I'm a kind of a person who avoids change unless there's an important reason ... Nowadays it feels like I'm not being responsible for myself, my career and for my family to stay in my comfort zone. How can I resolve this situation without acting like a jerk, but also protecting my interests?
It's a great positive attribute that you are aware of the changes happening in your workplace and willing to contemplate about it. This is an important step towards one's personal growth, and a healthy one as it shows you are grounded enough to not act impulsively but recognize the need to change according to the evolving circumstances.
Rather than defining yourself as a person who "avoids" change, I'd say you are the kind who likes the "slow and steadfast" approach towards your goals. The positive attributes of this way of thinking is that you can think long-term, you don't get swept in the flow of changes around you, and persevere despite the obstacles you face.
Ofcourse, all this is meaningless without goals.
The conflict you are currently feeling is because you either suddenly realise that you don't have any clear goals, or suddenly feel the need to re-evaluate it because of new information or changing circumstances.
Should I start actively looking for a new job? ... Suppose I get a much better offer, should I ask my manager for a raise to match it and quit if they don't? Or should I directly ask for a big raise without getting a job offer first?
And so we come back to the main point again - what are your short-term and long-term professional goals?
But, even before that, you have to be sure your goals are realistic and not made with inexperience and ignorance - it is pointless to define professional goals without understanding the realities of the current global workplace. Some of these are:
You always have to prove your value to the market to be employable.
You prove your value by your educational qualifications (degrees), your skill-set (certified is better) and your experience (years worked, positions earned and your salary).
Ageism, while illegal in many countries is factored when trying to determine your value, and the unfortunate reality of the market is that younger people are cheaper to hire, and are often willing to work longer hours. And thus, it is more profitable for a company to "cull" the older.
To fight ageism, you need to show something more than professional technical skills - you need to show people skills. And you need to learn and show this ideally by 35 years (others say between 35 to 40, but in the IT industry in India, we start to consider people "old" above 35 years of age - this may be particular to India as we have huge pool of young people).
"People skills" is evaluated by the job market by considering the following - the promotions you have got and / or the money you earn (shows you know how to get recognition of your technical skills and please your boss), the teams / people you have managed (highlights you know how to work with others, train others and get work out of them), the number of companies you have worked at (highlights your ability to work with different people in different professional environments) or, if you have been promoted to a managerial position.
(In summary - if you don't show your worth by getting into a managerial position or the ability to earn more by working with different companies, by the age of 35-40, you will professionally stagnate.)
Goals made without an understanding of these realities will be unrealistic, and stunt your professional advancement. Some other things to keep in mind:
To a limited extent, the money you earn does define your professional worth - there is a reason why a pay scale exists for every job designation. Some people get paid more while some people earn less, for the same job. However, money needn't be an important criteria when considering job changes or advancement. It is perfectly ok to accept the low end of a payscale for a particular designation if you like the job and / or the work environment. But it is generally inadvisable to accept a job below the market rates (e.g. if the payscale for a particular position is around 50,000 to 60,000, and you accept it for 40,000, you will lose some respect and worth in the market).
When you are young and inexperienced, keep your focus on getting more professional experience than the money you earn and focus on getting a job with a bigger and better company than your current one.
It's a sad reality that once you have experience, you can often negotiate a better salary with another company than the one you currently work at. Most companies know that people don't like drastic changes like switching jobs, and thus only very grudgingly will give in to the salary hike you demand, even if you have a better offer elsewhere.
Apart from the better salary, most companies view a job change positively because it shows you are willing to face change positively. However, the job change should reflect better salary and / or better job designation or should be at a better company.
It is easier to change jobs when you are younger. The more you advance, and the older you become, the less positions will be available in the market. Note that the older you get, commitment to a workplace (considered by the number of years you have worked at a particular company) is more highly valued, and a lot of job changes is hence not viewed positively.
So with these realities in mind, create some (or evaluate your existing) time bound short-term (half-yearly or yearly) and long-term (5 to 10 year) professional goals. Then evaluate if working with your current company helps towards these goals. The general rules is that if you don't see prospects of advancement within a company, ask for more money and stick for a respectable amount of time (2 to 4 years, depending on your age and current designation), and then look for a better opportunity elsewhere.