Danielle Valenti tells us how facing death - her mom's and then her own - teaches us to LIVE an AWAKE life. And her trip to Bali this week is just the newest chapter in her incredible life journey.Read More
We find it in the darkest corners, lingering, waiting, anticipating when we may stumble upon it, as we only notice it when it is needed, when it is absolutely necessary. This thing, this force hiding in the shadows, is a force so powerful that it alone has transformed the world we know. It has ended wars, and started them, it has enabled us to explore and conquer unknown lands, and through its use, has given people the voice to stand up for what they believe in. This force is something we have all felt, is something we all know, is something we all posses; it goes by the name of courage.
Courage can take many shapes and forms. It can come in the form of quitting that job you've absolutely hated, getting out of the relationship that has brought you down, or even exploring a new relationship you've been too timid, to shy, to pursue. Boiling it down, courage is about on thing; following your heart, your intuition, wherever it may take you, no matter how far.
My recent bought of courage came somewhat recently when I decided to quit a job I so loved for something completely unknown and foreign ( literally). I decided to move to Thailand to explore teaching English abroad. I had always heard about TESL opportunities, but I felt like the timing was never right, like there was always something holding me back. Until I realized that the only thing holding me back from what seemed to be an experience of a lifetime, was in fact, myself.
I left when I did because I was unhappy with the life I was leading, the direction in which I was going. While I sincerely loved Cleveland and all the things and people that came along with the city, my heart was, and always had been, set on something so far beyond the world I knew. I wanted to explore, I wanted to learn, and I above all else wanted to see if I had it in me, had the courage, to make my dream a tangible reality.
Now here I am, residing in Bangkok, one week out from becoming a certified ESL teacher. I will be teaching at a local kindergarten as a homeroom teacher. While so different than any job I've had before, I know with my whole being that the only place I'm meant to be is here, in Southeast Asia, living a life I never thought possible. Until the impossible became the possible, simply because I believed whole heartedly that I could do it, no matter how scared I may have been.
We all have the opportunity to tap into the power of courage nearly every day. The things that scare you, the things that you want to do but are just too afraid to do, the things that both entice you and intrigue you, should not be pushed to the side. No, not at all. They should be looked at, stared at, and pursed. Like a lion pursuing its prey. Because those are the things reminding us we are alive, that we are powerful and can overcome, that we are bold, and that we are, beyond all doubt and hesitation, courageous.
Courage, Dear Heart. - C.S. Lewis
Please put your phones down, instagram and snapchat will be waiting for you when I am through, I promise.
Your questions about the future are complicated. They are difficult, revolve around fear, and you have every reason to feel that way. I will not lie to you - life will eat you alive some days and spit you out just to repeat the grueling process the next day. Our world is changing at an incredible pace and it is natural to feel apprehension about the open road ahead of you - especially when the road is clouded by the opinions of your friends, family, and your own confusion.
Do you know what courage is my darlings? Of course you do. Courage is taking care of your baby sister when your mom has to work three shifts. Courage is showing up to school when you would rather be anywhere else. Courage is owning your shit & apologizing. Courage is finding your voice in a sea of text messages, 140 character voices, and perfect snap-shots of life. Courage is standing next to your classmate when they are being treated un-fairly. Courage is telling me that you are having a hard time understanding what a metaphor is. Courage is when you offer a lunch seat to a freshman that is lost in the sea of cliques and ridiculous expectations. These acts of courage will NOT receive 500 likes on social media. You will often roll your eyes or get clammy hands at the thought of being courageous. But please trust me when I promise that these moments will transform your present into the glorious future that is patiently awaiting your arrival.
'Ms. Costa, how can I have courage when I have no clue what or who I want to become in the future?' Wonderful question. Courage, dear heart is a phrase and practice that will empower your heart to pursue what is calling it forward. It is NOT about having all of the answers at once. Courage, dear heart will remind you that it is ENCOURAGED to screw up. To make mistakes and to feel upside-down-inside-out.
