Ileana A Rontea Of Empowered Women Now Enterprises On How to Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone to Grow Both Personally and Professionally
An Interview With Maria Angelova
Examine your life and see if it is taking you where you want to go; you can always change its direction.
It feels most comfortable to stick with what we are familiar with. But anyone who has achieved great success will tell you that true growth comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. What are some ways that influential people have pushed themselves out of their comfort zone to grow both personally and professionally? As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ileana A. Rontea.
ILEANA A RONTEA is a speaker, trainer, writer, Women’s Empowerment Coach, human resources professional, entrepreneur, world traveler, and Co-Founder of Empowered Women Now Enterprises OÜ (https://empoweredwomennow.com/). Ileana and her business partner create and deliver unique and transformational online training and coaching courses for women at the workplace.
Ileana has worked as an onboard Human Resources Manager on cruise liners, where she provided soft-skills training, as well as coaching and counselling to staff and management. Her “superpower” lies in her keen ability to see the sometimes-hidden potential in others and guide them on their transformational journey.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I am an only child and a TCK (third culture kid); by the time I was 12 years old, I had lived in 4 different countries, with 4 different languages, although I only spoke 3 of them. From an early age, I loved reading and writing fantasy stories. I devoured my parents’ library and took only what I considered the “interesting” courses in university –psychology, philosophy, mythology, astronomy, and English literature. The love of learning propelled me on a continued path of self-growth and discovery.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
This is one of my favorites: “Be grateful for your difficulties and challenges for they hold blessings. In fact… Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health, personal growth, individuation and self-actualization.” — Carl Jung
Carl Jung is one of my favorite philosophers and psychologists. There is immense richness to his words and work. I find this quote so relevant, particularly to the subject of getting out of your comfort zone. There is no evolution or expansion if we don’t have challenges. It is how we view and what we do with our problems that determines how our lives play out.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The Tony Robbins book “Awaken the Giant Within”, was the first book I ever read that was literally about getting out of your comfort zone. There were so many ideas that I had not explored before, and the best part was that its basic premise was that we are not victims but have hidden potential and abilities. Looking at where Robbins’ personal history and the person he has grown into, is extremely motivating and inspiring.
The idea that we have untapped power and capacity is what emboldened me years later to come up with the idea of providing training to women in the workforce that will “awaken” them to their own possibilities.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s start with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. What does “getting outside of your comfort zone” mean?
We are biologically wired to seek comfort and homeostasis; there is a strong drive in most of us to avoid change and the fear and uncertainty that comes with it. This is rooted in our prehistoric past when humans operated in “survival mode” and sought to be safe and remain alive in a dangerous and hostile environment.
Getting out of your comfort zone entails stepping into the unknown, which might produce uncomfortable emotions and situations. Fear of the unknown is a strong motivator and perceived “safety” is quite seductive in its lure. From my perspective, getting out of your comfort zone means exploring things you are not familiar with. It includes disturbing (to a degree) that state of equilibrium we always subconsciously seek, where we are at ease and free from any stress or concern. Challenges of any kind will include some type of stress, and so we often avoid them.
However, every person’s “comfort zone” is different. For some it’s a narrow set of parameters they have set up for themselves that they feel at ease in and tend to operate mostly out of “a box”, for others it’s an ever-expanding territory. In addition, the desire to seek comfort and the desire to expand are not static or permanent in a person; these inner yearnings shift and fluctuate over the course of our lives, depending on a variety of factors. I believe this is because each of us is on a path of individuation, or self-actualization. This means that there is an inner drive at work in humanity to realize the “best version” of ourselves, and this need varies in strength and intensity from person to person. This internal demand is in direct opposition to the state of homeostasis mentioned above.
Learning new skills, expanding capacities, and having new experiences (both internal and external) IS what stepping out of your comfort zone truly means. And we all do it to a greater or lesser degree, often having no choice in the matter. Our modern world is changing at a rapidly increasing pace, and it is inevitable that our comfort zone will always be shifting. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus stated over 2,000 years ago that the only constant in the Universe is change, and that is a self-evident truth. The key is whether we embrace this process or resist it. The more we intentionally stretch out of our comfort zone, the further out it expands. Thus we become comfortable with a greater variety of things and experiences.
