Elliot Tomaeno is the founder of Astrsk, which has helped launch more than 100 startups and tech products and has been a part of four exits.
A few months ago, my company was presented with an opportunity to take on our first film client: "Ex Machina." We had plenty of experience doing PR for tech startups, fashion companies and mobile apps, but the movie industry was outside our comfort zone.
Needless to say, we were a bit freaked out as we internally debated whether we should explore these unchartered waters.
I sat down with my mentor Amanda Peyton to get her opinion, and she strongly urged me to take the leap. She told me to "eat the worm" -- accept the challenge, do something that scares me, and grow from the experience. As gross as it sounds, we ate the worm and formed a great partnership with "Ex Machina" and its crew.
Amanda's advice has been invaluable not only to my business, but also to myself. Since then, we've established a film division within our company, we've worked on three additional movies, and we've had a blast every time.
Eating the worm is all about leaving your comfort zone, challenging the status quo, and doing something that scares you every single day. To grow personally and professionally, you need to push yourself toward new experiences, regardless of how scary, dangerous, or disgusting they may seem.
Picture your comfort zone as a circle: When you're inside it, you're maintaining, but when you step outside, you're progressing. I don't know about you, but I can't stomach the idea of a little worm keeping my business (and myself) from broadening our horizons.
Here's how you can keep the worm from getting in the way:
Don't follow the pack.
It's important to keep an eye on your industry, but spending too much time preoccupying yourself with other companies will cap your growth. When you stop trying to blend in and follow the status quo, a jolt of creativity will surge through your decision-making process. You will no longer seek the safest bet, and you'll begin exploring the most unique and fruitful solutions.
In practice, you could do this to varying degrees. You could start ignoring your competitors only during critical periods, or you could opt to end your usage of competitor reports altogether. For my company, taking on "Ex Machina" was one way we've broken out from the pack. None of our competitors was working with films at the time, so we decided to be the bold first movers to enter this uncertain arena.
Scare yourself regularly.
Even if it's small, do one thing every single day that scares you. For me, this meant making daily cold calls to companies I wanted to work with--an activity that used to scare the living daylights out of me. But since I started doing this, we've worked with some incredibly exciting and challenging companies.
For you, this could mean taking on a project that's outside your wheelhouse or interviewing candidates who don't exactly fit into your company's typical mold. The key here is consistency and repetition. The more worms you eat, the easier they become to stomach.
Find the worm at home.
You should eat the worm in both your professional and personal endeavors. If you embrace change in your hobbies and habits, you'll feel more comfortable doing so in your professional life. Switch up your routines and get adventurous. Try different physical exercise such as Brazilian martial arts or kickboxing; eat some exotic foods; and visit faraway places you know nothing about. I love to travel, and I've vowed to try not to visit the same place twice.
All entrepreneurs need to add new experiences to their lives. The results certainly spill over into their work performances.
Surround yourself with smart risk takers.
Energy is contagious, so be wary of the people you surround yourself with. If you fill your life with confident and motivated risk takers, you'll feed off their energy and experience, and you'll slowly become one yourself.
I'm constantly surrounded by risk-taking entrepreneurs, Amanda Peyton being one of them. Even though her first startup failed, she has pushed herself out of her comfort zone and found success. She is a big-time risk taker, and she's definitely the type of person all entrepreneurs could benefit from being around.
Keep a comfort zone journal.
List all the things you want to try but aren't sure you're capable of doing. Then, work through your list one by one. Seeing your progress will change the way you talk to yourself about your strengths.
I maintain a few different lists that feature both personal and professional areas I'd like to expand. I can't even begin to describe how good it felt to finally cross "work with companies outside the hardware/software scope" off of my professional list.
Achieving goals that lie outside your comfort zone is a great physical and mental reminder that most things are possible through effort and positive self-talk. You can definitely train your brain to find opportunity in fear.
Humans are creatures of habit who love to feel comfortable. It makes perfect sense that we gravitate toward surrounding ourselves with familiarity and that we prefer to not challenge the status quo.
But I can promise you this: By avoiding discomfort in your personal and professional life, you're missing out on a whole spectrum of opportunity. Once you begin eating a worm every day, you'll reap many benefits from expanding your palate.