Have the courage inside your heart to pursue what you visualize at night in the quiet of your dark room. Those thoughts that are protected from the fear of rejection & failure. I'll meet you in those thoughts with support and a reassuring, "Courage, dear heart. You're on the right path, even if you don't trust it. Now go out and make small steps to pursue those thoughts, you don't need to protect them anymore."
Fail fast and fail often at what tugs at your attention and have the courage to walk away from the cynics and doubters that make you feel LESS for having the courage to fail. You will always have a place in my classroom when you are bruised, crushed, or defeated- I will be here to remind you Courage, dear heart & then send you back on your path.
Will there be opportunities to demonstrate tremendous courage? Of course. If you have the chance and capability to pull a baby out of a burning building - by all means, please do. But what I am focusing on, my darlings, is the ability to tell yourself at the end of the day, "I am willing to try again tomorrow." This is courage.
That small voice wants to be empowered - it wants to reassure your fears and doubts. Let it. I would much rather hear about 500 small moments when you reminded yourself that you are willing and able to try again, than to hear ONE act of tremendous courage.
What is more tremendous than your own life? My darlings, these small moments of courage ARE tremendous because I hate to break it to you, if you don't fight for yourself & your future, nobody will.
Courage, dear heart is choosing to be open to love even after your heart was thrown in a meat grinder and made into a hamburger. Courage, dear heart is smiling at a stranger instead of your phone. Courage, dear heart is not about comparison. Courage, dear heart is allowing your heart and intuition to lead you instead of letting society shrink it into submission. Courage, dear heart is looking at every small decision in your life and asking yourself, "is this true to who I am?" Courage, dear heart is recognizing that it is not EASY to act with courage. But when the time comes to see your life flash before your eyes, I can guarentee that you will be glad you did.
Courage, dear heart is my one friendly reminder to you all. This is not my secret to success, or my 'get-rich-quick-mo-money-no-problems' philosophy (you know me better than that by now.) It has simply been a light in the light-house that guided me home to my true self. As I live my life with a courageous heart, I hope to unconsciously give you permission to find your way home to your true self. Courage, dear heart is about discovering your incredibly talented, masterfully created, phenomenal self. It's patching up the wounds & allowing every single experience to shape you into the ultimate WHO and WHAT you are striving to be.
My darlings, that true self deserves to be celebrated during the entire journey -- not just at the finish line.
Have Courage, my dear hearts.
Nikki Costa is a SYS ambassador, high school English teacher, yoga instructor in CLE Ohio and believer in love, community and sharing all the feels.
Join Nikki and hundreds of other courageous people around the world for this week's Scare Your Soul Challenge!
It’s here. The weekend of my first full marathon. Before you write me off as ‘one of those’ people…the crazy runner types, give me a chance. Although I do have an affinity for vegetables, and am almost always down for breaking a sweat, running has never really been my jam. And yet, here I am. A runner.
Now that it’s go time, people have been asking me “Are you ready?” and “Are you excited?” and “Are you nervous?”
Who knows, not yet, and hell yes.
So why am I doing this? Well, let’s back up a bit.
I’ve always wanted to make an impact on the world. When I was 5 I would practice my ‘autograph’ for my Mom, claiming she was “my people”. Never one to be strongly motivated by external forces, I really have always just wanted to live up to my greatest potential. To challenge myself.
As I’ve gained 25 whole years of wisdom, I continue to seek out inspiration and ways to be my best self. When I think of the people I admire, people who are changing the world, or really embody courage, I notice one thing. They’ve been through hell in one way or another. Sometimes self-imposed, working a full-time job with a side hustle to fulfill a passion, and sometimes due to reasons you would never wish on another person. Yet they prevail. I have the utmost respect for people who persevere.
When you lean in and lead your life courageously, you emerge stronger.
I want to know how strong I can be.
What a crazy thing…to wish hardship upon myself. It feels unmentionable; I would seem ungrateful, which I’m not. So I don’t speak my desires, but that pushes it further down beneath more socially acceptable desires people can relate to.
