6.03.2009

Venturing Outside Your Comfort Zone

*Updated at the foot of the post.*

This post is different than anything I've put up in a while. I've been staying away from long-form writing, knowing most folks (i.e. myself) who browse the blogosphere have the attention spans of a housefly. Indulge me this once, if you will. As a reward, you may be inspired to do something completely ridiculous in the coming weeks. If you do, please come back and let me know so I can applaud your efforts ... or laugh with at you, as the situation warrants.

"We've got to leave everything on the floor. We can't take nothin' home with us."

Those were the words of a Boston Celtic's player (who missed the memo on double negatives in grammar school) during last year's NBA finals. The Celtics did indeed leave it all on the court and went home with the championship. A coincidence? Methinks not.

His advice isn't just relevant to ballerz. Swap out the basketball court with life in general and you've got yourself great words to live by. To have the best shot at success, you've got to put it all out there and hold nothing back. And why not? Like the man says, in the end, you can't take it with you.

For the past few months, I've been putting his advice into action: pursuing new experiences, new relationships, and new opportunities without abandon. Every night, I ask myself, "What did I learn today that I didn't know yesterday? In what ways am I better than I was the day before?" Sounds simple enough, right? It is, but how many of us can truly say we make a conscious effort to grow every single day? I know I didn't for years. It takes a commitment to move beyond your comfort zone. It doesn't come naturally.

Stretching yourself beyond your comfort zone—putting everything out there and leaving it on the floor, if you will—is a crucial part of personal growth. Of late, I have forced myself to do things that make me uncomfortable, nervous, even sick-to-my-stomach because I know in the end, I'll have broadened my life experiences and, at the very least, have a good story to tell.

Just this week, I've done everything from hip-hop dancing in front of a group of black youths to singing karaoke to doing an interview on a nationally-syndicated political radio show. (The radio interview taught me that much like some folks have a face for radio, I have a voice for print.) Those three things may not sound like much to someone else, but I've been painfully self-conscious about my dancing, singing, and public speaking skills (or lack thereof) for years. As a result, these are precisely the types of experiences I choose to pursue.

As a general rule, the value of moving out of your comfort zone probably won't be found in the act itself. (I don't intend to become a break dancer or the next singing sensation. I know. You're disappointed.) The value lies in the fact that you're pushing yourself outside of the box.

While I believe there is an additional benefit that comes from doing those things you dread the most, there can be value in most any new experience, whether it's using a new word, trying a new food, starting a new business, or talking to a stranger in line at Walmart. (Especially if that stranger turns out to be fabulously wealthy, goes home and stumbles across your blog, and overcome by a spirit of generosity, hits the "donate button" ... Oh, sorry, I must have been daydreaming for a minute.) The key is to take yourself off cruise control. Take the time to reflect on what you learned and how you can apply that knowledge to improve your future.

It's an obvious fact, but I'll state it anyway: everyone likes doing what they're already good at, and no one likes looking ridiculous. But it's the people who pursue life without abandon, leaving everything on the floor knowing they can take nothing home, who have no regrets. Having put it all out there, they never have to look back and wonder "What if?" Instead, they wonder "What if I don't?" To these types, the reality that who they are, what they love, what they're good at (and what they're not) may go forever unknown if they don't lay it all out is enough to make living through those first awkward moments of a new experience not just bearable but desirable.

I wonder how many of us have hidden gifts, passions, or purposes left unnoticed and unused because we haven't done the requisite legwork to discover them? How much untapped potential is lying dormant that could radically change our lives and the lives of those around us if we'd only venture beyond our limits and leave it all on the "floor"?

Just something to think about.

UPDATE:

Loyal readers (hi, mom!) know that HotMES and I have had our share of tiffs (jello-wrestling, anyone?), but we’re calling a truce, at least for now. HotMES agrees that life is much more awesome when you’re willing to take chances. She has a carpe diem approach to life which I think puts the “hot” in the “HotMES.” Read her thoughts here. All the cool kids are doing it.

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous3.6.09

    This blog is food for thought to those of us who live in the "comfort zone". I had a pastor once say to me, "Never forget how to color outside the lines", I think I need to heed his adivce and yours today.

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  2. Quite possibly the best blog you've written. Ya know, next to the whole "Suzanna wants to be a stripper" one. (That's way up there because of the teasing potential.)

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  3. Michael David Martin3.6.09

    Excellent post. And don't I know it. My life changed dramatically in completely fortuitous ways when I finally summoned the courage to play music in public. Before that, it changed dramatically in completely fortuitous ways when I changed careers and moved diagonally all the way across the country (GA to OR). One of the keys here is that taking the big step outside your comfort zone rewards you in ways you cannot imagine, let alone predict. I congratulate you for discovering your courageousness much earlier in life than I did!

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  4. Fantastic blog post!! Congratulations on the above accomplishments in your life this week.

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  5. Well, glad you're getting it straight with HotMES...

    You're both too, well, hot, to be fighting!

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  6. Suzanna this was an amazing post. Very thought provoking and contemplating.

    I commend you for stepping out there and doing new things. Maybe I will try something new that furthers my knowledge.

    Again, great job.

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  7. Probably the best thing to do. It is to try something new every time that you can. A friend found out that he can be a professional runner because he tried it out.

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