Friday, May 23, 2014

Stepping Outside My Comfort Zone

A couple of weeks ago I attended leadership training at my company’s leadership center. It was a 5 day 4 night thing. And let me tell you, the thought of it gave me so much anxiety. I had no idea what to expect. Despite being told business casual, I had no idea what to wear. I way, WAY over packed. I probably had about two weeks worth of clothes and shoes. I wanted to chew off all my finger nails the weekend before. And as the time on Monday inched closer to when I needed to head over to the leadership center, the knots in my stomach had knots.

When I arrived, I settled into my room, found my course classroom, and tried not to hyperventilate. And in case by this point it’s not glaringly obvious, I’m an introvert. The idea of a class full of people I’d never met before was sending my head into a tornado like state. Would they be crazy, loud, quiet, obnoxious, smart, idiotic, intimidating… The questions went on and on and the time whizzed closer and closer to the start of class.
deviantART, Schroeder Jones

And finally, it was time to head to the room. It was a classroom with 6 round tables and 6-7 people per table. With assigned seats! I was suddenly teleported back to middle school where I was forced to sit beside people that not only drove me crazy but picked on me and pushed my buttons until I cried. This sent my nerves into a permanent state of neurotic! But I found my name tag and slouched into my chair at the front of the room. I quietly observed the few people already in the room and watched as new people entered. What every introvert does in a new setting, sits back and quietly evaluates the situation with their guard up.

Before I knew it class was starting and the instructors were introducing themselves. And then we were playing an ice breaker… an introvert’s worst nightmare! My WORST nightmare! I hate, HATE icebreakers. I have to get to know people I don’t know and even worse I have to talk about myself. UGH! I’d prefer to sit quietly and get to know other people by watching them, watching what they say, and how they interact with others. Get comfortable with the situation and then join in slowly. I hate being forced into participating when I don’t feel comfortable in a situation.

But surprisingly I survived said icebreaker, and they didn’t laugh at me when I said I was a writer in my free time (SCORE!). After everyone returned to their seats, we set ground rules for the class. Things like respect and what happens in this room stays in this room all came up. And then came being open, followed by another WORST nightmare of mine… STEPPING OUTSIDE YOUR COMFORT ZONE! 


I wanted to curl into a ball and die right on the spot. I wanted to clam up and not say a thing for the rest of the week. I even thought about running out of the room and not coming back. But then one of the instructors said something that resonated me “If you don’t normally speak up and participate try that this week and if you do, try sitting back and listening.”

After that something clicked in my brain. I thought I can do that. I’m not sure if it was the combination of speaking up when you don’t normally do and safe environment, what goes on here stays here, and mutual respect or what. I’m not sure if I’ll ever know why everything feel into place but it did. I told myself right then and there that I was going to speak up and I was going to hit the ground running when it came to this class. I was going to do the unthinkable. I WAS GOING TO STEP OUTSIDE MY COMFORT ZONE.
And from that moment forward I did exactly that. And not just when it came to speaking up, both in the classroom setting and in our small groups, but with EVERYTHING I did that week. 
I went running on the trail outside. RUNNING… ME… the girl who doesn’t run for anything… unless maybe I was being chased by a screaming mob of vampires and werewolves who wanted to attack me and drain my blood and turn me into some kind of supernatural hybrid (ok sorry I watch WAY too much TV, no I don’ read too many books :P )

But it wasn’t just running, I invited people to dinner, I walked up to half full tables in the dining room and asked if I could join people, I even introduced myself to complete strangers! GASP! And the most horrific thing of all… I said GOOD MORNING to people when they said it to me.

Big deal you say?

It really is!


Normally when I encounter people in the morning, I need at least an hour to just sit in silence before I speak to them.


Like a completely different planet kind of outside my comfort zone.

Let me explain my day…

  • Wake up
  • Say good morning to EVERYONE I passed
  • Go to breakfast and sit with people I don’t know and GASP TALK TO THEM
  • Go to class
  • Raise hand and participate
  • Talk to people in small groups
  • Take a break and talk to people from other classes that I don’t know
  • Go back to class talk to more people, and participate some more
  • Go to lunch, and talk to MORE people
  • Go back to class, talk and participate
  • Take a break and talk to more people I don’t know
  • Go back to class, more participating and talking
  • Class ends and I go run the two mile trail TWO MILES!!!!
  • Shower – nuff said!
  • Go to dinner – Ask to sit with people and talk some more
  • Go to the bar and talk yet MORE people I don’t know
  • Slunk back to my room and die of exhaustion
  • Rinse repeat for the rest of the week

By the end of the week, my body didn’t know which end was up, I was physically and emotionally drained. If we compare people to batteries, an extrovert gets charged by hanging out with people and talking to them, while an introvert drains their battery doing those same activities. Introverts recharge by taking quiet time to decompress. I had very little of that all week, so by the end of it I was essentially a dead battery.
So when it came time to talk about what we learned that week and what our next steps were, I surprisingly (or not) got a bit emotional. But it wasn’t just because my battery was drained. It was because I got up in front of the room of nearly 40 people I’d spent the week getting to know and I told them the truth. That I was so anxious about coming to this class and how I’m normally an introvert. That speaking up and being this social was so far outside my wheelhouse. And I watched as shock filled every single one of those faces. I look at them as tears filled my eyes and said “This week I wanted to step outside my comfort zone and I think I proved to myself that I can and that I’m not alone when I do it.”

And when I went back to my seat my entire table nodded at me, and I got a few pats on the back (and some Kleenex for my blubbering mess ohh the embarrassment!). When we took a break, people started coming up to me, saying they had no idea that I was an introvert or that I was scared / anxious. I'm not sure how, but I had them all fooled. I had them thinking this was something that came so unbelievably natural to me. They had nothing but words of encouragement. And it was hands down one of the BEST experiences I’ve ever been through. It was downright exhausting and trying don’t get me wrong, but I think I learned more about myself in that week that I had in years of my life.

So if you can step outside your comfort zone, whether it be in life, in writing, or something else I highly HIGHLY recommend it. It won’t be easy and it won’t be fun, but it WILL 150% be worth it!

And for more information about introverts check out this post because I think it explains things perfectly!