But here’s the thing. When I’m outside my comfort zone and get those butterflies or thumping heart, something happens. Every. Single. Time. Even if I fail. I am proud.
In a day and age where we tend to measure ourselves with Instagram likes and fancy clothes, I want to change the scale. To measure my success, my impact on the world based upon whether I’m living courageously, as my best self. To go to bed feeling like I grew that day.
Courage is such a personal thing. I work in prisons with no hesitation, yet running for a few hours has me wound up like a spring. Something so many others have conquered. But that’s not what it’s about.
What is it for you, that thing you think just maybe you could attempt but you just… haven’t yet?
Running started with my best friend suggesting we train for a half marathon. I like having a goal to work on, so I said sure. We trained through a hot summer, and I might have shed a few tears through an IT band flare up, but damnit, we finished. It felt good.
A few months later, after falling off the running train (see said injury and loss of motivation), Meghan texted me and said “Cleveland marathon prices go up at the end of the month…want to sign up?” A sucker for a good deal and an adventure, again I relished the opportunity to push myself and commit on a whim.
This time was different. Only a couple weeks later, Meghan would get sick, spending over a month in the hospital including intensive surgery and ultimately, a diagnosis.
Stage 3 colon cancer.
When your 25 year old, seemingly healthy best friend has a life-changing moment like this, what the hell do you do? What can you do? I couldn’t change it, or make it better no matter how many puns and coloring books and flowers she received.
But I could run. Not for Meghan, not really. But because I was lucky enough to be able to do so. I ran through the hail of Cleveland in May as she cheered me on, and again I registered for half #3. I haven’t gone for a run since March without gratitude that I am able to do so, and without thinking of my friend who should be by my side. Patience.
So I kept running, and it got a little easier. I thought about switching to a full marathon, but I was busy, excuse, I didn’t have enough time to train properly, excuse, excuse, f-it I’m doing it, ready or not.
My whole perspective of courage has changed as I watch my brave friend face cancer, adamant that we all focus on “positive vibes only”. How can she be so strong? Because she refuses negativity.
Focus. Courage requires breath-taking honesty. With others, and with ourselves. The vulnerability to admit you’re scared, but do it anyways. That’s what I’m working on. Big and small.
Yesterday marked Meghan’s final day of chemotherapy. As we lined the bridge outside the treatment center and celebrated her courage, she jumped up for joy, the most vibrant example of life I can imagine. In no way will I compare my running journey to her journey of health on an even playing field. Yet both have required patience, focus, support and persistence. Courage.
It’s okay for life to be shitty. Just don’t let it stop there.
Because if life is ‘fine’ every single day, or every single step, what are you striving for?
We have one life, as far as we know. Tomorrow, I will run to feel proud, to feel scared, possibly to fail, and know that I’ll be okay even if I do.
Here’s to 26 before 26. Here’s to positive vibes only.
High achievers have an ingrained drive within ourselves which makes it easy to accomplish any achievements we set our sights on, therefore having courage seems like a no-brainer. It wasn’t until I dissected and observed where my own motivations stemmed from that I truly understood a deeper layer of courage.
In reflection, my milestones and accumulation of achievements was a fancy title job with a handsome salary, an adorable little Spanish style home in Southern California just miles from the beach, umpteen years married to my college sweetheart, with two amazing kids that blessed my life. I couldn’t be luckier to have a doting son that every mother dreams of and a daughter who is carbon copy mini version of myself, attitude and all in a pint size frame.
It was easy to create all of that. It was simply the natural progression of good ole’ fashion hard work, going with the flow, and doing what was expected of me.
However, it wasn’t so easy when it all fell apart. After 30+ years of people pleasing and seeking validation, all the balls I was juggling finally dropped. It was the first time I had to take a hard look at my life and these amazing milestones, only to ask myself if this was what I really wanted because I sure wasn’t happy anymore.
