ESCAPING THE COMFORT ZONE

I can’t do public speaking.

This was the first thought that crossed my mind when I was asked to speak to a group of MSC students as part of their Professional Development Programme a couple of weeks ago. It was one of those deeply entrenched, rarely contemplated Facts About Myself; like how you know if you suit hats, or whether or not you’re a fan of Marmite.

In some respects, it’s strange that the thought made me so nervous. Most people who know me see me as a confident person. Even my husband was perplexed. “Why? You love being in a crowd, you love speaking aloud, you love trying new things. It’s what makes you, you.”

But this felt different, and it didn’t take me long to work out why. Public speaking meant pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Navigating a social situation is one thing and speaking not to, but at a large group of strangers is another. I felt like I’d be inviting them to judge me, and frankly, the idea filled me with unease.

But then I had another thought: maybe that’s the point. If there’s one thing that getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t make you feel, it’s secure. And on the subject, what exactly did I think I’d been doing for the last decade? Kicking back and relaxing?

In 2008, I was fed up with being in my comfort zone. I upped sticks from the sleepy Lincolnshire town I’d grown up in. I left my safe, reliable job of 8 years. I moved to Birmingham – an unfamiliar city, where the only familiar resident was my sister. I started a new job. I pushed myself so far outside my comfort zone that all the things that once seemed daunting became the new norm.

Professionally, over the last 10 years, I’ve spoken at events, networked, presented at pitches, and lead proposals. I’ve headed up projects, I’ve volunteered, I’ve ran training events. In group discussions, I’ve forced myself to push past the initial discomfort of sharing the experience and knowledge that I have. The confidence that people see in me wasn’t always there: I’ve built it up. Even now, as part of my monthly leadership development course at Aston Business School, I find myself meeting new people and trying new things nearly constantly.

The same follows for my personal life. In 2016, I joined a running club. Not long afterwards, I ran the Birmingham half-marathon – something I would never have thought I could do. A year later, I ran the London marathon. I haven’t always been a passionate runner, but I wanted to keep pushing myself. Above all, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it.

When the time came for me to speak at the event, I realised something as soon as I got up there and started speaking: it was ok! I stood there, facing my fears – and it wasn’t half as bad as I’d imagined. Getting outside your comfort zone can be an intimidating prospect, and it certainly takes a bit of practice. But whether you’re looking to do it for professional development or for your personal life, sometimes you just have to dredge up whatever self-belief you have in your arsenal and do the scary thing you’ve been putting off, because knowing you can do it makes it all worth it. As Henry Ford once said, “whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”

Credit - Emma Wright