Within Reach

A local professor offers a practical guide to tackling the tasks we fear.


Reach by Andy Molinsky

Published by Avery, 280 pages, $27

Though our comfort zone is cozy, sometimes it’s constraining too. And at times a job or a promotion demands that we flex flaccid muscles. Through social science and his own experience teaching business at Brandeis, Andy Molinsky explores reasons to leave Safetyland and the legitimate reservations that hold us back from sailing into new waters.

Illustrating his points with workplace stories, he identifies five challenges underlying avoidant behavior. Authenticity can be a problem: “This isn’t me,” we think when trying something unfamiliar. Likability is another: Newfound power may alienate friends and invite enemies. And doubts about competence can afflict anyone; it’s reassuring to learn that even a talent like Jodie Foster felt there must have been some mistake when she won an Oscar. Then there’s resentment (“Damn it, this job makes me tyrannize and fire people”). Finally there’s the morality question, when what’s required doesn’t sit well with our conscience or reminds us of distasteful public figures we don’t want to emulate.

Molinsky validates that these hesitations are real. But then he shows us how to “customize” a transformation: One female cadet, uneasy with the barking military style, phrased demands as questions. Props, assertive body language or bringing companions along to a corporate ordeal can help. And stepping away for perspective—Beethoven, Mahler and Bill Gates did so—quiets anxiety. It can be relieving and exhilarating to value even small steps into what once seemed like Dangerland. Make that scary speech to a few friends, and you’re on the way to performing confidently in a once-intimidating boardroom.

From Page 129: Think of clarity as an antidote to the defenses that we put up to protect us from tasks outside our comfort zones. It’s honest, self-reflective psychological accounting: an attempt to be as true as possible with ourselves about the situations we’re currently working on, taking a careful inventory of our true feelings—even if we’re embarrassed by them—as well as an inventory of our avoidance strategies.

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