Up until this point, I didn’t understand that all my accomplishments were mostly motivated by external factors and a gaping need for love and validation. I successfully suppressed most of my feelings and allowed myself to get wrapped up in managing the day to day of life, living with monotony and dread. It took a health scare to shake me out of it.
What was so easy to create had now become one of the hardest things I had to face. I had to look at myself and find my truth. After years of suppressing feelings, doing what was expected, asking myself if my life fit me anymore was one of the scariest thing I had to do.
It took every ounce of courage to start being honest with myself, feel my pain, then own my part in it. It took MORE courage to decide what would bring me the most happiness. I needed to start to break the patterns of not speaking up and not asking for what I need. It took EVEN MORE courage to have uncomfortable conversations about it with the people I cared the most about and then act upon making the improvements.
For me, it has been a moment by moment process necessary in order to live a life that is driven and truly inspired from within. Courage has become a way of life.
I highly recommend building a habit around courage.
Check in with yourself daily.
- “What courageous thing I have done today”
- “What is the most courageous thing I can do right now?”
- “What courageous thing can I do tomorrow?”
Try it. I promise, it's the most liberating thing you can do for yourself.
It has been for me.
I grew up in a loving, talking family, where there were deep connected relationships and friendships and a lot of support. I married young and emigrated from London to the US. I had three children and during that period as my marriage imploded, I lost the courage to speak.
I was acting and living from a place of loyalty and what I felt were expectations for who I should be, how I should act, what I should be thinking and saying. I did not speak what I was truly feeling.
Courage is defined as: “the ability to do something that frightens one;” & “the strength in the face of pain or grief.” I did not have the ability to do something that frightened me – I did not want to open the door to the inevitable criticism and the fact that I would have to always take the blame – because I did not have the strength to face the pain.
How did I handle this? I kept clear boxes around my thoughts, feelings and actions. I am great at thinking – I have a PhD in cognitive neuroscience and a loads of trainings. I am great at acting – whether it’s child-related & home-related actions like painting & knitting, cooking, breastfeeding, after school activities, friends – seeing them, connecting with them, or personal – doing trainings, starting my own Coaching business, exercising my mind & body.
What I lost during my unhappy marriage, was the ability to feel – to see whether my actions and thoughts were giving me joy and were in alignment. The self-work I have actively pursued through during the last 8 years – as a result of my child’s cancer, my son’s diagnoses which required OT, PT, therapy, my marriage imploding, my beloved cousin’s death of leukemia at the young age of 37 – had a catalytic effect on how I engage. I definitely & defiantly increased my strength in the face of pain & grief.
I was always able to ask questions – in fact my ex-husband always used to get annoyed with what he called my toddler-like need to constantly ask questions. What I have had to relearn was how to connect my questions to my own feelings.
For that, I had to learn how to listen to myself. To listen deeply. And then when I heard myself, to have the courage to speak. In yogic texts we work on aligning and unblocking our chakras – my work was in my solar plexus (self-worth, self-esteem) and my throat chakra (communication, self-expression), which, ironically are below and above the heart chakra – which was, of course, deeply wounded, following the end of a 16 year relationship.
Here are my personal tips for cultivating the Courage to Speak:
1) Meditate daily – meditation cultivates self-awareness and a friendliness with your own mind. If you can’t take the time to slow down and look at your mind, you won’t cultivate the ability to listen to yourself
2) Talk about the things that upset, confuse you – therapists, friends, coaches. Getting things out in the open, having someone reflect them back to you, is a vital part of perspective, healing and listening to yourself
3) Create free mental space – running, journaling, folding laundry – allow your mind the space to wonder and see what comes up & if it’s sadness, feel into the grief process, but watch that you don’t get stuck there.
Now, my friends, family & clients know that I am, in the most part, integrated and aligned around the courage to speak. I embody the lack of fear which means I am not afraid to ask the questions that need to be asked because I have the strength to face what comes at me. This self-growth never stops, and is a huge part of how I live my life & how I encourage those around me to live.
Tamsin Astor, PhD
Coach | Consultant | Speaker
Most of my friends know that I quit my job to take a one-year sabbatical. What they don’t know is that I called my boss 5 days later to ask for my job back.
