Facing your fears and stepping out of your comfort zone
Cambridge English Dictionaries defines a ‘comfort zone’ as “a situation in which you feel comfortable and in which your ability and determination are not being tested”.
For a long time I lived in my comfort zone. My comfort zone for me was a routine that felt familiar and safe, and the prospect of doing anything that fell outside of that routine was incredibly daunting.
I lived in my comfort zone until things became stagnant in my life. If you’ve ever felt like you were going nowhere fast, that’s exactly what I mean. My personal progression was slowing down, I didn’t feel as if I was growing in ways I wanted, and the feeling of contentedness that I once thought I had, slowly began to turn into dissatisfaction.
I knew I was capable of so much more than I was doing, so why wasn’t I doing it? Why was I allowing my light to dim? Why wasn’t I pushing myself to achieve the things I wanted to achieve? It took some self-reflection but I soon realised that it was because I was scared. Fear of failure was crippling my progress – and my progress lived outside of my comfort zone.
We all have things that scare or worry us. For some it’s entering a new environment, moving away from people, disappointing loved ones, or simply feeling like you don’t have control. In my case, I was concerned about people criticising me or disliking me. Despite feeling strongly about certain things, I didn’t want to speak up in public or even share my opinions online, just in case I said something stupid.
Eventually I decided that enough was enough. I knew that for me to develop in the ways I wanted, I had to face my fears. It wasn’t easy and it took baby steps, but one thing that helped me was setting myself targets. For example, before 2018 I had never spoken at a public event. It wasn’t for lack of opportunity – but rather out of fear. Prior to 2018, any time I was asked to speak at an event I would create an excuse regarding why I couldn’t do it.
When the New Year came I set myself the challenge of accepting the next offer to speak that came my way – and I did. The entire experience was definitely daunting but also quite similar to ripping off a wax strip. In my head I thought it was going to be much worse than it actually was. I had over exaggerated the entire process but when I got past the initial shock, it was smooth sailing from there. One event became two, two became three, then four and five.
Not long after that I went from being on panels to speaking solo, and even hosting events; something I once thought I could never do. If you want to step out of your comfort zone, start with small targets. Write down some of the things you want to do but you’re too scared to do, then rank them according to how much they frighten you. Set yourself the challenge of starting with the least daunting and work your way up. If your experience is anything like mine, you might find that as you work your way up, you approach the ‘scariest’ things on your list with less worry, because along the way you’ve become more comfortable with stepping outside of your comfort zone.
As well as setting myself targets, another thing that helped me step outside of my comfort zone was bringing the familiar into the unfamiliar. Luckily I have a strong support network, so at my first few talks I would ask my best friend or a family member to tag along. Spotting a familiar face in a crowd of unfamiliar faces helps to calm my nerves, so if you’re able to, see if you can have someone there to act as a calming influence – whether that’s through sitting outside an audition room, driving you to an interview and waiting for you in the car park, or meeting you on your lunch break after the first day of a new job. If you don’t have anyone to physically support you, try carrying a familiar item that brings you peace; such as a lucky charm that you can keep in your pocket or hold when you feel anxious.
Another thing that gave me the push to step outside of my comfort zone was finding motivation in my peers. They say “comparison is the thief of joy” and that’s true when you compare negatively. But when you use other people’s successes as a way of motivating yourself, comparison can be healthy. I looked at the people around me that I admired and asked myself what they were doing that I could learn from. I examined their progress against their output and work ethic, and compared that with my own. Through doing that I realised that I wasn’t testing my determination – and I could be working harder.
Using successful people around you as examples of what you could be doing better, can help to give you the push you need to step outside of your comfort zone. The main thing to remember is that you shouldn’t focus on what they have versus what you lack, but instead, seek to learn useful lessons.
Neale Donald Walsch is an author, speaker, and screenwriter who famously said “life begins at the end of your comfort zone” – and I completely understand what he meant. Many people who have done anything that drastically changed their life for the better, would argue that they had a choice to make – and often, that choice involved pushing themselves, doing something that may have made them feel uncomfortable, or stepping into the unfamiliar. What if Tom Hanks made excuses every time he was asked to go to an audition? What if Oprah Winfrey let the fear of failing prevent her from chasing her dreams? What if Barack Obama didn't run for President because he told himself he wouldn't win?
The fear of stepping out of your comfort zone may be the very thing that is preventing you from finding your calling.
Young Women's Trust have a great free service called Work It Out which can help with taking those first steps. You can get your own professional coach who works with you over the phone or online to help you to feel more confident and ready to take on challenges. Find out more about it here.
Toni is an online talk show host and content creator, with an audience of over 100,000 across her social media platforms. She is also a Young Women's Trust Ambassador.