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How to step outside of your comfort zone at work

Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi FoundationBarbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation
Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi FoundationPhotograph by Pete Duvall — The Hitachi Foundation

MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How do you stay motivated at work? is written by Barbara Dyer, president and CEO of The Hitachi Foundation.

In the movie, Dead Poets Society, high school English teacher John Keating (played by Robin Williams) prompts his defiant poetry students to find a new perch from which to view the world. He has them get out from behind their desks and instead stand on top of them.

Similarly, my motivation is fueled by seeing new possibilities and sometimes, the best way to see these possibilities is from a new vantage point. While my career has taken many forms, all of my jobs have had two things in common: pursuing solutions to seemingly intractable problems; and helping organizations define and execute their strategy. Developing solutions to what seem like the unsolvable can lead to a lack of motivation from time to time. Add in the challenges of developing talent and mobilizing organizations and you can see why I’ve had my fair share of moments where inspiration was clearly needed to keep moving forward. That said, here are my top three tips for staying motivated at work:

Take pride in your job
I keep in mind a line from a study I read about motivational workplaces. The author was interviewing hospital personnel and just when he was about to call it a day, he spotted the janitor. On an impulse, he asked the janitor to say a few words about his job, expecting to hear about cleaning floors. The janitor responded: “I help Dr. Johnson save lives.”

Seek alternative solutions
If your energy is sapped by commonly held assumptions that hold back progress–see if a new approach changes those assumptions or redefines the problem as an opportunity. Often times, we feel stuck when a problem seems unsolvable. It can help to take a step back and approach the problem with a blank slate–looking at the issue through a new lens. Plan a brainstorm session with colleagues who are unfamiliar with the problem–their perspective may provide innovative solutions.

Get out of your comfort zone
I put myself in constructively uncomfortable situations. If I’m inspired by an article, book, or major achievement, I will set up a meeting to learn more–even when I’m intimidated by the individual’s title. I go to places where problems are most evident and find motivation in those who have the courage and imagination to build solutions. And I spend time with people with who I disagree–I seek to challenge my own biases.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: How do you stay motivated at work?

3 ways to recharge at work by Kara Goldin, founder and CEO of Hint Water.

How to impress your boss at work (the right way) by Erica Galos Alioto, vice president of local sales at Yelp.

How this CEO finds motivation at work every day by Perry Yeatman, CEO of Perry Yeatman Global Partners.

The art of staying motivated at work by Beth Fisher-Yoshida, director of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution Program at Columbia University.

The best lesson I learned from joining a board by Juliet de Baubigny, partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.

5 secrets to stay motivated at work by Sarah Robb O’Hagan, president of Equinox.