Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone

How We Turn Bad Experiences into Life Lessons

Comfort Zone Analogy

When I was a high school freshman, the first piece of advice my grade administrator gave me was to “get out of my comfort zone”. He stood in front of our class of 400 and challenged all of us to push ourselves beyond what we thought possible.

What did I decide to do? The same shit I was doing; which was nothing. I made sure to never, ever, ever push myself out of my comfort zone.

This was one of the greatest mistakes I have ever made.

Essentially, I wasted four years of my life taking the safe route. It skewed my thinking. Instead of telling myself “I can” I found every reason to justify why I can’t. This is no way to live.

It wasn’t until recently that I learned the priceless value of escaping the familiar, in the most unlikely of places; my public speaking course.

I volunteered to do the first impromptu speech of the year. Sauntering up to the container of topics, at random I chose “what would you do to change the word?” Mother of pearl... Why couldn’t it be something easy like “do you believe in god” or “what is your favorite color and why?” But, I had to do what I could with the hand I was dealt. Old Teddy Roosevelt did say, “do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” OK Teddy, I thought, I can do this.

With unending grace (kidding) I waddled into the hallway to prepare my speech. What was I going to talk about? I don’t even know how I plan to change the world, let alone how to give a proper speech. Should I talk about my aspirations? No… that’s too cliché… Maybe about great historical figures that influenced people over millennia? No… too pastiche…

I decided to talk about my values and how having a moral compass will not only lead you to being a happier individual, a more well rounded person, and leave you with a friendlier disposition, but also how it can influence the world around you too. I wanted to discuss how good people captivate their peers by galvanizing and motivating them to transcend traditional and selfish ideas. How sometimes you should rise to the occasion and be the person the world needs you to be, rather than the person you want to be (e.g. sedentary tuber; i.e. couch potato; those were the days).

I was called back into the classroom and mounted the podium. Ready to deliver my tear jerking, groundbreaking, St. Crispin’s Day-quality, speech I had concocted in five minutes time, I looked at my audience, addressed them and began.

Something caught my eye though.

One girl was swiveling around in her chair feeding her side of the room with a bag of chex-mix like they were a herd of hungry cattle. The crumpling of the bag filled the air as another female on the other side of the room dropped her head to the desk. People began clicking their pens, scribbling on their paper, and the audience’s voices crescendoed to an intolerable level.

Having struggled with silent block (a type of stutter where the language is completely halted; one of the reasons why I was taking public speaking) my words flopped around like a dead fish and became cluttered with verbal fillers such as “um” and “uh”. Eventually, I fell silent and couldn’t speak. I lost my train of thought, I had no idea what to talk about or what I had said, I didn’t even remember what my prompt was. I looked pleadingly at the teacher, who then yawned. I do believe I looked like an absolute fool at this moment, but then, the entire class burst out into laughter.

I was mortified. “What did I do that was so funny? I was just trying to give my speech… I’m going to fail this assignment… I am a failure,” these thoughts raced through my mind.

Then, the professor interjected, “this was all intentional,” she smiled. My jaw literally dropped. She went on to say how she was conveying the importance of audience in a speech, and she did a damn good job.

But there was something else; something that hit me like a brick wall. That was how I didn’t dare conceive of the possibility that I would have to take charge of my audience, how I didn’t feel comfortable asking them to quiet down, how I didn’t even make an effort to push myself to finish my speech despite the challenges presented to me.

This was my realization.

At this moment, I knew she had opened my mind to something bigger; the idea that if you do not escape the usual, you will forever be doomed to fail.

The reason I was OK with calling myself a failure is, in fact, because I was one. What had I done to escape the circular repetitiveness of my life? Nothing. What had I done to extrapolate on my natural talents and interests? Nothing. What had I done to make difference in the world? Nothing. In the past, I was absolutely OK with doing nothing, but no more.

I decided it was time to take the first step. So what did I do? I made a plan. I started to dedicate more and more time to my novel. I started to blog on Medium rather than just admire the work of others. I started to email other writers to diversify my perspective and learn more about my peers. I started to apply for internships and freelancing jobs I normally would have brushed aside. I decided to make the transition to vegan. I decided to change.

Today, I think back on my time as a freshman with great regret, but also, incredible gratitude. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so unmotivated in the past, I wouldn’t be doing the things I’m doing today. Sometimes our greatest failures become our greatest strengths.

Get out of your comfort zone. Not tomorrow, not next week, today. Learn from my mistakes. Make a change for the better, even if it scares you.

The most frightening changes are often the greatest ones we ever make.

“We all have our baggage, and I think the trick is not resisting it but accepting it, understanding that the worst experience has a valuable gift wrapped inside if you’re willing to receive it.”
-Jeannette Walls