If there is one phrase I could happily eliminate from the planet without a second thought it is ‘Step outside of your comfort zone’. It is a phrase that is issued to many people in all walks of life but more so to introverts, quiet and reserved types, generally by well-meaning business and life coaches, self-help experts, in-house corporate trainers, and the like.
The reason it irritates me beyond comprehension is that it is predicated on two inaccurate assumptions. The first is that introverts always shy away from anything we perceive as even remotely challenging. It implies that introverts are otherwise incapable of making bold decisions and taking action. The second assumption is that our comfort zones are static, fixed in place, and never change.
With regards to the second assumption, when someone says “Step out of your comfort zone” I always think ‘Which one?’; comfort zones do not exist between two fixed points. My comfort zone can shift daily depending on a number of factors. These factors include my schedule, how much sleep I’ve had, my overall health (mental and physical), and my financial resources. There are days when I can comfortably take a meeting on Skype or in person. There are also days when I can’t imagine anything worse than taking a meeting on Skype or in person. That’s just the way it is.
With regards to the first assumption, I can only share my own personal experience of a time when I showily laughed in the face of my comfort zone only for it to turn around and bite me on my proverbial.
The thing is, I’ve been there. I’ve attempted a full-scale assault on what I believed to be my weaknesses in business (and sometimes in life) – my natural reserve and general discomfort with self-promotion, my loathing of networking events, and my disdain for aggressively pursuing business opportunities.
In 2012, I decided I was going to do things very differently with my then project – a fashion/style website. I decided to network, put myself out there, accept every meeting that was offered, self-promote, travel, and generally be the opposite of everything I had been up to that point.
I ended up in hospital after 18 months.
Okay, that was a little dramatic of me, but it is true. Months of travelling, networking, promoting, photo shoots, meetings, and interviews took their toll and resulted in a toxic combination of jet lag, insomnia, depression, and financial anxiety.
I had gone against every instinct I had and pushed myself to my limits. I had done what all manner of self-help business guru types would have me do and ‘stepped out of my comfort zone’, ‘thought outside the box’, and ‘tested my limits’ to see what I was capable of.
What I learned from this experience is that there is no ‘fake it til you make it’.
I faked it, and it didn’t result in a gradual transformation into an ambivert or pushing towards being an extravert. It didn’t increase my confidence, if anything it decimated it. It also resulted in my project folding as I recovered from my collapse. The biggest takeaway of all was this; I faked it, but I never managed to convince myself.
I have now learned to honour and respect my instincts and not to second-guess them. Now I listen to myself, intently. I self-assess my ability to complete the tasks I need to. I stubbornly resist the temptation to be someone I’m not.
These days there is no ‘stepping outside of my comfort zone’ if I’m not ready to do so because ultimately it works against me and what I want to achieve. My philosophy now is to trust and know myself so that when I need to make a big move I am doing it because I really want to achieve the set goal and not because I feel I should be doing it.
I’m not afraid of the challenges ahead, and there will be some. The difference now is that I will meet those challenges on my terms and I won’t be defined by what anyone else thinks or expects.
And that’s the important thing isn’t it? Introverts WILL make the bold moves and make the big decisions if it’s important enough to us. Our instincts and self-awareness are strengths, not weaknesses. Comfort zones allow introverts to think clearly, to work out the best solution to a problem and if that isn’t a great thing for business and life, I don’t know what is.
Over to you! What’s your view on ‘stepping out of your comfort zone’? Feel free to share in the comments below.