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According to Wikipedia, the Comfort Zone is a psychological state in which things feel familiar to a person, and they are at ease and (perceive they are) in control of their environment, experiencing low anxiety and stress levels. It’s a place people strive to remain. And why not? It’s cozy and considered to be secure. But what happens when times are tough?
In the mortgage industry, we are all along for the consistent, bumpy ride. For those who have been in the industry a while, we know the only thing about the mortgage industry that NEVER changes is that it is ALWAYS changing. For the veterans, there’s no pretense about this fact: the mortgage industry has its ups and downs, and some can be pretty dramatic. We are going through a time like this now.
For the newcomers, it can be dauting. Many people had what they thought was a stable position in a stable company only to find themselves facing an uncertain future.
I’ve been there too. I spent the better part of my early career in mortgage in one specific facet of our industry, almost 15 years. I was comfortable and thought I’d stay there throughout my career. I was compensated well and had good benefits; all of the creature comforts we like. But throw in a financial crisis, and my world turned upside down. My company was going out of business; a company I loved, filled with coworkers I considered family.
Of course, you go through all of the stages: worry, grief, anger, and hope. I recall at the time I was already signed up for the MBA’s School of Mortgage Banking and despite being out of a job, I still attended. The course was held in the same city as my old company. I remember driving past the exit I used to turn off when I drove to the corporate office, and found myself crying for what was lost. I was young and scared, and I thought my world was ending.
Here’s the thing, I eventually made the decision to pick my head up. Today, I have more perspective on life and business than I did then.
For starters, when I was in my early twenties, I was in a completely different industry. After graduating from high school, I spent the better part of a year backpacking through Europe. I stayed in hostels and toured historical sites. It was incredible. Back then, we didn’t have cell phones, so I was totally disconnected (not like today) from my parents and friends back home, with the exception of my girlfriend, who was traveling with me. I guess this life event gave us both a little sense of freedom and adventure because when we came home, she decided to move to New York (from Texas by herself), and I opened a business, with a 10-K credit limit on a credit card and a prayer!
I was a 20-year-old entrepreneur who built up a fashion industry business, along with my partner (who would eventually become my husband). We ran our business during the day and worked night jobs to pay our bills. We really didn’t have much money, but we lived a comfortable life. When we decided we wanted to have children, we shut down the business and found jobs as employees.
I mention this because early on in our young adult life, we have the power to be fearless. It’s a power I think we, as older adults, should try and embrace a little more.
Fast forward to my comfort zone described earlier. Even though my feelings were valid and warranted (I had kids now), I was left with no choice but to figure it out.
I’ve always been pretty driven and ambitious. Soon enough I started talking to companies and took my first detour out of my comfort zone; I always wanted to know what my opportunities for growth were and how I could bring value to an organization. I had interviews where I offered suggestions for tweaking some of the roles I was being considered for and even created a proposal for a position I was eventually hired for.
This ultimately led me to a couple of positions and stretched my comfort zone. It led me into management and leadership roles, and I really picked up excellent additions to my skill set and leadership capabilities. I had the opportunity to create a vision and a strategy to build a successful sales organization. This role took me back to some of my entrepreneurial roots. But even then, I was still in the same facet of the industry I had been in before.
Then came the acquisition. The company I worked for was acquiring another firm. The result was the majority of the original employees were displaced. Again, devastating, heartbreaking, and scary.
It was at this point in time, I said, “I’m done.” The part of the industry I was in was changing, and the way I was used to doing business in sales was changing. My comfort zone, stretched beyond belief, and this time, I exited everything comfortable in a big way.
Our industry, while small, has MANY facets (or so I discovered!). I opened up my mind and pulled out fearlessness from my twenties. That’s when I embarked on THREE TOTALLY DIFFERENT journeys which took me towards THREE TOTALLY DIFFERENT experiences, each of which expanded my knowledge, enhanced my skill set, and helped me build my personal brand around what I now consider my currency with any company I work for: my network, my knowledge, and my drive.
So, what does all of this mean, and why did I write about it? I’m just now embarking on what we will call the back half of my career, and while I now have the perspective gained from the experiences I mentioned, I also know further change will happen, and I will eventually face the prospect of flexing outside of my comfort zone again. In no way do I diminish this potential discomfort but what my experiences have provided me through being directly affected by market conditions or company changes is I don’t have the fear of being fearless now.
I can translate my skillset into another part of the mortgage industry or even into another industry altogether if needed. After several times exiting my comfort zone, I’ve learned there is so MUCH to learn about our industry and how the entire cycle works inside the greater economy. It pushed me to want to learn more and try new things, and I did!
I am now a Certified Mortgage Banker (CMB) and have a breadth of knowledge I wouldn’t have gained had I not taken these detours in my career.
Even though times are challenging right now, I encourage you to embrace your fearlessness, open up your mind to different roles, learn a new skill set, continue to educate yourself, broaden your network, and always, always know how you bring value to any of your endeavors.
Written by Rhiannon Bolen
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