"Shall we step outside?"
People talk about stepping outside their comfort zones alot. It is a very subjective topic, and we are all different. If I had to perform in the West End I would be terrified, and maybe if an actor had to work in a hospital they would feel the same!
This week I have forced myself outside of my own comfort zone - I attended a conference of a medical speciality I am not yet part of, where I knew two people out of many hundreds that are there, and tried to 'network'.
I have only ever been to medical conferences but I am sure they follow the same theme as in any other industry. There are stalls amongst the coffee and cakes, to sell you things and attract you to a 'better' way of life and the rooms are full of colleagues who have known each other through previous courses, training programmes and hospital jobs.
As I don't know much at the moment about the specialty, but attended to aid my chances of applying successfully to it, I was acutely aware of my ignorance to most that was going on. I gained heaps of information and so many hints and tips from the lectures, but at breaks and lunchtimes I found myself standing along the wall of a room or sitting alone, approachable but not approaching others.
I don't like small talk, but even jumping straight in to the nitty gritty I find incredibly difficult with strangers. I can write until my heart is content at the moment, I can talk to my patients until the cows come home, and my family will argue that I never shut up, but when it comes to making conversation with someone I don't know, I feel incredibly shy. My heart rate increases and I feel out of breath, I am anxious and worry about what I look like, sound like, how I come across. I have a constant thought that no one will want to talk to me, or that I will be wasting their time when they could be talking to someone else.
My husband set me a challenge to speak to one new person a day, and I was determined to not let him, or myself, down. So on day 1, I made a light joke to a lady next to me at lunch and we got talking. She was a medical student and there for a day, so we mainly discussed things that could help her over the next few years. I felt I had eased myself in gently there, as she was even more unaware of her surroundings than me, and so I didn't think it really counted!
Day 2, ironically I went to a quiet area of the conference centre to sit and read my book because I felt silly standing around any longer in a room full of people, and I sat next to a lovely lady who ended up asking me a question and 20 minutes later we parted, having exchanged email addresses and numbers. I learnt a lot from her and was so pleased she had struck up conversation. I'm not sure I would have been the one to initiate discussions however, so does that count?
Today was the final day, and speaking to someone was playing on my mind a lot. Why do I find it such a challenge? If I show interest in others, then perhaps it will be reciprocated? I'm only going to help myself by approaching someone and starting to chat! So break time came...and went, then lunch time also came, and also went. Shamefully I spoke to no one new today, and I am disappointed with myself for that.
People who know me think I am confident, which baffles me, and it makes me realise that what we portray on the outside can be so completely opposite to what we really feel on the inside. A few years ago when I told my mum about how I feel, she said that she felt exactly the same and I couldn't believe it. A woman so confident in my eyes, so good at striking up conversation and getting to know people, surely was socially confident?
I would like to feel better about my social abilities, and I plan to work on this. Currently I feel I am most socially comfortable when with just a few close friends that I know very well, in a cosy pub or one of our houses, chatting and relaxing.
It may seem trivial to some but these last few days were a massive challenge for me and on each one of them I felt differently about myself and what I could achieve. The few people I did speak to were all lovely and generous with their time, and maybe they felt the same as I did inside? Twice I had pushed myself and it paid off for my self esteem. Despite my slip today, I feel stronger for what I did, slightly more confident, and am standing a little taller this evening.
So, whatever stepping outside your comfort zone means to you - no matter how big or small - it will make you feel better in the long run to do so. I am under no illusion that I'll find situations like this easy now, but I trust that we can all face these challenges together, support each other along the way, and help ourselves be successful.
I would love to hear from you in the comments below, or via email or social media what is outside your own comfort zone, how you think you can be challenged, and what you hope to achieve from doing this.