Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Lessons from Abroad: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Lessons from Abroad: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

[This post is part three of a five part series. You can see the first two parts on Monday and Tuesday.]

We’ve talked about how to Change up Your Schedule and Find a Regular Practice as keys to finding your passion and purpose. The next lesson from abroad is this: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone.

Certainly, moving to a new place is a big change for anyone. Moving internationally, to a different culture is even bigger, because it goes to the fundamental assumptions of everything in your daily life. How you interact with other people, how you pay the bills, even how (and where) to find the essentials you need for daily living. Add in a different language, the added complication of not even being able to communicate basic questions and ideas, and you are set back even further. I literally felt like a child, and for a while my independence was completely gone and my confidence shattered.

For some people, an international move may be a piece of cake. For me, and probably for many, it was significantly outside of my comfort zone. It seemed a big choice, a big risk in the initial decision. And it was a big stress, with the move and subsequent adjustments. Not only dealing with my own insecurities and stresses, I had my family along in this adventure – I had to worry about them too. We went through all of the phases with any big adjustment – the “what the hell did I do” phase, the honeymoon period of excitement, the frustration period of learning to do things differently, and finally acceptance. I am in a good place now, in our second year of the assignment. I have learned to love much about this beautiful country, and accept the things that I don’t.

When you have the opportunity to really shift out of your comfort zone like I have, you start to see things in a different light. In addition to really looking at the fundamental assumptions I was making in life, I have noticed where I was placing unnecessary restrictions on myself. I can now recognize the rules that I had placed on myself and my life, as well as the rules that our culture places on us. I’ve started to question those “rules” as they come up. I examine each one and ask myself, “Do I need this rule? What does it get me? What does it provide others? Do I want to keep it or throw it away?” And I recognize that for each one I throw away, others in my life might not understand or be happy about it. I have to be willing to deal with the results, but it’s important to first be able to see the rules, or you can’t ever decide to change them.

Getting out of my comfort zone with this move has also shown me that I was expecting perfection of myself, or something close to it, since I was comfortable where I was. When you get to a place you are good at something, it’s hard to go back to being a novice again, in any area of our life. It’s hard to accept the fact that you make mistakes, because you get so used to not making them. You have to learn to laugh at yourself again, enjoy the new-ness of something, delight in those first experiences. Let yourself be the beginner for a while. The only way that you can learn something new is to open yourself up to risks and move beyond the current state. You can’t expect perfection right out of the gate.

In reflecting on this experience, I can see that this move was not unlike other times in my life that I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone. Whether big or little changes, they have had similar effects. Getting out of your comfort zone does this amazing, wonderful thing – it doesn’t just shift the realm you are comfortable operating in, it grows it. That’s why difficult situations are often called “stretching” or “growing.” When you get out of your comfort zone, there is that initial discomfort, but over time, with practice, you gain new skills and confidence. You’ve added to what you can manage in your life, the landscape you can negotiate.

When you can add to your life in this way, there is this important side effect that can directly lead you to your passion and purpose: You can begin to see new possibilities. Thoughts or ideas that would never have seemed plausible before can become real. As I was walking in the park this week (part of my regular practice), I was enjoying the first fog of the season and came up with a wonderful analogy. Often, when you get out of the comfort zone of your life, it can feel like you’re in the fog. You can’t see to far ahead, only the next few steps in front of you. More and more is revealed as you move further. It can feel scary and uncertain. But once in a while in the fog, if you stop and look around, look up, you can see a glimpse of what the day is going to be like – the blue sky and sun. That’s the new possibility that you can only see as you start to look at the world in different ways, because the fog obscures your normal view. You won’t notice this little glimpse of your future, without the fog, or the shift in your comfort zone.

How can you get out of your comfort zone, and gain the benefits of this new perspective? How can this help you connect with your passion and purpose?

  • Actively seek an opportunity to move out of your comfort zone. Maybe it’s a job change, taking on a different assignment. Maybe it’s a new activity. Have you had an urge to take an art class, even though you have no previous experience? How about drama – putting yourself out there in front of others? Maybe it’s learning about an aspect of technology. Maybe it’s a change in relationships – adding, removing, changing your interactions with people. Maybe it’s travelling to a new place. Anything that you might have the thought, “Yeah, that looks interesting but I could never do it for reasons x, y, z.” Why not try? I started painting while in Italy, just because I got the urge. That activity led to me really exploring my creativity and the beauty of the world around me in a whole new way.
  • Recognize that uncomfortable feeling you get when you step out of your comfort zone. Acknowledge it, accept it, but don’t run away. A natural way to react when you feel uncomfortable is to turn around and go right back to where you were. The first step to recognize, acknowledge and accept. Then take a deep breath and move forward. The uncomfortable feeling will still be there, but know you are doing this for a reason – it’s called growth.
  • Be willing to let yourself be a novice. People who are new to things make mistakes. Their work isn’t the best. It’s really hard to go from being on the top of your game to being the newbie when you step out of your comfort zone. Instead of avoiding mistakes, give yourself permission to be bad at whatever you are doing, but keep going. Learn from the mistakes, the “failures.” Laugh at yourself as much as possible, and seek others who will help you keep this light-hearted perspective. You might find that the failures aren’t so bad after all. One of the best things that I have learned in this experience is to laugh at myself. To marvel at just how little I actually know!
  • Keep track of those little rules that pop into your head. The ones that say, “I never…” or “I should…” Write them down, really take a hard look at them. Are they real? What can you do to remove them? What would life look like if you no longer lived by this rule? Make a decision, whether or not you want to keep this rule. Maybe observe when you use it, and if it’s serving to keep you safely rooted in your comfort zone or if it will help you move in the direction you want to go.

I have recently been pondering the quote, “If you do what you’ve always done, you will get what you’ve always gotten.” I can’t really argue the truth of this statement. How do you get something different, something better, if you do the same things all of the time? You can’t. Life doesn’t work that way. The only way to get something more – whether it’s time or money or relationships or personal growth – is to do something different, take a risk, move through the fear that holds us at the status quo. Move out of your comfort zone.

(Photo is from Parco di Monza, Italy)


  1. What a stunning image Kat. I have just got completely out of my comfort zone by publishing my photo on my blog. This is one of only about three photos of me in the whole world because I'm completely un-photogenic!

  2. Dear Kat,

    I have really enjoyed reading your words over the last three days. Thanks for these reminders!

    I also find this image particularly beautiful.

    Sue x

  3. Really liked this post!
    Nicely done!!

  4. Ah, stunning words to live by. My word for the year is unplugged and without even knowing it was going to happen, I did some unplugging this week. It was tough to do but in the Big Picture, is the best thing.
    These posts are fabulous, thank you for all you do Miss K!


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