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Does even the thought of feeling uncomfortable make you uncomfortable?
You may have noticed that as human beings, we’re wired to avoid discomfort. We just don’t like it! It’s tied in with our ingrained fight or flight response. There’s obvious physical discomfort that tells you something is wrong, and you should remove yourself from the situation, like being bitten by insects, which tells you to flee from that part of the jungle. No jungle? What about walking on lego, which either tells you to keep out of the kids’ playroom or puts you into angry “fight” mode until you calm down.
But the same thing happens with emotional discomfort. When you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, your brain shouts, “Get me outta here!” Whether that’s being thrown into a networking environment, or being thrust into a public speaking situation, the moment you feel discomfort, you’ll probably have to fight the flight response. It may not be as urgent and painful as being bitten by insects or walking on death lego, but the reaction is actually very similar.
Entering into potentially awkward or uncomfortable situations requires us to push through our hardwired fight or flight response. But boy, can it ever be worth it.
Some of the biggest events in my life came from me pushing myself outside of my comfort zone. Trust me, that wasn’t easy for me AT ALL. I used to be dead shy, to the point where I would have a panic attack if I even tried to order a pizza. I was terrified of speaking to a stranger. I feared making some kind of blunder that I would be judged for. For the early years of my life, it was socially crippling.
And although I CAN order pizza now, many things are still a struggle.
The difference today is that I now know that there’s so much good that can come out of pushing through those uncomfortable situations. So I force myself through it. I still hate going to new places and taking those big social risks, but I’ve realized that I have to do it because that’s how I grow. For example…
Let me tell you how I fell in love and met my husband, Caleb, because it took some getting out of my comfort zone. If I hadn’t somehow mustered up the courage to speak to a complete stranger, we never would’ve met.
There was a poetry reading that I wanted to go to but, as usual, I was reluctant because of how terribly shy I was. All I could think of whenever I wanted to do anything in public was all of the strangers who would be there. I almost didn’t go. The whole thing caused me so much anxiety. I don’t know why, but somehow I decided, “To heck with it,” mustered all my courage and left my comfort zone to head to the poetry reading.
Once there, I actually started enjoying myself. And then something happened. A gentleman got up on stage and read a poem that was so beautiful and powerful (to my teenagery self). I felt something inside of me, something that shouted, “Tell him. Tell him you loved it!” And, of course, my brain immediately tried to shut it down. “Are you crazy? You don’t know them. What if he tries to talk to you. You suck at conversation.” The inner argument was real, y’all. But somehow, the “talk to the guy” voice was stronger, probably because I had already taken the big step to attend the poetry reading in the first place, so I had gathered some momentum. I’d already taken one big risk by being there, so what was one more?
It was one of the most important risks I’ve ever taken, and I’m sure glad I did because my saying “hey great poem” eventually led to a coffee, then friendship, then… you expect me to say love and marriage (gosh that would be a great story), and it did — but not to him. He and I became friends, he introduced me to a bunch of other people and one of them introduced me to Caleb. If I hadn’t decided to step out of my comfort zone that night… Well, I don’t even want to think about what my life would be like today!
Public speaking was one of those things that I was forced to do as a kid that just made me want to hide forever. Back in elementary school, the idea of “show and tell” was debilitating. Get up in front of the entire class and speak out loud? For several seconds or even minutes? Not a chance!
Except in school, you had no choice. It was supposed to be character building, theoretically, but the only thing it did was make me retreat deeper into my anxiety and shyness. And after those experiences, I swore that I would avoid public speaking for the rest of my life. But as they say, never say never.
Years and years later as an adult, I was deciding whether or not to get involved in the St. Catharine’s Garden City Food Co-Op. It was something I was passionate about, and there was an excellent chance that I’d make some great contacts there. But as per usual, I was reluctant because it would mean going somewhere new and meeting strangers. Thankfully by that point in my life, though it still took a great deal of effort, I was able to push aside those fears. And so I joined them.
At the GCFC, I met some remarkable people and made strong relationships and connections that have really stayed with me and helped me on both a personal and professional level. I found some of my first ever clients through the experience. But it wasn’t an instant or easy win. First, I was thrust into a position where I had to do some public speaking. Oh boy…
The idea petrified me. It was so far outside of my comfort zone. I’d avoided public speaking at all costs since grade school! I thought I would never be able to overcome my fear but, bit by bit, I did. It wasn’t easy… But I also didn’t die.
In fact, I started to love the feeling of having everyone listen to me. Say what?! Am I even the same person? I sometimes wonder that because I feel so amazed by the change. Do I still get nervous before public speaking? I sure do. Stage fright is totally normal. But that doesn’t mean that I let the fear control me and now I realize that the fear is also balanced by a very rewarding sense of satisfaction as well.
And the more I spoke in public, the less terrifying it became. Overcoming public speaking has been good for my business and good for me on a personal level. Now I’m able to face public speaking head on and push through it, and my experience with GCFC has been a big part of that.
If there was one thing that my experience with the GCFC taught me, it’s that you can never guess where you might end up if you take chances and become a “joiner.” My experiences there convinced me to join up with a different organization, Co-Work Niagara. This then led to some fantastic free business training opportunities that gave me the tools I needed to expand my business. But it also led to me meeting someone who has become one of the main drivers of my business today.
Tarzan Kay (Yes, that is really her name and, yes, that is awesome) is one of the most talented copywriters and marketing strategists working today. And that isn’t just me saying it, take a look at her website. She’s THE BOMB. And it’s because I joined Co-Work Niagara that I had the opportunity to meet Tarzan in the first place. Since then, we’ve worked on a number of projects together. She’s incredible, and I’m so glad that I got an opportunity to meet her, let alone work with her! She has been instrumental in helping me grow my business and grow as a person. (Love ya, Tarzan)!
What this all boils down to is that the only way you’re going to get the most out of your business is to go out on a limb WAY past your comfort zone. My advice to you is to make it happen, no matter how uncomfortable you may feel. Join networking events, attend conferences, even talk to strangers! The more often you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, the easier it will be. Am I still shy? Absolutely. But if you met me in person, you’d never know it; I’ve become a master at hiding it. Getting to that place was hard, but it’s how I built every single part of my business. And you can do the same.
Just take a deep breath, don’t overthink it, and jump!