Are you too comfortable?
Have you ever wondered how someone can get up and speak in front of a group and appear smooth and relaxed? At the same time, when you get up and speak, even if it is just to introduce yourself, do your voice and hands shake? The latter was definitely me. While I will never be a complete "natural" at speaking in groups or to large numbers of people, I am definitely much better at it. I did this and many other things by pushing myself outside of my comfort zone.
I believe growth comes in leaps and bounds when you go outside of what is normal for you and try new things. For public speaking, I took a class that had an exercise where I had to tell a story saying nothing but the sound "bah." I had to use facial and body expressions to express myself. While the audience did not know the specific story, they understood when I was talking about something I was excited about or something I was sad about. I felt silly but learned a lot during that exercise.
I forced myself to sign up to lead a 200-person training class for my employer, Accenture, a global professional services company. I opened by giving the "bah" example to show how I pushed myself and learned. I told the trainees to likewise push themselves to try new things during their training. While leading the training, I practiced what I learned in the public speaking class I had taken and found I was a tad more comfortable speaking to this large room of people.
Then I signed up as lead for that same class the following year and again was even more comfortable. I learned what I needed to do to prepare. I did more client presentations than before and, each time, I got a little bit more comfortable. I learned that going outside of your normal activities is the best way to grow.
The personal side
Two of the best examples in my personal life are with ballroom dancing and a mission trip to Haiti.
I started taking dance lessons after I was hit by a car while running and lost my desire to run. I needed something else to stay in shape that I would enjoy, and a friend recommended them. The lessons themselves were completely in my comfort zone. I loved them and was thrilled to walk into the studio for each lesson, no matter what was going on in my life.
Then, they talked to me about doing a "showcase" (think recital for adults). I had to dance in front of 100 people. I was shaking the entire time. Of course, no one could tell but my dance instructor.
Next, they talked to me about doing a competition. Talk about outside of what I know! Again, I shook the entire time. By trying it, getting past my nerves, and getting joy out of the dancing, I am proud to say that I have now completed three competitions, I no longer shake, and on my last one I received a "Top Student" award.
I had been wanting to do a mission trip for a few years but hadn't easily found one that seemed to work for me. I was talking to a person at work about it who put me in touch with another person who put me in touch via e-mail with a priest in Fort Lauderdale. This priest, Father Fritz, and a friend of his, Gerline, both grew up in Haiti and started a medical mission trip. They have family and friends still living in Haiti who are doctors and nurses who volunteer their time to help their own people. Father Fritz and Gerline get medicine and supplies donated in America. I went on my first mission trip two years ago with this group.
How was this outside my comfort zone? I did not know anyone. I was the only person on the trip who did not grow up in Haiti. And I completely trusted Father Fritz. There were times in the back of an SUV, driving around curvy roads on mountains with no rails and passing motorcycles with three people and a baby hanging off the back, that I wondered what I was doing there. But it was the best experience I have ever had. It grounds you in what is truly important in life and makes you appreciate the comforts we have grown accustomed to expecting.
I learned about the Haitian culture. I gained two beautiful friends in Gerline and Father Fritz as well as a nurse in Haiti with whom I am now Facebook friends. I believe I make a small difference and want to figure out how I can make a bigger difference. I now hold a fundraiser at my house that Father Fritz and Gerline attend each year. I have made this mission trip a priority in my life and go every year. By stepping completely outside of my comfort zone, I have found a passion and love for helping Haiti and my new friends.
What can you do tomorrow that pushes you outside of your comfort zone?