In JR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the main character Frodo Baggins lives in what might be called a true "comfort zone" - a world called the "Shire," full of lush landscapes, fertile hills, and friendly hobbits.  But as it turns out, Frodo needs to step outside his comfort zone to save himself, his friends, the Shire, and countless others from a power-hungry dark lord.

In Frodo's case, the time was right to step outside his comfort zone, but is that always the case for the rest of us?  My view is no - that in fact, there are times when it makes good sense to stay right inside your comfort zone - and here are 3 key questions to consider when making that choice for yourself.

1.Is the timing right?   

You'd love to be a TED speaker one day, but is this the right time?  You've never really spoke much in public - especially not in any major capacity, and although there is a TEDx event right down the street, you probably would benefit - at least this time around - from taking a pass, building up your competence - and confidence - in smaller, less intimidating venues, and then building up to the TEDx talk in the future.  But just not right now.

2. Is your purpose clear? 

Before stepping into a challenging situation outside your comfort zone, make sure you discover, and indeed, embrace your "why" for doing this in the first place.  Will this benefit you professionally?  Will it help you achieve your personal goals?  Why now?  Why this?  And why you?  Having a clear sense of purpose will help you say "yes" to the inevitable challenges you encounter when every bone in your body is telling you that you've had enough and that it's time to retreat back into your comfort zone.

3. Are you up for it?   

Stepping outside your comfort zone takes considerable energy and effort - whether it's delivering bad news, speaking in public, learning to say "no" to others, making small talk or networking with people you don't know - or whatever situation it is for you that makes your skin crawl, despite the fact you know it's important for achieving your personal and professional goals.  So, to increase the chances of success, make sure you have the energy and emotional fortitude.   Choose a particular time of the day or week that works best for you. Make sure your mind is clear - or as clear as it can be, and that you have rest and energy.  Don't underestimate the toll that stepping outside your comfort zone and take and prepare yourself for it, like you would any key event in your life. 

In the end, Frodo Baggins was able to answer these questions: the timing was right, his purpose was clear, and he had what it too to give it a go.  And the question you have to ask yourself, on the cusp of stepping outside your comfort zone, is whether this is the case for you on your journey as well.