Growth only happens outside of our comfort zone, there is no growth, no sense of accomplishment, and no motivation to keep moving until we do just a bit more than we’ve ever done before. If you don’t take risks, you’ll never be any better at anything than you are today, and you’ll be at significant risk of backsliding even further into what feels safe.
I’m an Introvert, and my natural default social “setting” is painfully shy. I don’t like crowds, I don’t like loud noises, and strangers fill me with an acute sense of panic; but, I’m addicted to the sense of accomplishment I feel when I walk confidently into a crowd and meet someone new.
When I was younger I was always afraid to try new things, they sounded great in principle – a week away in the woods at the Girl Guides’ Doe Lake Summer camp – and then reality would come crashing down – you won’t know anyone and if you hate it you won’t be able to leave. Well I loved it so much, that the second year I went for two weeks, and then for a whole month; and surviving it taught me one of my most important comfort zone stretching techniques. I imagine the very worst that can happen, decide that I can handle it, and then I remember its never as bad as you think its going to be, I’ve got this.
Its never as bad as you think its going to be – is still the mind hack I use to face stressful situations; one of the added bonuses of having a nerve calming belief-set is that I can often either completely or mostly eliminate stress just by letting it go, I sleep better than most people I know, most of the time, and I believe that it was this early willingness to stretch my boundaries that helped me develop this ability to almost instantly calm-the-f-down.
Of course unlike the risk taking I engage in as an adult, my try anything once attitude is thanks to my father – as a young child I probably would have backed out of camp, or kept training wheels on my bike until I was 12, or never really learned to just about anything, if my dad hadn’t been there to assure me that you can do anything if you just try. That, and I was scared to death of disappointing him – still am since I’m trying to be as honest as possible on this blog.
So, what got me thinking about risk taking for growth this week? Well 7 years ago this week I was in Lima, Peru, my first time in South America, my first time seeing the Pacific, and my first time traveling solo outside of North America – although that comes a bit later in the story. I left Toronto on the night of August 19, 2011 and landed in Peru sometime after mid-night on August 20 accompanied by my then-boss … let’s call her Ruth, shall we?
While I have drawn the line at eating raw chopped beef in Turkey, I will eat almost anything at home or abroad (at least I’ll try it once), I’ve been known to eat sushi the night before a transatlantic flight (probably not smart), and I devoured Peruvian specialties like ceviche – over the rigorous objections of my travel companion – and pisco sours (although if I’d known about the raw egg, I might have thought twice). I know that many think of me as a picky eater because I don’t like carrots, or white rice, or potatoes… but, I have developed a truly international pallet by pushing my boundaries. My only regret from that leg of the trip has got to be not going hang gliding off the cliffs of Lima when I had my chance (something else I was reminded of this week).
Despite my raw fish eating, my biggest risk taking in Peru happened when I ventured out on my own. As mentioned above, upon separating from my boss (who headed back to Toronto), I was on my own, in a country where I know how to say “please”, “thank you”, and “still water, please” (that last one is helpful when the tap water isn’t safe to drink). Oh, and I wasn’t really sure what I would be met with at the Cusco airport – because, the tour operator I chose (because it was the cheapest) didn’t have anyone in their call centre who spoke English, so the whole thing had been arranged through my travel agent and the confirmation email didn’t really seem “that” official.
Take risks my friends, fly (literally) fearlessly into the unknown. On August 28, 2011 I got my passport stamped at Machu Picchu; my tour group included a delegate from the conference I had been attending, as well as her Mom and Sister (who live in my hometown of Markham, Ontario), and a lovely lady from Wales who was traveling with her Son and a Friend – her calling for a G&T Sherpa at each rest added levity to a hot day at high altitude. The tour guide didn’t speak the best English, but it took care of us, by calling out “picture place” when we came upon famous views of the city. All-in-all it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, with the added bonus of having made me a more confident traveller.
Step outside of your comfort zone, into the growth zone my friends. Find the things that scare you, and then own them, that’s where the magic happens.