Outside the Comfort Zone
October was the busiest month I’ve had, work-wise, in a really long time. Possibly ever. We had two week-long events which required that I (and my team) get to work early, be “on” all day, and then stay out late – really late – to follow everything through. It’s not brain surgery, I know, and I wouldn’t hesitate to admit that there are many more stressful occupations out there than mine. But for me, it was a lot.
By nature I am a rather low-key person. Not lazy or slow, but just… calm. I like to be calm. I like to enjoy the environment I’m in and observe. I’m an observer. I don’t like to feel rushed or stressed or pressured. In fact, I really dislike feeling those things and have been known to have a meltdown when I feel too overwhelmed. I don’t like having meltdowns or feeling out of control.
Last year I made a decision. I was working in the regulatory department at my company. My responsibilities were to maintain all of our company’s MSDS (material safety data sheets) and to answer customer’s questions about our products. In some ways I enjoyed the job. I had my own office, with a door that I could close when I wanted some privacy. I could come in at 8:30, take an hour lunch, and leave at 5 every day. I was able to forget about work when I left at 5, and not think about it on the weekends. I enjoyed interacting with customers (though it was only through email and phone calls), and I felt satisfied when I made process improvements or solved problems on the job.
However, there were a lot of down sides to the job. I didn’t particularly enjoy the subject matter, and after being in the position for a year and a half, I was getting bored. I knew I had to do something about it. As much as I like to be calm and collected, I also like to push myself out of my comfort zone because as they say, that’s where the magic happens. There were two options. One was to remain in that job and wait for something exciting to happen. The other was to get up out of my chair and make it happen. Part of me said, stay in the chair! Get another cup of tea and a cookie! It’s safe here! But deep down I knew, if I wanted change, I had to be the one to initiate it.
A position had opened up in the Marketing department. I didn’t really know anything about marketing, but I knew that it involved lots of creativity, which is something I like to think I have an abundance of. I also knew it would force me out of my comfort zone, which would enable me to grow both professionally and personally. I spoke with the manager of the department, and with HR and expressed my interest in the position. It took several months for things to come together, but finally, in March, I was officially a member of the marketing team. Hooray!
The last seven months have been chock-full of learning experiences for me. At first, I was pretty worried about messing something up. I dreaded some of the things I had to do, because I had never done them before and I wasn’t even sure HOW to do them. But I managed, one way or another, to get them done and to learn throughout each process.
In these past few months, I’ve found myself speaking in front of a room full of people, being a tour guide for large groups of visitors around our campus and socializing with guests at cocktail parties (admittedly, this part needs some work.) I’ve put together graphics for posters, organized a trade show booth, planned customer seminars, and even gone on a ghost tour. I’m getting to use my PhotoShop and InDesign skills again, plus hone my writing skills. I don’t get to have my own office anymore, and I often have to stay late and bring work home on the weekends. I may be occasionally exhausted from it all, but I am actually happy and not even remotely thinking about quitting.*
At the end of our last big event, I returned to my hotel room thinking that I would immediately collapse into bed and sleep for 14 hours. However, I was so elated that the event had gone well, and especially that one of the activities that I had come up with (a Murder Mystery!) was a huge success, that I stayed up for another two hours, just reflecting gleefully on how it had all gone. Instead of feeling exhausted, I was actually energized.
One thing that the photos above don’t depict is that leaving your comfort zone isn’t a one-time deal. Maybe in some rare situation would stepping outside your zone cause your life to change completely, but in my experience, it really seems to be a gradual process. I suppose things get easier with each step along the way – I know that a lot of little things have added up to get me to where I am today, and that there is still a long road ahead of me. If you’d told high-school me that one day I would comfortably stand in front of a group of strangers and speak without feeling like I was going to projectile-vomit over the first row, I wouldn’t have believed it.
Every day there is some degree of struggle for me to push myself out there. Some days are tougher than others. When I was a kid, I often literally pulled the covers over my head and took a sick day so I could just avoid everything that scared me. While I still have a strong desire to avoid things that I find unpleasant, I have learned that most of the time it’s really not so bad, and even if something does go badly, you can usually get a good laugh out of it later.
Of course I am not suggesting that I have it all figured out. I can feel quite insecure. I can procrastinate like nobody’s business. There are times where I contemplate just staying in bed with the covers over my head. But in the end, I don’t want to be just another “survivor”. I want to get out and embrace life, to enjoy it and learn from it.
Tonight I plan to put another foot forward on my journey, as I plan to re-join Toastmasters and improve my public speaking and presentation skills. I’m joining a different group than the one I was a member of last time, so I am looking forward to meeting new people and having the opportunity to share my story with them.
What’s something you’ve done to intentionally push yourself outside your comfort zone?
*Historically, I tend to quit jobs after about 2 years, though I often begin contemplating quitting within the first 6 months. Only one previous employer held my attention for nearly 5 years. I’m hoping to break that record with my current employer!