At university, I would occasionally be assigned group work, with an assessed presentation given to the class. Naturally, everyone groaned at the prospect of having to work together.
For me, this presented two unique challenges:
- I liked working by myself and would usually sit back when the professor gave us group work.
- Public speaking — even to 15 people — scared the shit out of me. But it mattered, so I needed to clamber out of the comfort zone.
As you grow, whether it be at university or 13 years into your career, you’re presented with necessary tasks that require unpleasant action.
What matters professionally is typically terrifying on a personal level.
No longer is it acceptable to have one skill — you need to become a multi-faceted person to be considered successful. That requires getting out of your comfort zone, which is easier said than done. Here’s how you do it.
Step 1: Be honest with yourself
More often than not, you’ll present reasons why you couldn’t do something which acts as a cover. When a recruitment agent me invited to attend a ‘graduate day,’ I searched for every possible excuse not to go — my job, pre-made plans, ticket fares — the works. In reality, I was scared.
More often than not, people suppress the real reason in favour of a more manageable one. You’re scared of confronting yourself. You didn’t ask your boss for a raise because you are ‘preoccupied,’ you were scared of sounding presumptuous.
How to take action: As you try to find an excuse, ask yourself how you would react if a friend told you the same thing. Would you question them? If so, perhaps it is time to start questioning yourself.
Step 2: Understand what works for you
If you know you hate public speaking to mass crowds, then perhaps big networking meetings aren’t for you. Instead, the Harvard Business Review suggests working with what you’ve got. Search for smaller groups at the convention, or go out for a coffee.
It’s like eating mushrooms. As a kid, I found them disgusting. When my mum cooked them in a creamy sauce, I’d enjoy them. Over the years, I became accustomed to the taste, and now I love them. I worked with what I knew about myself and eventually changed my view.
To put it simply: stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t need to be a giant leap. It can be a hop, skip and a jump. Make the behaviour your own.
How to take action: Ask your co-workers/your friends and family what your best attributes are. They likely no you better than you do, and won’t cover any realities with false excuses. Additionally, numerous studies have found that your co-workers are more likely to know how your personality will affect your performance.
Step 3: Go for it
I was not too fond of group work, but by this stage in my degree, I knew what would happen. If someone didn’t organise it, the presentation would be a shambles, and I’d bemoan my low grade.
So, I took charge. But not all at once. I wasn’t used to leadership, so I found everyone’s emails, split them into groups of two and gave them all a subject to do — sending me their finished pieces so I could put them together.
It worked a treat.
From then on, I have been less afraid to ask for what I want. When I first started writing, I was tentative in reaching out to other writers. I’d have a few brief conversations with individuals. Now, I am part of a Mastermind group as a result of merely asking.
Let’s say the promotion you want requires more public speaking, but you aren’t very assertive. Standing up in front of a huge crowd isn’t going to help. Instead, take baby steps. Address the people you are close with and see how it feels.
Tweak what you know you can do with what is necessary. Dip your toes in before you dive.
How to take action: Every step of the way, ask people you trust for their honest feedback. If they genuinely care about you, chances are they will help you.
I’ve never looked back at an uncomfortable experience fondly. It’s the lessons learned which are the most important thing. Along the way, you will struggle. I arrived at the ‘graduate day’ and immediately felt out of my depth. It didn’t progress any further, but I learned a lot about myself. I knew what I didn’t want to do, which steered me down the path I’m on now.
As for the presentation, my group got a first. Stepping out of the comfort zone can be successful or subject to failure, but it isn’t hugely important. Of course, it’s hard to look past at the time, but you’ve allowed yourself to grow. Be honest, understand what works for you, and go for it.
Thank yourself later.