By Garland Nichols, Vice President, Worldwide Information Security, Xerox

That feeling when your heart is pounding or your brain says, “what?!” — no, it’s not whitewater rafting. I’m talking about those moments in your daily routine that threaten the comforts of your career and sometimes lead to that momentary pause.

How do we step out of our comfort zone to advance or change our careers? I was fortunate to participate on a panel with other successful women at a recent Digital Rochester’s Women Leaders Roundtable. We shared our career stories with technology professionals.

Garland Nichols, Vice President, Worldwide Information Security, Xerox

The night sparked conversations about people’s stories and helpful insights to take on challenges or opportunities that go outside the norm. The women on the panel discussed their own journeys that got them to where they are today, what inspired the change to step out, our struggles or failures along the way, and advice for the audience.

Our stories ranged from starting in one field and ending up in another, all the way to leaving a corporate job to start a business. All five panelists shared how some mentors helped with job opportunities, personal reflections that helped them define their passions, the necessity to step out due to job loss, or even the surprise of taking a daunting assignment at the right time in their careers.

We traveled different journeys, but I share some common threads taken from women who embraced their own journey, and stepped out of their comfort zones.

How to step out of your comfort zone

Be authentic: One of the panelists said sometimes you need to shift to something else in your career, find that purpose, and be passionate about it. Being authentic and true to yourself can help you find the career you can be passionate about.

Trust yourself: You can bring your skills and experiences to these opportunities, and they will help you build your self-confidence to take those risks. For me, going from chemistry to information security meant that I had to trust in my ability to undertake such an exciting journey.

Find another way: Never managed? Use volunteer opportunities to take on challenges as a way to gain experience and skill. Create a work project to lead; find and talk to others who have succeeded for sponsorship or advice. In some cases, smaller steps can also lead to bigger steps outside your comfort zone. Getting the opportunity to try new skills can be a struggle, but it’s not impossible.

Go for it: Do not let the fear of the unknown, or “I can’t do that,” set into your brain. One of the panelists pointed out that when you reflect back on those experiences that put you out of your comfort zone, you will realize they weren’t so scary after all.

Not all experiences or examples apply to everyone, but understanding how others challenged themselves can inspire you to try. The best quote of the night: “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” ( Anais Nin)