'Gritty people train at the edge of their comfort zone. They zero in on one narrow aspect of their performance and set a stretch goal to improve it.' ~ Angela DuckworthClick To Tweet
Several months ago I made a commitment that was well outside my comfort zone. I agreed to give an important speech at an important event.
“Big deal,” I hear you say, “I give speeches all the time”.
But this was no ordinary speech…
I would deliver it entirely in a language other than my own. In front of a crowd of native speakers.
At the time I made the commitment the event was months away. But by the day before, I was beside myself. And on the day itself (it was in the evening) I could think of very little else except how terrified I was that I would fumble it, and inadvertently say something offensive.
The best I was hoping for was ‘well-intentioned but incomprehensible’.
In this article I’d like to share with you what I learned from my ordeal, and what it can teach all of us about our comfort zone.
People will help you, if you ask…
Midway through the afternoon I realised that I could practise all I wanted by myself, but I really had no idea whether what I was saying was able to be understood.
So I reached out to two of my colleagues who are fluent speakers, and I explained my predicament. I asked for their help.
What came next was the most generous, supportive and kind engagement I’ve experienced for a long time. They listened, they gave me some suggestions. They drew attention to similar things they have trouble with. They helped tweak the speech a little so that a particularly difficult piece was a little bit easier…
I have never been so humbled.
…And they will go out of their way to lift you up.
After our speech coaching session, unbeknownst to me, they spoke to some other people about what I was doing, and how impressed they’d been (which I’m pretty sure was them being incredibly kind!) which resulted in me receiving further encouragement and support from more people.
At this point, I started to believe I might actually be able to do it.
Getting out of your comfort zone is seldom as scary as you think…
'Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.' ~ Brian TracyClick To Tweet
Now I confess, public speaking doesn’t really phase me – so I appreciate that many people trying to do what I planned to do would have had the double whammy of stage-fright and fear of butchering a beautiful language. But the latter still meant that I experienced all the things I would assume are associated with a fear of public speaking.
My heart was racing, my palms were sweaty, I was certain I was about to disappear through a hole in the floor… Or maybe that was what I wanted to happen…
But I stood up anyway. I went to the lectern anyway. I took out my notes anyway. And I delivered my speech.
Time stood still. I was hyper-aware of every murmur and mutter in the audience. I was sure they were wondering what I was doing and who did I think I was – but I kept going. And I finished it.
…And you feel amazing afterwards.
'As you move outside of your comfort zone, what was once the unknown and frightening becomes your new normal.' ~ Robin S. SharmaClick To Tweet
I think I heard applause but that may just have been in my head. If there was applause, that would have been very special, because it wasn’t a ceremony where applause was usual. I hugged my colleague who was speaking next, and I returned to my seat – gliding on a cloud of relief and elation.
I seriously spent the next 24 hours convinced I could do pretty much anything I turned my mind to.
You get to add one more string to your bow…
Forever afterward you can say “I did that. I can do that again.” And from that moment on you are just a little bit more confident. A little more self-assured. A little more bullet-proof.
…and you gain new insight into the capabilities of others.
I have the deep and enduring privilege to work with a number of men and women for whom english is not their first language or who are fluent in two or more languages. This experience – though remarkable to me – is something that they have now normalised.
There is a regular reader and commenter to this Blog who does not speak english as his first language, and yet he regularly engages with me on the subtle semantic distinctions between two concepts, or leadership principles, or human foibles.
I am in awe of you all. And I am grateful for the richness we gain as a society from multilingual engagement. I am grateful for the ways we gain new understanding of language from the brave polyglots who go so far as to learn to think in another language.
And I can’t help but think that humanity could do with a few more people who can walk in more than one world at a time, regardless of whether or not it is within their comfort zone.
Can you imagine what would happen if all the high achievers in the world actually stood up and were counted? Little problems, big problems, global problems, local problems… they’d all become things that could be solved. Not quickly, but gradually.
To whet your appetite, I’ve created a little sneak peak of the system I’ve created to do just that. It’s an eBook called Leading From Within: Getting Started.
You can get it in three different ways, depending on your preference:
But whatever you do, don’t settle for another year of feeling unfulfilled. It’s a massive waste, considering your talents, skills and experience.
Let’s make a difference, and get something happening!