I spent a couple hours last evening watching my nephew, who is a senior in high school, play trumpet in one of his last jazz/symphonic band concerts and I was transported back to when I was playing drums in my high school band.
My dad is a drummer, but I didn’t take to the drums until I was about 12 years old. I had taken more than a few piano lessons as a kid (my mom plays piano) but I was basically just learning to play the drums by working through a few old rudiment books and (mostly) playing along with music in my bedroom.
My very first experience with a school band wasn’t in elementary school, or even middle school, but in my freshman year of high school. I had no idea what to expect and found myself woefully out of practice when it came to sight reading music or playing in odd meters.
Thankfully there was the bass drum. I discovered quickly that the bass drum parts were far less intricate than the snare drum parts and it was far less obvious to everyone when you made a mistake on the bass drum. As a consummate self-preservationist I was ready to snatch up any bass drum parts I could find when new music was being handed out. At least until one of the other drummers sized me up.
One day I grabbed the bass drum part and one of the other drummers challenged me to take the snare part.
“The bass drum is like your teddy bear. It makes you feel safe but you’ll never get better if you keep doing the safe thing.”
And he was right.
My heart was racing and I wanted nothing to do with the snare drum music he was handing me, but I am so very glad he was there to push me out of my comfort zone on that day. Doing the safe thing feels really good in the moment, much like eating donuts, but safety has a gravitational pull that gets stronger and stronger the more you yield to it.
If you can’t push yourself out of your professional comfort zone, find someone who can. Enlist a colleague or hire a coach, but please don’t choose to linger in a state of safety that prevents you from doing your very best work.