Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone...
The Holidays are known to be a time when new and old friends gather 'round once again, and it's in that spirit that we're excited to welcome back one of the inaugural voices of MSL! This time around, she's come to share her personal experiences in breaking beyond the confines of her comfort zone (as well as the gems of wisdom uncovered through the process). Join us now for the latest from a land down under, the return of Elisa Jakymin!
Looking back at my primary (elementary) school years, I doubt that anyone would’ve handpicked me as ‘most likely to succeed.’ While I have always been somewhat academically inclined and very driven, this has been coupled with a rich imagination and tendency to retreat inwards. I remember being nominated for ‘Prime Minister’ as part of a class government activity. I declined for the role of ‘Hansard’ which involved no speaking, and only listening – basically transcribing the thoughts and ideas of my more eloquent and loquacious peers; ultimately my idea of heaven! One of my class peers actually listed one of his most memorable school moments in the class yearbook as “hearing Elisa talk”…Need I say more?
I reached a breaking point in high school where my purpose, vision and goals became more important than my self-imposed limits. I recognized that regardless of how well I performed academically in submitted essays and written exams, there was limited recognition and potential for those who didn’t speak up in class. I set myself a goal of contributing at least one thing to each class on a daily basis. Over time, this behaviour became more ingrained until eventually, my peers looked to me whenever a question was asked of the class. I moved on to becoming valedictorian of Year 10, one of the top achievers in Year 12, and was even elected to a leadership position by my school peers.
Entering into my university years and subsequently the workforce, it almost felt like retreating to square one. I had become comfortable in the high school environment, seeing the same people every day and following the same routine. I soon discovered that life and work were not quite as structured.
Fast forward to today. I’m lucky enough to work for Australia’s National Marketing Organisation, promoting Australia as a holiday destination to international consumers. One of the best things about my role, team and organisation is the flexibility and support to pursuing training and development opportunities. I don’t think that I will ever reach a place of complacency and contentment so I am always on the lookout for my next challenge. Since joining Tourism Australia, some of my most terrifying yet rewarding - and ultimately memorable - experiences have come from stepping outside my comfort zone.
"Through my various training and development opportunities, I have learned that the end of your comfort zone is where the magic happens. From your largest fear comes your greatest growth."
Last year, I applied for the Australian Regional Tourism Network’s Young Tourism Professionals Awards – a program positioned as a platform for assisting emerging leaders to grow their current networks and gain professional development. Following submission of a written application, I was fortunate enough to be selected as one of the finalists invited to attend the annual Australian Regional Tourism Network Conference in Victor Harbor, South Australia. In addition to giving a presentation at the conference to an audience of seasoned industry professionals – a proposition terrifying in and of itself – I discovered that I would also be evaluated during the course of the week through my encounters with anonymous judges.
As the only finalist from a metropolitan area, I was quickly thrown into some areas of unfamiliarity in a regional tourism destination. I participated in my first familiarization experience, designed to get a taste of the area’s tourism offering in a short time frame. In addition to some very memorable experiences including a home-cooked lunch at a McLaren Vale winery and some risky four-wheel driving in Onkaparinga Gorge and Deep Creek Conservation Park, the group also participated in quad biking up and down sand dunes on Waitpinga Farm. I can’t say that I took to the quad biking activity as a natural, quickly discovering the importance of having a strong upper body in maneuvering the bikes around – and at the same time learning that I apparently have next to no upper body strength. Trailing the back of the pack, I was offered numerous chances to be driven back to the start of the course in a car, but I was determined to finish! Despite some sore muscles the subsequent day, I was proud to have successfully finished the course, and apparently made an impression on the judges who were impressed by my ability to complete an activity in which I had so unmistakably struggled!
