I am strange. To those who know me well, that statement can be applied to a myriad of behaviors. But, what I am specifically referring to is this: I feel more comfortable speaking in front of a group of 3,000 strangers, than carrying on a personal conversation with just one. I have no issue negotiating a hard fought business deal, but would be mortified sending my food back at a restaurant. I enjoy developing a complex strategic plan, but shutter when asked to make plans with another couple.
I feel more comfortable speaking in front of a group of 3,000 strangers, than carrying on a personal conversation with just one.
I have spent a lot of my life seeking shelter and refuge in my comfort zone. I resisted any situation that even remotely pushed me to its boundary, and certainly, anytime I found myself outside of it, I withdrew as quickly as possible. I spent years employing strategies that allowed me to remain right there in its safety. I staffed my departments to insulate me from discomfort and even had my wife and kids serve as buffers on a personal level. Looking back, I now recognize that I was doing myself such an incredible disservice.
I spent years employing strategies that allowed me to remain right there in its safety.
Personal growth does not come from within your comfort zone. Rather, it is only found in those moments you find yourself feeling awkward, vulnerable or exposed. The more frequently you retreat from discomfort, the more closed you are to opportunity. I think back at the questions I didn't ask for fear of sounding foolish or the people I failed to introduce myself to because it felt awkward, and I wonder what growth I missed in those moments.
The more frequently you retreat from discomfort, the more closed you are to opportunity.
It is easier to insulate yourself as leader in an organization. For example, I always had people on my team who were great in social situations, so I did not have to be. For those questions I was uncomfortable asking, I had team members go seek out the answers and for the people I needed to know, I had introductions made for me.
When I started my own business, I knew that there would not be any insulation or buffer. If I was to succeed, I would have to boldly step out of that comfort zone, and frankly, I was terrified. It kept me up nights and I had some doubt that I could. But, I was also highly motivated. I had wanted to do this my whole life, I had kids in college and a mortgage to worry about. So as they say, failure was not an option.
If I was to succeed, I would have to boldly step out of that comfort zone, and frankly, I was terrified.
Sadly, it took this level of motivation and fear to finally get me to step off that 100 foot pole. But, as soon as I did, I started to experience life more fully, both professionally and personally. I found myself in situations I could have never dreamt being in. I've learned so much and have met so many great people. Almost everyday now, I come up against things that make me feel awkward, vulnerable and exposed. The biggest difference is that instead of retreating back to the safety of my comfort zone, I lean into that discomfort. I have recognized that when I feel uncomfortable, I am doing something right.
The biggest difference is that instead of retreating back to the safety of my comfort zone, I lean into that discomfort.
I share this personal story of discovery in the hope it will encourage you to step off that pole. Don't wait and waste time that could be spent experiencing new things. It is not nearly as scary as I convinced myself it would be. The stories I told myself about the things that could happen in those moments of discomfort have all proven false. Trust me, if you feel uncomfortable, you are doing something right and you will be living more fully.
Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group. His purpose is to grow businesses and business leaders. He helps organizations develop integrative leaders, inspire employee enlightenment, practice mindful marketing and build lasting relationships with customers. Elliot serves as a consultant, coach, and thinking partner.
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This post first appeared on the GROW Blog