Can you help articulate a few reasons why it is important to get out of your comfort zone?
If you observe a common house plant, you will see it grow and thrive or wither and die. There is no in-between. If it is properly cared for with sunlight and water (and sometimes food), it will be standing tall, green, and lush, bursting with new leaves and eventually flowers. On the other hand, if it is neglected, kept in a dark corner without water or care, it will slowly begin to die. Its leaves will start to turn brown, slowly falling off, and the plant itself will bend over and finally perish.
I believe human beings are the same. We either grow or we decline, although at first that may look like we are just stagnating or standing still. Unless we challenge ourselves to develop, we will not grow. You do not want to be the same person at 40 or at 60 that you were when you graduated high school. It is only by having a variety of different experiences, exploring diverse ideas and things, taking some risks, learning new skills, and being curious about the world around you that you will mature and reach your potential.
In addition, imagine if the world’s greatest artists, painters, musicians, poets, writers, inventors, filmmakers, researchers, architects, creators of all kinds, and visioners remained in their “comfort zone”. Where would we be as a species? Each time one of us embraces change and passion, learns something new, creates something unique and collaborates with others in such endeavors, we make society a better place by adding our special flavor to the collective consciousness. There is great power in this because we are then consciously creating our reality.
Does this mean each of us will make an outstanding contribution to humanity if we step out of our comfort zone? Not necessarily, but it will mean that our spirit will find meaning and purpose in our individual existence and make life that much more interesting!
Is it possible to grow without leaving your comfort zone? Can you explain what you mean?
It is much more difficult to grow as a person without leaving your comfort zone. I have observed that many people who are born and live in the same small community all their lives, never travel, don’t know others who come from different parts of the world, have no interest in learning or reading anything that challenges their biases, remain in a small mental and physical “container” their entire lives.
Having said that, even if they don’t seek it, growth sometimes comes to people in a shocking and unexpected fashion. For example, someone may have a near-death experience, which transforms their entire view of their lives and the world we live in. Or someone may lose an infant or a child, which is again an experience that can be a catapult for growth (or not). At other times, it is a major illness that wakes someone up to the fact that life is short and there is a whole world out there to be explored. I believe it is much easier to deal with these situations if you already have the experience of pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.
Can you share some anecdotes from your personal experience? Can you share a story about a time when you stepped out of your comfort zone and how it helped you grow? How does it feel to take those first difficult steps?
I have stepped out of my comfort zone many times, moving, and living in a variety of countries as well as working on cruise ships, and being a life-long learner.
At the age of 41, I was struggling with the decision as to whether I should accept a position to work on board a cruise ship. Taking on this role would mean shutting down my fledging business at the time, getting rid of my leased apartment, the furniture I had, my car and planning for my elderly cat to be taken care of (which was probably the most difficult part for me). I would be living for 5–6 months on board a floating vessel, sharing a cabin with a stranger, and having to learn a whole new way of life, as well as a new job. I knew my entire life would change dramatically.
As can be expected, I was nervous and unsure as to whether it was a wise move for me. However, I reasoned that should it not work out, I could always return to my old life (with some changes of course). I eventually got rid of everything except a few boxes which I left in a friend’s basement, left my cat with another friend, and embarked on a life at sea.
The first few months were very difficult as the adjustment to my new life was tricky and there were instances when I wished I had not made that decision. However, I realized I needed to allow myself enough time to acclimatize to my new surroundings and learn my way in this brand-new world. With time, I adapted and began to enjoy the travel, meeting new people and the fun and excitement of working in such a fast-paced 24/7 environment. No two days were alike, and my flexibility and adaptability were honed and refined in this unique environment.
My initial logistics and administrative role on ships eventually led to a Human Resources Manager position and my returning to school to obtain master’s level certification in HR Management from the prestigious CIPD in the U.K. My HR designation then further led me to working abroad in other countries, continuing to improve my coaching and training skills.
