So, I just got back from Chautauqua in Greece. I had previously gone to the Ecuador edition of Chautauqua as an attendee. This time, I went as a speaker which turned out to be even been more fun.
Part of my responsibility as a speaker is to give a talk. At the end of it, someone asked me what I hoped to get out of Chautauqua. Visiting Greece was part of it. So was hanging out with a spectacular group of people. However, all of that is obvious. At a lower level, I was working on expanding my comfort zone.
When Jim Collins invited me to speak at Chautauqua almost one year ago, my first thought was this:
Did he send the email to the right person?
I had a couple of reasons for thinking this:
- Jim had never seen me speak in public. Neither had any of the other organizers of the event. Why would they take a chance on an unproven entity? I had seen most of the other attendees speak and knew that they were a lot better than me.
- I lacked in people skills. Relating to other humans has always been a weak point. I’m a recovering introvert. The whole point of this event is to spend time with cool people, so maybe I wasn’t the best choice.
I was so excited to be invited though that I readily agreed. But then, the scary voice in the back of my head started speaking louder:
What if your presentation is terrible?
What if the attendees don’t want to talk to you?
What if you make a fool of yourself?
What had I done? I sent Jim an email with subtle suggestions of other more qualified speakers. Maybe Jim would take the hint and boot me in favor of one of them? But he didn’t…
All of us have a comfort zone. Inside the comfort zone, life is safe and easy:
Things get a little scarier when we move outside our zones:
One of the primary goals of any human is to always be stepping outside the comfort zone. You don’t grow if you never challenge yourself. The best example in my own life is public speaking.
Freaking Over Public Speaking
I used to be absolutely terrified to speak in public. As a child, I had speech impediments that turned me into a deep introvert and also made me terrified to open my mouth. After a public speaking class in college, I told myself that I’d never speak in public again. Two decades later at Ecuador Chautauqua, I met Alan Donegan who inspired me to give it another try.
The first speaking gig came in early 2017. I was completely terrified, but pushed through it. It went OK and I soon volunteered for another talk. And then another and another. Each time, it got easier and I improved.
The primary positive effect of this exercise is easy to see:
I’m a better public speaker.
The secondary effects are more interesting:
I’m more confident. I’m better around people. I’m less of an introvert. I’m not as awkward.
The secondary effects are far more important than the public speaking skill. I may give a presentation four times per year, but I interact with other humans daily.
Another recent example of getting out of my comfort zone was fixing a clothes dryer. The wayward appliance would stop heating a couple of minutes after starting. I had never fixed a dryer before, but emboldened by YouTube videos, I tore into it. I soon learned that the dryer had a broken thermostat. I ordered the part, installed it and the dryer is back to normal.
Again, the primary positive effect of fixing the machine is easy to discern:
I now know how to diagnose and fix broken dryers.
Just like the previous public speaking example, the secondary effects are much more important:
I’m now more confident with mechanical devices. I won’t freak as much the next time something breaks.
Pushing your zones
The purpose of stepping outside your comfort zone is nothing short of becoming a better person. When we do something uncomfortable, we become more adaptable, more resilient, stronger and more confident. If pushing your comfort zones involves exercise, you’ll be healthier.
In short, discomfort expands your comfort zone.
Discomfort leads to growth which is what we must consistently strive for.
I have realized; it is during the times I am far outside my element that I experience myself the most. That I see and feel who I really am, the most!
When Jim invited me to speak at Chautauqua, I knew that I wasn’t qualified. So, I figured out what I needed to do to become that person and did it:
- I accepted every speaking invitation I was offered.
- I made an effort around town to chat random strangers up.
- I talked to other parents while waiting to pick my children up at school.
It worked. While my talk at Chautauqua wasn’t perfect, it was the best I’ve ever done. I’m a different and better version of myself.
I’m not sure if I’ll be giving another talk at Chautauqua, but if I do, it will be a little bit better.
Too many times we let fear keep us inside our comfort zone. Face your fear head-on and conquer. Life is too short to live any other way.
We are so accustomed to the comforts of “I cannot”, “I do not want to” and “it is too difficult” that we forget to realize when we stop doing things for ourselves and expect others to dance around us, we are not achieving greatness. We have made ourselves weak.
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