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"What are you doing outside your comfort zone?"

It's a great question, one that Arianna Huffington posed to her friends at a swanky party a few years back, according to a profile in the New Yorker magazine.

The simple question has stuck with me in the past few days. Not many of us have friends as probing or challenging as Arianna, so we may have to ask it of ourselves. How you answer it could benefit your career.

Your response could be something big, like building up a client base in a new market. Or it could be something small, like learning a new software program as a way to save your company money on contractors. Working outside your comfort zone always involves risk, but the reward is growth. And we all know what happens to people who don't grow.

Challenging yourself to work in some way outside your comfort zone is especially important right now. With the economic meltdown and the threats of job cuts, it's tempting to want to play it safe, locking yourself in a work routine and keeping a low profile.

It's the equivalent of shutting yourself in your house alone, eating nothing but soup and comfort food, and watching movies all day. It's tempting with all this scary economic mess — I've often had that impulse during the last several weeks. (It helps to watch less news these days.)

For more on the idea of risks that might be good for your career, I recommend this article: "4 Career Risks Worth Trying." And if you have time, check out that lengthy New Yorker profile of Arianna Huffington — her latest career risk seems to be paying off!

This is my first blog post here, and I'm delighted to be part of this network. I hope you'll continue the conversation with comments and questions!