“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ~ Neale Donald Walsh
Many people stress how important it is to continuously challenge yourself. However, in my observation, leaving your comfort zone in this way often brings up feelings of fear — and how can you be audacious when you’re scared?
Here’s a lesson I learned about that during a week where I found myself way outside of my comfort zone:
As I stepped forward in my personal leadership, routine and comfort had been replaced by the sensation of perpetual bungee-jumping.
In expectation of another “first” that was awaiting me that day, I was pacing around the room.
I did not feel ready for what was I front of me. While I had prepared myself extensively, I still did not feel like I would know what to do.
My husband was patiently sitting on the couch. Eventually, he spoke. “You know,” he looked at me, “this is a big step.”
I nodded and continued to pace.
“You’re never completely ready to take a big step.” My husband paused. I stopped in my tracks. “You just do it and it works out.”
I sat down on the couch next to him. He was right.
For a moment, I remembered earlier moments in my life where I was outside of my comfort zone:
I was not ready to study law at a Spanish university without really speaking the language at first. I was not ready to get married in another country with less than 48 hours advance notice. I was not ready to defend my Ph.D. thesis with a crimson-red face and while in pain thanks to my first-ever allergic reaction to a face cream I had tried.
There are a gazillion other things I was not ready for in my life.
And yet I did all of them.
I’m not alone in this. In your own life, you can surely identify numerous moments when you took a big leap and were way outside your comfort zone.
In these situations, it’s useful to become aware of the extent of our un-readiness for big steps.
I’ve heard other versions of the wisdom my husband spoke that day, such as:
- Nike’s slogan “Just do it.”
- Susan Jeffers’ “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”
- John Burroughs’ “Leap, and the net will appear.”
None of these ever touched me as deeply.
Acknowledging that we are never ready for taking a big step strikes me as a more profound truth.
Here are 4 realizations that can help you when you’re about to leave your comfort zone:
1. How to tell the big difference between being prepared and being ready
In the context of leaving our comfort zone, we can differentiate between being prepared and being ready. In the situation I described above, I was prepared but did not necessarily feel emotionally ready.
There can be a subtle difference between these two words as I’m using them here. The first refers to taking all the preparatory (often physical or mental) action to put us in the best possible situation before taking a big leap — something we should always do to the full extent of our capability. For instance, if you have to give a big speech, preparing yourself optimally includes a lot of practice and receiving feedback from others.
In contrast, the second word describes a sense of emotional preparedness, which is something more complex and less under our control than mere logistical steps.
In a way, being prepared but not ready is actually an ideal situation for growth: by preparing adequately, you minimize the chances of something going wrong. Not feeling ready demonstrates that the gap between your current reality and what you’re about to do is so big that taking that step will help you grow.
When we take a step that is beyond us, there’s nothing wrong with us if we feel we’re not ready. In contrast, it’s to be expected — and demonstrates how much we’re growing.
2. The importance of daring to not be ready
Of course it’s more comfortable to feel ready to take a leap. And yet where would it leave us if we only did things we already knew we could do?
Taking a big step we’re not ready for is the story of humanity.
Is an expectant mother ever ready for going through labor? Is a baby ever ready for being born? I doubt it.
Case in point:
I recently watched a YouTube video where male (and some female) volunteers try a machine that simulates labor pain while another person holds the control to increase the pain levels.
In one scene, a guy who was already writhing on the floor got asked if he was ready to move to the next level of the birth simulation.
Not surprisingly, his answer was, “No, I’m not ready!”
Humans are not ready for birth, whether literally or metaphorically (as in birth of a new self).
3. This is why you’re not ready for a massive leap
People sometimes think there’s something wrong with them if they don’t feel ready to take a big step. In reality, we don’t feel ready for an enormous change because that’s just how it works.
We will never be ready for the biggest steps in our lives.
Change only feels comfortable when it’s small enough to fit inside our comfort zone — but then it doesn’t really qualify as a big step. Massive leaps require that we leave our comfort zone, which by definition doesn’t feel comfortable.
In addition to taking us way outside our comfort zone, a leap forward signifies the birth of a new self as well as a mini death to our old self. And if there is one thing other than birth that humanity is not ready for, it is death.
4. You don’t need to be ready to be successful
When it comes to taking big leaps, our extent of felt readiness does not accurately predict whether we will be successful. It simply indicates how much the step will change us and how much it is outside of our comfort zone.
If we look around ourselves, there’s ample proof that one does not necessarily have to be ready to achieve positive outcomes.
For instance, to reiterate a previous point, humans are not ready for birth. Yet billions of us are here right now, demonstrating that neither parent nor child need to be emotionally ready for a successful birth.
The same is true for other big steps where we can find examples of people who have successfully taken them. No matter which massive leap we are considering, in almost every case, others have walked the same or a similar path before us. It’s very likely that at least some of them have accomplished what they set out to do.
It’s helpful to find these positive role models, as the mere act of knowing about them can help put our minds at ease, at least a little bit.
Once we realize that we don’t need to be ready to be successful, then we can “just do it,” we can “feel the fear and do it anyway,” and we can “leap, and the net will appear.”
First though, we need to realize that we are not ready.
And that is a good thing.
Are you going to take a step today that you’re not ready for?