So why was I quitting my job? Several friends tried to talk sense to me. This was the time that I needed to contribute towards my 401k. Through long hours, I had earned a good reputation in the company and thus was given certain perks – so why leave now?
But the truth is that I was burnt-out and settling. I was bored with doing the same work every day, I wasn’t feeling challenged, and I was tired of investing too much of myself into the company.
To be honest, I probably should have quit sooner. I was just scared. So I did what we all do. I complained to friends over a beer. I vented with coworkers around the water cooler. I used my vacation days to go on adventure-filled trips abroad to combat my boredom.
It was all just a band-aid on a festering wound. I needed to woman-up and I knew it. And so I quit.
Then 5 days later I found myself calling my boss, ready to ask for my job back. I don’t know what stopped me from actually asking him to hire me back – probably just my pride. But even though it was a dumb reason, I’m glad I didn’t.
I took a huge risk when I made the decision to invest in myself for a year. I didn’t know beforehand exactly what it would look like or how it would turn out. But I was betting on the fact that I would be in a better place and more likely to do some real good in the world afterwards.
That year-long sabbatical has come and gone. During that time, I was able to help start a scholarship series at my alma mater to give students a platform to speak out of key issues. I moved to Colorado and regularly go on the hikes that I enjoy so much. I’ve founded my own company and am relishing the flexibility of working on my own terms. I’ve started cooking and meditating – two practices I’ve wanted to take on for years.
It’s crazy to look back and to realize that, if not for this, I could be still working that same job. My life was good – and there are some aspects that I still dearly miss, like my family and friends – but it’s just that I find myself now feeling more challenged, more fulfilled, and more energized by my daily experiences and surroundings.
My perspective on courage is that it’s not just the big decisions we make. It’s all the little decisions that follow afterwards too. We are called to continuously challenge ourselves to be courageous. And, through those experiences, we’ll end up where we were always meant to be.
An interesting thought arose as I talking with one of my clients this morning. I am an Olympic swimmer (2008 & 2012) and I currently run a project called RISE Elite, a mentorship platform which connects young athletes with Olympians to learn and train on the mental aspects of sport. When asked: “what scares you?”, he mentioned the following. He said, “the theory of unlimited possibilities”. A pretty deep thing for a 14-year-old to say! Specifically, he clarified: “all the bad things that could happen to me, like a car accident… I could die any minute, and of us could!”
What followed was a fascinating conversation leaning in to the subject of the infinite, specifically the idea that anything can happen.
Our conversation triggered something in me, as these coaching calls often do. Throughout the rest of my day, I couldn’t help but realize just how powerful this was, especially with regards to two things. 1. We focus mostly on the negative possibilities, and 2. Our version of infinite is actually very, very constricted!
With Scare Your Soul coming up at the end of the month and this being the first SYS challenge I am participating in, the idea of things that scare me has been on my mind quite a bit. After this intriguing conversation, I realized how valuable these two points are to me right now, as I face the unknown and the scary stuff in my own life.
1. Drop the Negatives - Focus on the Positives!
We tend to focus on negatives. That is obvious. We’ve all complained about how depressing the news is, but what about TV shows, movies, common conversations and complaints, and our personal lives: they all have tendencies to lean to the negative, the drama! Unless of course we intervene. When it comes to our own infinite potential, why do we keep the positives in the realm of SCARY while the negative stuff comes to us so easily? It’s easier for me to imagine myself in a car crash, then to imagine living a life of meaning and purpose. Yikes!
2. Open Up your Infinite!
We easily hop on board the infinite-train: it sounds so majestic and full of hope! I personally subscribe to this but at the same time I notice how limited my understanding of Infinite really is. For example, this was clear to me when I tried this exercise: I closed my eyes in a meditative stance, and allowed my mind to expand, to simply grow and sweep the space around me outwardly and expansively. But I quickly hit a roadblock. I noticed just how limited and constrained I keep my thoughts. Similarly, when I try to conjure up dreams, goals, and infinite possibilities, I always come back with the same-old-same! What would happen if we could drop this resistance to the unknown, to embrace it, to expand ourselves?
