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Traveling Outside Your Comfort Zone: Reprise

By Victoria Plettner-Saunders

This is a reprint from a blog post I wrote back in 2012 for my vpscartographie website.

I’m sharing it again, because it resonates with me as I begin a new year and forge new partnerships in an effort to build my professional consulting practice. This time around I feel less out of my comfort zone and more confident about risk-taking then I ever felt back in 2012. But the words of advice here can still stand the test of time… enjoy!

Traveling Outside Your Comfort Zone

So how do you keep yourself feeling strong when you’re feeling a little behind the curve?

Starting a new venture has me working way outside my zones of comfort and technical expertise. While I’ve been enjoying the creativity of trying something new, excited by testing my limits of living with risk and ambiguity and charged by absorbing vast amounts of new information, I’ve also found myself being just exhausted by day’s end from all the work required to communicate with and take in this unfamiliar world.

It reminds me of when I was in Paris on my honeymoon and had only limited memory of my college French lessons. Everything seemed to take so much more energy – my husband and I still laugh about my break down around day three when I tried to order a coffee at a posh bakery and couldn’t seem to get the barista to understand me. I finally left in tears saying “Just take me to Starbucks.” Not being able to communicate easily was a real shock to my personal sense of competency. I just wanted to go somewhere where I could successfully accomplish a simple task for myself like requesting a double tall nonfat latte without having my husband step in (again) and order it for me (his French is better than mine).

As smart, independent and fully capable people it’s not always easy to be at the front end of a learning curve.

Recently I took on a few side projects writing grants to help out a colleague while picking up a little extra money.  Having grown weary of coming up with new ways to write compelling case statements and burned out on budget forms, I’d been fending off requests to write grant proposals over the last few years.  But with the downturn of the economy and a long rest from the proposal world, I decided it couldn’t hurt to pick up some short-term work.

Yesterday while reflecting on the past week, I realized that my old frustrations with grant writing have been replaced by comforting feelings of knowing exactly what I’m doing. I could write proposals in my sleep, which over time had made it just unchallenging work. Now however, writing grant proposals again has returned me to familiar territory. The grant writing terrain is one that I navigate with ease and success. It is a world in which I feel competent and full of expertise. It has become the balancing mechanism for all of the feelings of inexperience and confusion that my new project can bring me on a daily basis.

Whether you’re feeling insecure because you’re starting a new job, or frustrated by yet another résumé rejection notice, or doing something else that feels uncomfortably outside of your realm of easy expertise, see if you can identify an activity that you enjoy and that you know you do well. Then do it. Make sure that every day you engage in some activity that reminds you that you are competent and successful. It can be running a 5k or whipping up a batch of killer brownies or using your skills to help a help a friend solve a problem.

Finding strength from within means regularly reminding yourself that you are a highly gifted person even if you’re not feeling it or if the rest of the world doesn’t seem to understand how smart and well-qualified you are.

If you have a trick that helps you keep your chin up and shoulders back that you’d like to share with others I’d love to hear it.