The one decision I made to work on cruise ships transformed my life in ways I could not have imagined. All of this culminated into launching my current company Empowered Women Now Enterprises, with my business partner, allowing us to help many women also step out of their own comfort zone and reach for more.
Here is the central question of our discussion. What are your “five ways to push past your comfort zone, to grow both personally and professionally”?
To be able to push out of your comfort zone, you must first have a desire to! If you don’t feel the need to “grow” personally and professionally, you will avoid those opportunities that are challenging, but for those who are interested in something more, here are some suggestions. Curiosity and a thirst for knowledge are mandatory to step out of your comfort zone!
- Cultivate courage by regularly taking small risks and as you gather confidence, try bigger ones. This is one of the concepts we teach the participants in our women’s empowerment courses. When I speak of risks, I don’t mean to necessarily play on the stock market or go skydiving, at least not right away. Each person has things they would like to do and experiences they would like to have. But many times, we stop ourselves and make excuses as to why we don’t do those things that would stretch us a bit. Even things such as learning a new sport or taking dancing lessons are challenging for many because of the fear of failure. Adopt a stance of curiosity and remember it takes time to master anything. In the meantime, have fun with it!
To share a personal experience, I had always wanted to go skydiving but had some trepidation around the idea. In 2006, I worked on a cruise ship that was spending two weeks in Hawaii. As I was joining the ship, I learned that all the colleagues in my department were going skydiving one day. This was the perfect opportunity for me to try this experience, so I joined the group. It was a tandem dive, so the dive master was in charge, but we were jumping out of plane at 15,000 feet! It was an unforgettable adventure, especially as it showed me that I could conquer my fears and do something that required a lot of fortitude.
2. Follow your passion and delve deeply. Whether you decide to go to formal classes for accreditation in a field of study, read extensively, become an apprentice, or just take informal workshops, etc., it’s wonderfully expansive to engage in something that fires you up and provides a learning opportunity. You also don’t know what other things may come your way if you pursue a big interest.
Years ago, one of my friends began an antique business with her husband. To be able to speak intelligently about the pieces they carried, she began to study the history of the items and learned an enormous amount about art, architecture, and styles of different eras in history. The antique business is now long gone, but her knowledge on these subjects is vast and she is very accurate at quickly evaluating the worth of a piece because she can place it in the correct era it was created and often knows the artist who created it. She has been able to generate a stream of secondary income based on her ability to gauge the value of an item, educating the buyer on its worth and thus creating a win-win situation. Her home has become a sanctuary for lovely pieces of art she has rescued from second-hand shops where they were neglected and gathering dust.
3. Widen your range of friends and acquaintances to include those who are outside of your local demographic. Whether we agree with this development or not, the world has become much smaller now and through such platforms as Zoom and Facebook groups, we can instantly (and visually, if we wish) connect to people who are on the other side of the globe. This gives us unprecedented opportunities to explore other ways of looking at things and new ideas. It can also provide us with a global network which can present us with connections for both personal and professional/business growth.
For example, a friend recently had her child diagnosed as neurodivergent. The country she lives in does not provide the kind of assistance she or her child requires to be able to understand and navigate this complex situation. Nor is there such support present in her local community. She has since reached out and joined global online support groups, which have provided both emotional encouragement and practical help. She has come to know how parents facing the same issues are able to deal with neurodivergent children in different ways than she had originally considered. This has of course helped her enormously both personally and as a parent.
4. Travel, travel, travel! This is taking point number 3 to the furthest level. From personal experience, I can attest to the fact that there is nothing like travel to take you out of your comfort zone! By travel, I don’t mean flying to an all-inclusive resort and spending a week on a beach. When I say travel, I mean going to a new place you have never been before and exploring its cities, vistas, culture, food, transportation, people, etc. The first time you truly travel, it will take planning and organizing. But it is much easier to do now with the Internet and travel groups; plus, planning is half of the fun!