Another challenge which I took on board this year, was completing an intensive six-week public speaking course offered by Toastmasters. The idea of not only preparing a number of speeches to an unfamiliar audience, but also undertaking a range of impromptu speaking sessions sat firmly outside the realm of my comfort zone. The first session revealed an eclectic mix of participants with various motivations for joining, which could all be related back to the theme of leaving their comfort zone. One participant unearthed a fear of public speaking so severe that it had caused her to faint on occasion in the past. Another participant, originally from China, revealed the doubts and insecurities of giving a presentation in her non-native tongue. It was eye-opening to hear about the self-doubt which plagued truly sensational public speakers; with one being a stand-up comedian, no less. The camaraderie and support of the Toastmasters environment have actually led me to sign up to a regular Toastmasters Club, held on a fortnightly basis – by choice!
I have also sought to overcome the walls which I have built myself outside of my professional life. Growing up, I enjoyed running but was always partial to shorter, sprinting distances as opposed to longer, cross country ones. About this time last year, I made the decision to (attempt to) join the ranks of these impressive long distance runners. In order to try and bring my running and endurance up to the next level, I recently joined Can Too – an organisation which trains participants in running, swimming or triathlons in exchange for their fundraising a targeted amount towards cancer research. The organisation is incredible – it has trained over 11,000 participants and raised more than $16 million towards cancer research, with $100,000 being required to fund a single researcher for one year.
I am proud to say that I have just recently completed my first half-marathon, exceeding my fundraising target of $800 by raising $1,000 towards this amazing cause. In the last two kilometres of the half-marathon, I was joined by a fellow, unfamiliar Can-Too-er in an orange shirt who cheered me along for the remainder of the race, ultimately sacrificing her own personal time to assist me over the finish line. I think that this story really captures the Can Too spirit. I looked up her bib number after the race to get a chance to thank her, discovering that she was in training for the New York Marathon and halfway through to her fundraising target of $2,000. I was more than happy to donate to her in return for the random act of kindness which she had bestowed upon me during the last legs of my first half-marathon.
So, where to next? I am currently participating in the Australian Tourism Exchange Council’s ELITE (Emerging Leaders of Inbound Tourism Excellence) program, which seeks to provide emerging leaders with the opportunity to extend their industry knowledge, develop leadership skills and create networking relationships. An element of the program which really appealed to me is the pairing of each emerging leader with an experienced, industry professional to act as their mentor through the course of the program. The program also involves resolving a real life tourism industry case study and presenting it at the Australian Tourism Exchange Council’s annual ‘Meeting Place’ event.
Through my various training and development opportunities, I have learned that the end of your comfort zone is where the magic happens. From your largest fear comes your greatest growth. Put your hand up for all training opportunities, not in spite of but because of your discomfort and fears. I can tell you that nothing feels better than the sense of achievement in doing something you didn’t think you could do.
This lesson is exemplified by one of my favourite TED talks, given by Amy Cuddy, who details an incredible story of stepping outside her comfort zone. Having always identified herself as smart, she was traumatized by a car accident which caused a drop in her IQ score of two standard deviations. As a result, she struggled with her identity, feeling like an impostor after re-enrolling into college following the accident. Fortunately, a professor took her under her wing and espoused the importance of needing to “fake it ‘til you become it.” The story really comes full circle, when Amy – who is now a successful university professor herself – counsels a student who feels that she doesn’t belong in the college environment. This leads to an emotional epiphany of sorts for Amy, who realizes that she has grown out of her discomfort and is no longer plagued by self-doubt.
I can’t say that I have reached this moment of ‘I have become this’ but I know that I have progressed leaps and bounds from where I started. Remember that great people do things before they’re ready, and that great things rarely come from comfort zones.
I urge you to find your comfort zone, and then leave it. Do this enough until you actually become it and internalize it. I am looking forward to my ‘I have become this’ moment. In the meantime, I will never stop learning and never stop growing. I can’t tell you that it’s going to be easy, but I know that it’s going to be worth it!
If you haven't already, check out Elisa's first MSL post, "Choose a Job You Love..."
This post has been edited for grammar. All other content remains the original thoughts & expressions of the author.