In both of these cases, it all comes down to practice and repetition. Whether you take a look at your own Negative Focus and try to switch it to a focus on your positives, or practice expanding and opening yourself up to the true meaning of infinite, change in perspective comes with frequent repetition.
As you head into your Scare Your Soul challenges, just remember: ANYTHING IS TRULY POSSIBLE!
Join Scare Your Soul and choose YOUR small actions that will bust through your comfort zones!
“Courage is a tough guy mask, followed by teddy bear hugs. What I mean by this is: Courage is hard. Courage is soft. Courage is strength. Courage is falling to the ground with tears falling from your face. In my eyes, courage is the balls of life. They are soft, and they help you through hard situations. In all seriousness though, courage is having the balls to do whatever you are meant to do. Good or bad. Happy or sad. Courage is the will to get through it. Whether you are smiling or crying is irrelevant, for courage accepts us as we are.” - Krista Jordan
I have had the honor of seeing courage, staring it in the eye, and dancing with it. Courage is having the will, or as I say- the balls, to do something that you fear.
For more years than I can count on my two hands, aka over a decade, I have feared myself. I have feared my power, I have feared my whole self- inside & out.
I wanted to hide her. I wanted to shade her beauty so those would not look at her with the eyes of utter shame. I wanted to make sure that the fire she lit was nearly put out so that others would not stare.
I remained this hidden little girl, for over a decade. Until one day someone helped me realize that hiding was not only impossible but impractical. My beautiful friend Ashly was going through chemo for Ewings Sarcoma, (talk about courage). One day she called me up and was bawling, I had never heard her cry before. “My hair’s falling out, and I fucked up when I tried to shave it- hurry, I can’t go to the grocery store like this”. I had never heard, or even seen Ashly shed a tear during her fight, when it came to groceries (& her food) though- it was a completely different story. I made a U-turn, grabbed some head scarves, and headed her way.
On this day we learned how to tie headscarves. The remainder of her hair fell out in my hands. I proceeded by allowing her to tie a headscarf on my head too. We then set out to get our favorite of foods. As we entered the grocery store, almost all eyes were on us. We could not hide. I could not hide. Ashly walked slow for part of her knee was metal, and chemo brain had caused her to forget what it was exactly we had even come to the store for in the first place. She didn’t notice any eyes on her but mine, or if she did- she brushed them right off her back. I, on the other hand, was afraid. I hated the eyes that looked us up and down. I saw pity, I saw judgement, and when I looked back at Ashly’s beautiful glowing face- I saw courage. She was afraid, too. Though- no longer being afraid of being seen, she was afraid.
My dear friend had the courage to overcome this fear, these fears. She was not only able to be seen- she was able to be seen as herself.
So I ask you, my dear, are you afraid of being yourself? Are you afraid to show your white butt cheeks on the internet for your family will judge you? Are you afraid of dying, for many of your friends and family have past far too young? Are you afraid that eating half a pizza will cause you to lose the strength you worked for at your workout class this week? Are you afraid of hearing your soul, of sharing your soul?
If the answer is yes, to any of the above, I ask you this: are you going to have the will to make tomorrow different from what it is today?
For god's sake, I hope you say yes.
Be yourself. Dance in the car by yourself when your favorite song comes on. Jump in puddles when it rains, even if you are wearing your favorite dress. Run faster when your heart feels as though it is beating out of your chest. Love harder when you want to stop. Laugh louder when the librarian tells you to shut up. Show your white ass cheeks on the internet because they are some beautiful cheeks- and you know it. Hug harder when it feels awkward and you want to let go. Sing louder when your headphones are in and everyone, but you- can hear how loud you are singing. Cry harder when you want to be strong but you are breaking from the inside out. Wear your heart on your sleeve when everyone else in your generation chooses to drown theirs in cheap vodka. Show off your rosy red cheeks when you meet the cutest boy on the block.
