You all know it. It’s the place that always manages to lure you in with its familiar security. The safe haven you retreat to when a co-worker invites you to her Epicure party where you won’t know anyone, or when a friend tries to set you up on a blind date. This place is called your comfort zone, and it’s evil!
I think Brian Tracy, personal development author, said it best: “Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”
He hit the nail on the head. It’s near impossible to accomplish much by always doing the same thing; we’ve got to branch out in order to develop our careers and our characters. Unfortunately, the majority of us weren’t born fearless and outgoing, so it’s not always easy to eagerly jump into unfamiliar territory. Feeling comfortable trying new things generally takes time and practice. As an example, I used to think of networking events as horrible nightmares. True story. I’ve always been a social person when it comes to my friends, but frankly, the thought of hanging out in a room full of strangers made my palms sweaty. Shortly after moving to a new city, a co-worker was finally able to convince me to attend a meet & greet with her after work one day. I was nervous walking in, but over the course of the evening, I met several friendly, intelligent people who were easy to chat with, and I went home feeling recharged and inspired. I attended a few more networking events after that, and it appeared that meeting wonderful people and learning all sorts of new things was a recurring theme. That “maybe this isn’t so bad” soon turned into an “I can’t wait for the next event” and now I absolutely love getting out of my comfort zone and going out to parties or events where I don’t know anyone, because I know that something positive will come out of the experience – whether it’s a new friend, a quality business contact, or at the very least, an interesting conversation.
So what’s the secret to getting out of your comfort zone? It’s actually very simple: Just say “yes”! The next time you’re invited to something that sounds like it would be beyond your realm of comfort, immediately agree to go. RSVP before you even have time to think about it. After you’ve said yes, I suggest doing your best not to think about it until the day of, so you don’t have a chance to overthink it, get nervous, and back out.
Don’t forget that moving out of your comfort zone applies to all aspects of life, not just networking. And, the more often you do it, the easier it gets. Play a new sport. Enroll in Spanish classes. Take yourself out for a nice dinner. Sign up for Toastmasters. Anything you’d typically dismiss because it sounds like it could be awkward – just go for it! 99% of the time, it’s always more fun than it is awkward, and there will always be something valuable to take away from the experience.