Stepping Outside the Comfort Zone

The first time I did a modified barium swallow evaluation as a newly minted speech-language pathologist, I was so nervous that I didn’t sleep the night before. I walked from the parking lot into Radiology, hands shaking and mentally going through the morning’s checklist for the umpteenth time. I took a deep breath and greeted my patient and the radiology techs. My memory is a blur at this point, but I know we got through it. And it was fine.

Within 18 months, I had given countless in-house workshops on the benefits of modified barium swallow studies and even created a teaching video for several unit nurses on swallowing disorders.

My work at the hospital gave me plenty of practice stepping outside of my comfort zone. In fact, stepping outside of my comfort zone became part of my weekly – and sometimes daily – routine.

Now, fast forward. I marry, have children, and surprise myself by staying home to raise the family. I wasn’t expecting that calling! Whew, it’s a powerful one, too.

And, when the time comes to step once again outside of my comfort zone and back into the world of work, I am completely baffled by my paralyzing fear.

“What happened to that brave person I used to be?” I wondered.

My barriers to moving outside of my comfort zone and into my career are almost all internal. And they seem nearly insurmountable at times. How will this change affect my kids, my marriage, and my personal happiness? I’ve finally figured out this stay-at-home mom thing – why am I upsetting the balance I worked so hard to achieve?

My anxiety skyrockets.

But a voice inside persists. I keep re-visiting this urge to have my own life and paycheck outside the house. What is behind that voice?

It’s is a part of me that‘s been neglected and wants to have life. It’s the part of myself that I put on a back burner so that I could tend to more pressing needs, like babies and play dates and Costco runs. And that essence within is fighting for the right to live more fully now.

With monumental effort and the support of my amazing family and the impressive women I worked with, I eventually find my way out of my comfort zone on the home front and into another new learning opportunity within speech pathology: research and student supervision.

But even at work, I remained haunted by the number of professionals who have taken time off to raise families and find themselves wondering how to explore new territory outside their comfortable routines. I think of all that talent sitting on the bench.

My own experience has opened my eyes to a need. I see it all around me. It’s the need to break free of self-imposed limitations that kill the essence of who we are.

And that is why I stepped miles outside my comfort zone and presented at the 2011 ASHA conference (“Navigating Your Way Back to Work After Extended Time Away”). And this passion to help others who find themselves stuck is why I completed training and certification to be a personal development coach. Talk about stepping outside my comfort zone!

I wish I’d had a coach to walk with me on my journey. I would have learned more about the Saboteur and how to deal with it when it tries to keep me safely in the status quo. I would have explored my core values and how I honor them (or not) with each decision I make.

In future posts, we’ll explore the saboteur. We’ll look at how to tell if that voice inside is the voice of reason or the saboteur planting seeds of fear.

In the meantime, listen to your wise inner voice that is urging you to step outside your comfort zone. Try these approaches if you find you’re throwing obstacles into your own path:

  1. Take non-threatening baby steps. Keep exploring and learning at your own pace.
  2. Set goals for yourself. Make phone calls, schedule information interviews, shadow someone in the area you want to explore.
  3. Use your frontal lobes, the non-reactive part of your brain, to look compassionately and realistically at fears that are popping up.
  4. Consider hiring a coach to partner with you on this journey. A good coach will help you identify your core values, uncover the Saboteur, and champion you in relentless pursuit of your very best life.

Is it worth all this effort? Definitely. When we find the courage to step outside our comfort zone, we grow into who we are meant to be.

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