Everything I learned from leaving my comfort zone

An honest account of pushing myself out of my comfort zone. It hasn’t always been pretty, and I lot of the time I wished I hadn’t bothered. But ultimately, I always got something out of it…

The other day I was talking to my boyfriend about how much easier my life would be if I’d never left my comfort zone. The reason for this conversation just may have been the fact that I’d just completed day three of a new job and I was feeling drained of energy. So many names to remember, new systems to understand, processes to learn. Every night I’d come back and wanted to sink my head onto a pillow at about 8.37pm because my head was so heavy, so weighed down, with new information.

All of the shiny newness of a new job comes with the graze of discomfort, at least for me. Change can be difficult and sometimes it feels easier to just stick to what you know. Better the devil you know, right? It was this that led to me looking back fondly on my first graduate job, the one that has come to define the comfort zone for me. It was as a journalist on a UK magazine, writing about celebrities, relationships and lifestyle stuff for teenage girls. Even though I’d been unemployed for six months I knew I’d got the job at the interview when they asked me who Victoria Beckham’s favourite designer was and I didn’t skip a beat before answering: Roberto Cavalli. Oh 2007, I remember you well.

“All of the shiny newness of a new job comes accompanied with the graze of discomfort, at least for me. Change can be difficult and sometimes it feels easier to just stick with what you know.”

And there began two or three blissful years when I existed in a space where I was good at what I did. I knew the subject matter like the back of my hand, I was a good writer, and I was organised, efficient, and I could meet deadlines. I still mourn those days. It felt like this safe space where my flaws weren’t wrenched open at every opportunity, with an open invitation for people to take a good look at everything I wasn’t good at, which is what some of my later jobs felt like. But I digress.

Ultimately, and somewhat predictably, I got bored. After a while I couldn’t keep on doing the same thing over and over again. I wanted more, I wanted a challenge. So I applied to other jobs, promotions, both internal and external. And therein started the journey of increasing discomfort. Below, I’ve listed some of the biggest examples of leaving my comfort zone that I’ve had to deal with in my life, but, as with most people, there have been many baby steps and stumbles and fumbles in the journey too…

Leaving my comfort zone: part one

The first big discomfort was when I moved to China for six months in a foray into ‘Do I want to be a teacher?’ As someone who is an introvert and doesn’t consider themselves to be a natural presenter, this may have been an odd choice, but basically I wanted to travel and explore a different career at the same time. However, this was my first experience in feeling very visibly NOT good at something…

In our first week there we all had to do a demo lesson in front of a potential school and, to my surprise, I was chosen, along with another guy. Once we started at the school, however, it seemed like they lost confidence in me, and preferred his more high energy style of teaching. Of course, this made me feel like shit. It was still a new school and they didn’t have that many students, so I spent a lot of time hanging about doing nothing preparing lessons or supporting other teachers in their classes.

However, after a while it started to change. I ended up taking responsibility for the arts and crafts parts of the lessons, and I spent hours drawing and making new crafts for the kids to make. Because this was so visible – with the kids taking their work home with them – this instantly put me more on the radar. Secondly, my more low key style of teaching started to work in my favour. Some kids were incredibly shy or just didn’t want to have a male teacher – they were only two or three years old, after all. So this led to me gaining my own cohort of students over time. By the time I left to go home six months later I felt like I had made my mark on the school and I’d been able to be authentically ‘me’. A result.

Leaving my comfort zone: part two

The next big discomfort came when I was promoted to an editor position in same company I’d worked in before I went to China. There were two major discomforts with this role. One, it involved leading and managing a team, which was something I’d never done before. Two, it involved working on two publications where I didn’t know the content at all. I brought zero prior knowledge to the table. This was tricky, and I remember sitting around a table with my team and thinking, ‘Huh. They don’t believe in me at all’. Whether it was true or not, that’s how I felt – and why would they? I didn’t trust me.

With that in mind, I listened to everyone else way too much. I put my trust in the teams’ suggestions, rather than my own. Like I said, I didn’t trust my own judgement in this arena, this space so far from my comfort zone. The first issue I was responsible for bombed. It was awful, and I can still feel the hard jolt of shame that plunged into my stomach when I saw those first terrible sales figures.

It was only when I started listening to my gut that things actually turned around. We started doing market research and focus groups with our customers where we would hear what they actually wanted from our publications – rather than just making assumptions about it. I also attended lots of industry events around the UK and that got the cogs whirring. Suddenly I had my own ideas and what’s more, I believed in those ideas one hundred percent. I implemented changes into the content, and our situation slowly started to change. We got a couple of good sales, and then another, and another.

In the end, I actually won an external award for Editor of the Year. Me. It was such a weird feeling. I hate being centre of attention at the best of times, but that one did mean something. It meant that I could do something that was completely out of my comfort zone, and make a success of it.

Leaving my comfort zone: part three

The third discomfort was when I left that company after ten years, and jumped in a whole new industry. I had started to feel that my current role was too specialised; I wanted to broaden my skill set and open myself up to future career opportunities in an area where there were more job opportunities. So I swerved my publishing career and I took a side step into marketing. Gulp. If I had thought it was going to be an easy move I was very much in the wrong; it was tough. Really tough.

I remember being in my first week of the role and being told about all this software we’d need to use, and just not having a clue about any of it. People were talking about things like landing pages and email marketing and campaigns and I would just look at them blankly, because I’d never done anything like that before. It was difficult. I felt like the stupidest person in the room. I also felt like I went into myself and internalised a lot of my anxiety about the role, and that meant that I didn’t really feel as comfortable in the space as I should have done. All I could think about was what I couldn’t do, rather than all the experience and knowledge that I brought to the table from my previous career.

I left that job a few weeks ago and I still feel regret about not fully being myself in it. But ultimately, I learned a lot from it. It gave me a really great foundation that I can now build in the next stage of my career, and so I have no regrets. I just wouldn’t want to do week one all over again!

What have I learned from leaving my comfort zone?

There’s the big question. What have I learned from leaving my comfort zone? Have I learned anything? This sounds terrible, but the more I’ve stepped out of the comfort zone that more I’ve realised what I’m bad at. And you know what? Sometimes I don’t want to know that. Sometimes I wished I could have just stayed in this warm, fuzzy space where I wasn’t privy to that information, where I was good at everything I’d tried so far. Stepping out of that means being vulnerable, being exposed, being weak. That’s not always fun, but unfortunately you can’t close the box once its open.

On the flip side of that, I’ve also grown. I’ve learned. I’ve travelled. I’ve had success in my career. I’ve increased my skill set and my salary. I’ve done things I never would have done if I’d just stayed in my comfort zone. And so that’s what I try to remember, each time I have to take another tentative footstep into the unknown. It’s not always easy, but it might just be worth it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s