On a recent trip, I was reminded of the importance of being willing to step out of your comfort zone. As a leader, a teacher, in your profession or in your personal life, growth will not occur unless you are willing to step out of your comfort zone.
I accompanied my husband on a business trip and since we were going to be close to Zion National Park, I planned a day trip there so he could see the magnificence of the park. It had been twenty-three years since I had been to Zion and I was excited to share the wonder of the park with him. I mentioned to my brother that we were going to be there and he said, “Are you going to do the Angel’s Landing hike? That’s supposed to be ‘the’ hike to take in Zion.” That’s when I began to do some research…and decided to step out of my comfort zone.
There were a couple of things that occurred to me as we made this hike. The first was that I must have been a fool to think that I could accomplish this hike! We were obviously twenty to thirty years older than most everyone else on the trail. The trail description was strenuous – that doesn’t match my ability. The young people who were coming down as we were going up all had red faces and looked worn out. We had previously decided that we would take the hike slow and easy, stop when we needed rest and see if we could conquer this “strenuous” hike. We were definitely stepping out of our comfort zone!
When stepping out of your comfort zone, the following thoughts come to mind:
Take time to do the research and the planning so you can prepare for success. When my brother told me about this hike, he said that I could view video of the hike on youtube. I watched some of the footage and got a general idea of what we were in for. While the hike looked difficult, I felt confident that we could attempt it. I discerned the type of clothing we needed, knew that we would need multiple bottles of water and probably a good walking stick or pole. I took time to talk with people and purchased two hiking poles. I knew that the distance of the hike was five miles, but the information that I read said that it would take four hours to hike. Since I walk three miles several days a week, I felt that the distance would be doable. Had I not planned or investigated the hike, I might not have given myself the best chance at success.
When it occurs to you that you might fail, you have two choices. You can abandon stepping out of your comfort zone and be satisfied that you tried your best, or you can push through your fears and continue on. I have to tell you that we hiked uphill in the heat and it was a difficult walk. We went through multiple switchbacks and I kept thinking that we had to be close to the top. We arrived at what I thought was the top only to see ahead a treacherous trail to the summit. It was at that point thoughts flooded my mind, thoughts like, “I am not sure that I can do this. I must be crazy. I am almost fifty-seven years old and the rest of this trail is on the side of a cliff!” That was what I said in my mind, what I said out loud was, “I didn’t come this far to not go to the top!” I decided to push on even though I was afraid and less than confident.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is scary. While I have done some hikes in the past, I had no prior experiential success in something of this magnitude. I have to admit that I was scared of failure. I believe though if you put that failure in perspective, it is far better to have tried and failed than to never have attempted. I often try to place that failure in perspective saying to myself, “What’s the worst thing that happens if I am not successful at this?” In my hike situation, I guess the worst scenario was that I would fall off of the side of the cliff. I chose to ignore that option and choose the second scenario - if I failed to make it to the top, I had a good workout and saw some incredible views, just not those from the summit. I was very scared on the last part of this hike and just kept telling myself to move slowly and look at my steps one by one, the overall view could wait until I reached the top.
· Stepping out of your comfort zone is easier if you take someone with you on the journey. I was thankful that I was not alone on this trek. My husband was a great encourager and helper as we practically clung and crawled to the top of the summit. The younger hikers on the trail were encouraging as we offered to let them pass us in the narrow spots since we were operating under the “slow and steady wins the race” frame of mind. When you want to try something new and different, whom would you want by your side? If they are not a part of what you are attempting, then at least include them on the planning and talking through stage. When you have someone else’s thoughts about an experience, you are more likely to anticipate trouble spots and avoid them or at least be prepared.
There is a huge feeling of euphoria when you have stepped out of your comfort zone and been successful! It is said that when there is no risk, there is no reward. As frightened as I was to hike the final half-mile to the summit, I would take nothing for the feeling that I had when finally reaching the top! While stunned with the breathtaking views, I sat and caught my breath amazed at what we had just accomplished! I have to say that even three days later, I am still reeling at the fact that we were able to not only reach the top, but to get down safely. If we had not attempted this hike and stepped out of our comfort zone, we would have missed this incredible payoff! To know and feel success, you must step out of your comfort zone.
What have you considered doing, but backed off of because you didn’t think you had the ability, support, time or finances to do? What have you not attempted because you didn’t think you would be successful? The truth is, you never know until you try, and it is better to try and fail than to never try. I am not advocating rushing blindly into something, but take the time to do the research, plan and talk with those you are on your life journey with and take the step for what may be a life-changing, growth experience. Step out of your comfort zone - you will be better for it!