I have travelled extensively and lived in 13 countries so far. Each place I have been to, has stretched me and taught me to navigate uncharted waters. It might feel overwhelming at first, but with time, you will strengthen your ability to adapt to new environments. You will also meet some amazing people during your travels and see some truly beautiful places. This is one of the ways I have created a community of friends around the world.
5. Examine your life and see if it is taking you where you want to go; you can always change its direction. This might be a controversial point, but I have noticed that many people live their lives without questioning the way they are doing so. We are socialized and programmed, to accept the things we have been taught as true. Most of the ideas and beliefs we have inherited from family, culture, religion, media, etc., are buried in our subconscious, and we are not even aware of them. They run our lives from the background, beyond our state of conscious understanding. This is our mental and emotional “comfort zone”. Many of us stay in jobs that make us miserable, remain in empty marriages/relationships and too often live with a deep sense of boredom and/or lack of fulfillment.
Understanding this core concept of humans being conditioned is what first intrigued me so much about Tony Robbins’ book “Awaken the Giant Within”. Too many people settle for mediocrity or worse in their lives, instead of overcoming their inner blocks and heading in a more empowered direction. As Socrates said, “To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom.” Sometimes, this process of self-discovery may include getting professional help from a qualified therapist or similar mental health practitioner, particularly when dealing with a history of abuse and trauma.
From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common barriers that keep someone from pushing out of their comfort zone?
From what I have seen, it is most often fear of the unknown. People ask themselves questions such as, “what if I can’t cope?”, or “what if it’s too much for me?” Sometimes they don’t know how to proceed, especially if they are contemplating something totally outside of their realm of experience.
I have seen that the idea of being judged is also an obstacle that keeps people stuck. They are afraid of being seen as “strange” or “weird” if they do things that are considered “different”. This is especially true of those living in small tightly knit communities where everyone knows everyone else’s business. Alternatively, some people have very controlling families and are being told how to live their lives even as adults. Many women who come from cultures which are very restrictive and patriarchal often experience this type of “rejection”.
There is a well-known quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that says, “Do something that scares you every day”. What exactly does this mean to you? Is there inherent value in doing something that pushes you out of your comfort zone, even if it does not relate to personal or professional growth? For example, if one is uncomfortable about walking alone at night should they purposely push themselves to do it often for the sake of going beyond their comfort zone? Can you please explain what you mean?
From my perspective, this quote urges us not to allow ourselves to languish mentally or physically. Challenging ourselves on a daily basis, even in small ways, is a way to gain courage to take bigger steps and expand our comfort zone. As I mentioned before, every time we do something that we haven’t done before, we are pushing against the limits we have perhaps subconsciously set for ourselves. As Stephen Covey famously said, “If we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to keep getting what we’re getting.”
As far as your example about walking alone at night, this would not be advisable, especially for a woman. It is important to use discernment and common sense when we look at the kind of goals we set up for ourselves. On the other hand, if we have a phobia about flying for example but wish to explore other countries, we might want to work with a therapist to eliminate this unwarranted fear. This would open us up to so many possibilities for learning and enjoying different parts of the world!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would mount a worldwide campaign to inform every person of the benefits of embarking on a journey of therapy and good mental health. I would do everything I could to eliminate the stigma against seeking professional help for things such as depression, anxiety, suicidality, trauma, abuse, etc. I would also make getting this help easy and affordable. This would include energy healing modalities such as reiki and the emotion code, both of which I have found to be highly effective. I would ensure that the professionals in this field were not only highly educated, but also compassionate and willing to help those in need in every way possible.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to meet Neale Donald Walsch. His “Conversations with God” books had a huge influence on how I view my life and humanity’s place in the universe.
How can our readers follow you online?
Our company YouTube channel — https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4Ttw9nq9i_LEXW8XE-BrTQ
LinkedIn Profile — https://www.linkedin.com/in/ileanarontea/
My online FB Women’s Group — https://www.facebook.com/groups/410154630391507
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at email@example.com. To schedule a free consultation, click here.