happen overnight, where you go to bed one night and then the next day you wake up and you're like, "Oh, I'm on the other side." Or is this something that's always going to be a career long endeavor that's really kind of fluid?

Tricia: It's really fluid. I mean I can sit here and tell you, I'm talking about being out of your comfort zone and I'm struggling with writing the material for the session because I have this voice in the back of my head going "People already know that. That's not going to be valuable. Why are you even talking about that?" Because it's uncomfortable, right? It's uncomfortable to be somebody that's elected to do a keynote and the pressure and the situation that's been on that and have it and want to deliver and yet be doing it for the first time in this regard, on this topic.

That little voice will come back. So even for someone who's more comfortable in the uncomfortable who continues to work at this, I still have it come up. I still have those moments where I'm like, "I don't know." Then I go, "Of course I have to." I'm going to try it. I have experienced that. Every time I thought I can't do it, I'd manage to do it, so you know what? I'll figure this out too. I think you just get to that point faster as you get more and more experience, but not for me, it hasn't gone away completely. It's always there.

Cameron: Getting out of your comfort zone is really pretty daunting for a lot of people. Even just the idea of a comfort zone and being outside of that comfort zone is really uncomfortable.

Tricia: Shocking, right?

Cameron: I know, right? Are there some tips you can share with us on how to lessen the fears and anxieties that accompany stepping out of our normal boundaries?

Tricia: I'll be talking a little bit about this, but I cannot recommend enough finding a coach and hopefully a coach that turns into a mentor that you can really trust to support you. I've been extremely lucky in my career that I've had lots of different coaches and mentors that really saw the potential in me, saw something I couldn't admit or I couldn't see for myself and challenged me. Didn't just challenge me and then waited to see if I swam or sunk into the pool, but challenged me and then threw me a life jacket when I needed it. Supported me and really helped me through that process, through that experience. You just can't talk enough about the value of that. Those individuals are not always just going to come around and go, "Let me coach you." Those individuals are not just something you can walk up to one day and go, "Can you coach me on this?" Then it just magically happens.

In a lot of cases that's a relationship that builds over time because it is uncomfortable. You have to get vulnerable and in order to trust somebody to be as vulnerable as you need to, it's a relationship, but man, invest in it. Find them. They're out there. There are people who do care and have been there and want to support people and want to do it but just may not know how to for themselves either, but I am eternally grateful for the various coaches and mentors that I have had over the years that every time I thought I couldn't do something, they were there to go, "No, I think you can. Let's see what you're made of." Not only challenged me and made me want to tackle it, but then supported me when I did fail or when I did struggle. And supported me when I succeeded and built on that. So I am eternally grateful for that. I would highly, highly recommend it for other people as they're going into that. Find that person you trust that you can be vulnerable with, that you can trust to support you.

Cameron: OK. You gave some tips and you shared with us what's kind of worked for you, but can you also share with us an anecdote about your strives to break out of your comfort zone?

Tricia: Most of my session will be stories about me trying to do this. It's actually kind of my style that I tend to share as I mentioned earlier. I'll be sharing stories that range from moving across the country probably to the fact what really kicked it off for me was how much I use the oh, I'm so going to get fired for this excuse not to try something. Well I can't. I'll be fired, right? I can't possibly be fired, I have a family and I have responsibilities and all the things that come in and suddenly you're in this spiral and justifying why you couldn't possibly try this new thing. And how I worked through that and what I did and why it was difficult for me and hopefully that connects with even one person out there.

Cameron: All right, fantastic. Now you've been in the industry for more than a decade and a half.

Tricia: Let's not remind me.

Cameron: You know, other than encouraging yourself to get out of your comfort zone earlier in your life, is there any other advice you would like to give to yourself at the beginning of your career?

Tricia: To really understand what teamwork means is probably the other part for me. We go through college as individuals. They assign team projects, but really in reality most of that is done pretty poorly and you're still an individual in a group that's going to get a graded assignment. Right?

Cameron: Right.

Tricia: For the very early part of my career, I didn't understand really what team meant. Because of that it took me even longer to really understand what high performing teams meant and what that was. If I could have gotten it earlier, that magical feeling that you have when you have this huge sense of pride of what you're doing, what you're working, it's the best job ever as Diana Larson recently said. I wish I could have done that earlier and I think me having a better understanding of how I am as a team player and how teams work, would have been greatly beneficial.

Cameron: OK. One last question for you to wrap things up. Is there anything you'd like to say to the delegates of Agile Development & Better Software Conference East before they attend the conference and of course, before they attend your presentation?

Tricia: Sure. I go to quite a few conferences and I love them. It's almost overwhelming how much I learn, how much I can connect, but an interesting thing's been happening that I've been noticing because I've been going now since about 2007 or '08, somewhere around there, I'm watching this divide somewhat happen to where the new people are sticking with the new people and the people who've been there for a while, because it's the first time you get to see them in a while, you stick together and you talk.

Dave Hussman and Brandon Carlson did this for me at one of my first conferences is they reached out to me. They said, "Hey, how are you doing?" They just engaged in the conversation with me. So if you're new to the conference, I don't care who the person is that's standing there, talk to them. Reach out. Engage. If you're existing and you've been at that conference for a long time, look for that person that's standing in the corner of the room that might not have anybody to talk to and bring them in.

It takes so little, but the sessions are incredibly valuable, but so are the conversations that help you connect that material to you and to your situation. Those conversations, that's the power of these conferences in a lot of ways that build on the session materials. It takes a little bit of extra effort both on the newbie's, attendee's part as well as those of us that have been an alumni to this, is reach out. At the last conference I was at we were going to dinner with a couple of people and there was a woman standing there and she was just going to get her food and go back to her room because she didn't know anybody. I invited her to dinner. She must have thanked me 20 times for the rest of that week. It took very little for me just to say, "Why don't you join us?" So take that extra step, make sure you make this conference incredibly valuable to you by attending the sessions, but also by reaching out and talking with people.

Cameron: You know, that's great advice. For those people who are having trouble with this advice, there's this great keynote presentation called Get Out of Your Comfort Zone Now by Tricia Broderick that'll be at the conference. Make sure to check it out. Once again, thank you so much, Tricia.

Tricia: Thank you. You have a great day.


Tricia BroderickPassionately focused on the facilitation of high-performance software development teams, Tricia Broderick brings seventeen years of experience including the past seven years of focus with an agile mindset. Tricia leverages and openly shares work experience stories and examples to inspire people, especially managers and leaders, to reach new heights through continuous reflection, both as individuals and as members of innovative teams. She is a highly experienced leader, coach, mentor, presenter, trainer, and speaker, speaker. Recently, Tricia returned to leading to the edge at Pearson as manager of project management.  Contact Tricia at leadtotheedge.com or @t_broderick. 

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