One of my favourite topics, to write about, to talk about, and to reflect on, is that of comfort zones.
Comfort zones can be perceived as bubbles that we feel at our most content. In them, we are not challenged, not really, and we take little to no risks. A comfort zone will look different from one person to the next, so I’m not about to argue what it should or shouldn’t look like, but what I would tell you is that leaving them is beneficial. It’s one of my strongest beliefs that without leaving our comfort zones, at least in some small way, we will be unable to grow as individuals. Without exploring beyond the reach of our comfort zones they exist only as small islands in a larger sea of experience. So, my advice to anyone is to leave their comfort zone, to take the road less travelled, to push beyond what they feel they are capable with.
But how often do I take my own advice? The answer is barely, I barely do. I make excuses “Life is busy right now“, “I’m too tired“, “I work all day and get no time“, or I simply escape into the world of pop culture, of TV, Movies, and Games. My comfort zone, in fact, became smaller. To leave our comfort zone is to take a risk, it’s to try something we have never tried before, or something we have a fear of, something which, at the base level, makes us uncomfortable (it wouldn’t be outside our zone, if it wasn’t). I’m not a risk taker, at all, which makes it quite hard to stomach when I see people, not just taking small risks, but taking huge ones. Take Woods: Wanderer for example, cycling from Kyrgyzstan, to China, to Pakistan, and beyond; I could never, ever, do that. Not just because of the physical exhaustion, but the emotional too, it would petrify me and I would be so far out of my comfort zone I’d have forgotten what it looks like.
In an article I called Taking Risks with a Non-Risk Taker (in which I, unsurprisingly, mentioned Woods: Wanderer again, though for different, but still risky, reasons), I talk about how the risks we take don’t necessarily have to be these big, elaborate, book-worthy things. They can be something so very, very small in comparison and that doesn’t change how big a deal they are to us. I mention how even blogging, is a risk, it’s a form of ‘putting yourself out there’, but really that’s now just part of my comfort zone… I blog, I have blogged for awhile now, and I am comfortable sharing what I share. My advice, to others and to myself, is to take risks, to leave the comfort zone, and so, in my last blog Aiming for the Clouds, I talk about how I wish to pursue a new direction with my blog… that would definitely leave my comfort zone.
Recently though, I’ve took this approach at of my own advice to another level. I was unhappy about something within my working environment and normally I would have kept my head firmly down. Sure, I would have grumbled, I’d have moaned, I’d have been negative about the whole thing, but I wouldn’t have spoken up. But then I thought to myself “How would I advise someone else to deal with this?“, “Speak up” was my reply, to which I then thought “If I don’t have the guts to take the advice I give, how can I ever give it to begin with?“. So, I did exactly that. I arranged a meeting, not just with my manager, but with my managers manager, and I spoke up. I can’t tell you how much better I felt for it. Regardless of anything coming from it, which is still to be seen, I proved to myself that I can speak up about something I believe in. It was exhilarating. It may not be a trip around the world, but it was a small victory for me. The thing is, it was preceded by something even bigger.
There’s something called the 7 Habits, which you may have heard of. My office has become recently rather invested in them and, to be quite honest, I think they’re rather good. They’re a little Americanised, but at the heart of them there’s some good teaching in them. Our work asked people to apply if they wanted to be a coach for this, and, whilst on paper it appeals to me, the prospect of delivering this content, as a coach, to various people around the office space, scared me; it was very much out of my comfort zone. What would my advice have been to someone else? To try it and see, to leave my comfort zone, and to give it a go. Every year for the past six years, I’ve toyed with the idea of training to be a counsellor, how on earth would I ever be prepared to talk to a stranger about their in-depth personal issues if I couldn’t coach a group of colleagues on some standardised self-help principles. So, I took my own advice. I signed up, I became a coach, I’ve been on my training, I’ve delivered a few sessions, and I have to say… I am doing really well. I feel a bit arrogant saying that, but based on the feedback I’ve received, and the way I feel about my own performance, it’s going great.
The side effect of all this, is that I’m loving my job more than I have done for awhile; rather than feeling stuck in a miserable rut, not progressing and just stagnating, I feel excited about elements of it. I’m also eager to step out of my comfort zone even more, I’m eager to experience new things and see what else is out there. I want to prove to myself that I can do more than I’ve told myself I can, I want to prove I have abilities I didn’t know I had.
Like my previous blog, a risk doesn’t have to be huge, it has to be relevant to you. My advice would be to take a few risks and to step outside your comfort zone, and I can fully advise that as it’s advice I’ve now taken myself.