Have the courage to be yourself, for there is no one better.
Join Krista, and hundreds of others around the globe, as we become more courageous together! Sign up for Scare Your Soul.
From Harvard Business Review, July 29 2016
You need to speak in public, but your knees buckle even before you reach the podium. You want to expand your network, but you’d rather swallow nails than make small talk with strangers. Speaking up in meetings would further your reputation at work, but you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing. Situations like these — ones that are important professionally, but personally terrifying — are, unfortunately, ubiquitous. An easy response to these situations is avoidance. Who wants to feel anxious when you don’t have to?
But the problem, of course, is that these tasks aren’t just unpleasant; they’re also necessary. As we grow and learn in our jobs and in our careers, we’re constantly faced with situations where we need to adapt our behavior. It’s simply a reality of the world we work in today. And without the skill and courage to take the leap, we can miss out on important opportunities for advancement. How can we as professionals stop building our lives around avoiding these unpleasant, but professionally beneficial, tasks?
First, be honest with yourself. When you turned down that opportunity to speak at a big industry conference, was it really because you didn’t have the time, or were you scared to step on a stage and present? And when you didn’t confront that coworker who had been undermining you, was it really because you felt he would eventually stop, or was it because you were terrified of conflict? Take an inventory of the excuses you tend to make about avoiding situations outside your comfort zone and ask yourself if they are truly legitimate. If someone else offered you those same excuses about their behavior, would you see these as excuses or legitimate reasons to decline? The answer isn’t always clear, but you’ll never be able to overcome inaction without being honest about your motives in the first place.
Then, make the behavior your own. Very few people struggle in every single version of a formidable work situation. You might have a hard time making small talk generally, but find it easier if the topic is something you know a lot about. Or you may have a hard time networking, except when it’s in a really small setting.
Recognize these opportunities and take advantage — don’t chalk this variability up to randomness. For many years, I’ve worked with people struggling to step outside their comfort zones at work and in everyday life, and what I’ve found is that we often have much more leeway than we believe to make these tasks feel less loathsome. We can often find a way to tweak what we have to do to make it palatable enough to perform by sculpting situations in a way that minimizes discomfort. For example, if you’re like me and get queasy talking with big groups during large, noisy settings, find a quiet corner of that setting to talk, or step outside into the hallway or just outside the building. If you hate public speaking and networking events, but feel slightly more comfortable in small groups, look for opportunities to speak with smaller groups or set up intimate coffee meetings with those you want to network with.
Finally, take the plunge. In order to step outside your comfort zone, you have to do it, even if it’s uncomfortable. Put mechanisms in place that will force you to dive in, and you might discover that what you initially feared isn’t as bad as you thought.
For example, I have a history of being uncomfortable with public speaking. In graduate school I took a public speaking class and the professor had us deliver speeches — using notes — every class. Then, after the third or fourth class, we were told to hand over our notes and to speak extemporaneously. I was terrified, as was everyone else in the course, but you know what? It actually worked. I did just fine, and so did everyone else. In fact, speaking without notes ended up being much more effective, making my speaking more natural and authentic. But without this mechanism of forcing me into action, I might never have taken the plunge.
Start with small steps. Instead of jumping right into speaking at an industry event, sign up for a public speaking class. Instead of speaking up in the boardroom, in front of your most senior colleagues, start by speaking up in smaller meetings with peers to see how it feels. And while you’re at it, see if you can recruit a close friend or colleague to offer advice and encouragement in advance of a challenging situation.
You may stumble, but that’s OK. In fact, it’s the only way you’ll learn, especially if you can appreciate that missteps are an inevitable — and in fact essential — part of the learning process. In the end, even though we might feel powerless in situations outside our comfort zone, we have more power than we think. So, give it a go. Be honest with yourself, make the behavior your own, and take the plunge. My guess is you’ll be pleased at having given yourself the opportunity to grow, learn, and expand your professional repertoire.