I recall first hearing the term “comfort zone” when I was in school. A term that perfectly described where I felt safe, sheltered from life’s challenges and hidden from all my fears and stress.
Growing up I was quite shy and distant with people. I was born in Germany and moved to Ireland at the age of 4. As I grew up I was left with a vague sense of belonging, unsure of whether or not I was Irish or German; a problem that many cross-cultural children experience. For me, this established the personal boundaries that I now consider to have been my comfort zone. During my early years at school I was reluctant to take any risks for fear of failure or making a fool of myself, and so I turned down opportunities and missed out.
It was years before I decided to challenge those very boundaries, after it became quite clear that my comfort zone was holding me back from achieving my goals and living my life to it’s full potential. It was time for change.
”A man grows most tired while standing still.” - Old Chinese proverb.
Starting small, I decided to take the next opportunity that presented itself. I was 16 when I had decided I’d never drive a car, for fear of being a terrible driver or even crashing. I knew there was obvious benefits as I lived in a remote area at the time, so going against what I had told myself, I went ahead and did my theory test. It was too late to back out now, so I asked my dad if he would teach me how to drive. He knew how much I’d been avoiding this and was eager to get me out on the road. So he took me out and had me drive to town, go through several roundabouts, overtake a car and every other possible scenario I had ever feared and could possibly encounter as a new driver - all in my first lesson. By the time we got back home I was no longer nervous. I surprised my dad, who claimed I was a natural, but most importantly I surprised myself.
I had willingly overcome a personal fear and won, which inspired an unfamiliar sense of confidence and excitement. Soon after I went on to pass my driving test with only two additional driving lessons. That rare sense of accomplishment I experienced that day generated momentum. Driving now gave me a new level of independence, which in turn continued to help my confidence. Even now I think back to this day and ask myself “what would have happened had I stayed in my comfort zone?”. One answer is that I might still be living a very sheltered life.
Over the past three years I’ve accomplished more than I could have ever imagined. The crucial part in challenging your comfort zone is understanding your personal boundaries and why they exist. The story above is only one example of this, but shows how one small change can lead to so many more.
Start small & know your limits
Starting small is the key to building momentum and confidence in yourself. Think carefully about the next opportunity that presents itself. If you turn it down, nothing will change, but take it and you never know what might happen.
Nerves and anxiety are still natural and shouldn’t be ignored. Overstepping your comfort zone can be dangerous too, so be careful.
Laugh at yourself
Try not to take yourself too seriously. If you can laugh at yourself for failing, you’ll be ready for those who criticise you when you do. It’s better to be criticised for trying than go unnoticed for standing still. It will also help you see the real challenges and the bigger picture.
Turn nerves into excitement
As you become comfortable stepping outside your comfort zone you will start to turn that anxiety into a sense of excitement. The unknown beyond your personal boundaries is an exciting place. Review your success and accomplishments and use this to grow.
Live your Life
Most importantly, live your life. Don’t let your comfort zone hold you back from all the great things you’re capable of doing. Take risks, jump into the unknown and watch your life improve. It’s yours to live… One of my favourite well known quotes is,
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” - Neale Donal Walsch
Oh, and if you asked me today where I’m from, I’d tell you I’m Irish.