On August 17th, I’ll be waking up at the break of dawn to partake in the largest one day adventure race in Europe, with my good friends, Nick Cunningham and Matt Whitely.
Gaelforce West is probably the toughest challenge I’ve ever taken on, both physically and mentally. We’ll be covering 67km of the most demanding terrain on the west coast of Ireland, on foot, by kayak and by bike.
While completing a challenge like this is personally satisfying, it is far more motivating and invigorating to put a true cause behind it. We’re doing Gaelforce West in aid of Pieta House, the centre for the prevention of self-harm or suicide. Pieta House now has 6 locations in Ireland, with staff of over 80. Last year, over 3,000 people came to Pieta House for help and that number is only growing.
There are many factors that attribute to suicide, and while I cannot speak to them professionally, I can speak to what I’ve experienced and what I see, specifically the pressures and stresses caused by the economic downturn, which have become a heavy weight on a lot of people’s minds, often so heavy that they have no one to turn to. Families who have lost their homes, businesses that have closed and the people who have been made unemployed. Some statistics to put things into perspective,
- There were 507 suicides registered in 2012.
- Almost 10 suicides a week
- Males accounted for 81% of all suicide deaths in 2012.
Suicide is a big problem worldwide. Chances are most people have been affected one way or another by suicide. I have, and it’s something I’ll never forget.
Pieta house relies on charity and fundraising for 90% of their income. Nick and I have set a goal to raise €2,000 to support the time and effort these people give to helping others.
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.
When I was 14 I worked part-time at a local pub. It was my first experience earning an hourly wage and it was pretty exciting. On my lunch break I would sit and day dream about all the things I wanted to buy with my hard earned money. The job was mundane and the tasks were repetitive, but I was working for the money and that’s what kept me motivated. I watched the clock carefully made sure I was out of there the minute my shift finished.
A year passed and I came back that summer to work again. I already knew what tasks I had to do and how long it would take to complete each of them. The only real challenge I had was getting there. During my lunch break I’d sit near the bar where I could see everything that went on; watching the barmen work and the droves of customers as they came.
Something caught my attention one day. It was a late Sunday afternoon and the place had mostly emptied so I chatted with the barmen while I finished my lunch. One of them was busy re-organising the bar, while the other did the usual tasks and idled. I asked why he was re-organising the bar and he replied ”These drinks are more popular this summer, so I need them up front”. The difference here is that one of the guys liked what he did and wanted to do it better, which also made the bar a place where he enjoyed work. The other barman simply did what he was paid to do and nothing more. He was also working for the money, like me…
The next day I came to work with a different attitude. I was going to be there for another 3 months and wanted to turn a mundane job into a fun one, so I decided to challenge myself. I started to take pride in how I stocked the bar, making sure the bottle labels face out and created a systematic approach that reduced the time it all took. Not long after I started having fun and enjoying what I did, knowing that I gave it my everything. It didn’t take long before I stopped watching the time and instead, learning and improving.
I became a barmen before that summer ended and continued to work there for another six years until my second year in college. By the time I finished I had learned so much more than I ever thought my job there could teach me. Changing my attitude that day was crucial in that it showed me that what I was doing for myself was far greater than what I did for my employer, which made me a happier person and a much better employee.
Soon after I started that part-time job I also began my adventure as a programmer. The lessons I was fortunate to learn at such a young age, set the course for where I am today. I now work at Engine Yard, as an Application Engineer, with some truly amazing people that share this passion and motivation. A team with that kind of drive, attitude and passion makes it possible to do some seriously amazing things.
A quote inspired me to write this post and I feel it sums up my experience perfectly.
”If you’re doing it for the money, you’ll always be underpaid” - Scott Bell