I used to be very shy – when I say very shy I mean VERY. To the point that I couldn’t go to the bakery (yes, I am french) to buy a baguette without thinking “oh, I’m going to annoy the baker” (business was not very clear in my mind, obviously).
I wasn’t only shy but also very (very, again) stressed and panicked if anything changed. If anything didn’t go as planned I’d go crazy, aggressive and literally freak out.
For the people who have met me only a few years ago – it is hard to believe that I once was this shy and routine-girl. Because it has changed. Radically. Even though I’m still feeling a little bit uncomfortable in big groups and I still can go a little cray-cray when things don’t go as planned, I and my look on life have changed a lot.
But how do you go from shy – not adventurous – control freak – to living in Africa and not knowing what will happen in the next weeks?
My answer: Comfort zone. More exactly, leave your comfort zone. Step by step learn new lessons and all of a sudden everything seems so different. In a good way.
What is the comfort zone? According to Wikipedia, it’s a psychological state in which a person feels familiar, at ease, in control and experiences low anxiety and stress. Uncertainty, scarcity, and vulnerability are minimized where we believe we have access to enough love, food, security, where we feel we have some control.
Going out of this zone means taking risks, risks not to control everything, risks to be lost, lose advantages… It’s not natural as human beings have a sense of self-preservation but going out of your comfort zone doesn’t necessarily mean to do free-jumping out of a plane or go living on the other side of the world. It won’t necessarily change your whole life, but for sure it will change you, as it did me. And it might even bring you somewhere you never dreamed of reaching!
We have many opportunities to leave this zone: when we go to a new bar, meet a new person. When we take a new job or try a new sport. It can be an everyday challenge but to me, there were five moments that were decisive in terms of leaving my comfort zone. Five moments with each its own lesson. Five moments that changed all I think I wanted in life, all I think I was and more over changed who I am and the way I lead my life!
People are great
I’m all for taking it easy when it comes to new things. But sometimes you need someone to throw you in the swimming pool to find out that what you thought were crocodiles are just shadows of trees! This is what happened to me when I was 15.
Before this story began I had barely left my comfort zone. I had never been on my own. So, when the idea that I could go to the UK and spend a full week in an English family got suggested I freaked out. But saying ‘no’ was harder to me than the perspective of going away on my own and staying with a foreign unknown family (this has huge importance for the rest of my journey through leaving my comfort zone). Within a few months I was on a plane wondering what – the hell – was I doing, on my way to spend a full week speaking English (remember at that point I am a 15 years old girl who spoke the English of a 15 years old French girl). I was torn between my dream of travelling and how shy I was.
But I took the step (at that time it was more like jumping in a volcano to me), out of my comfort zone. New place, new people, new language, new habits. It was hard, I spent hours in my room wondering how to tell them I don’t like carrots, I stayed quiet during dinner time but, little by little I realized that language wasn’t a problem. With a few words I could get away with anything. And that most of the time people are nice. Very nice. And they only want to help you. So, the outside of my beloved comfort zone might not be the war zone I had imagined. Maybe the monsters were just statues after all (in reference to Platoon).
The experiment was great but I was very happy to re-enter my comfort zone and get back to my world… with a little bit more confidence in myself, people, and what the world has to offer.
Be yourself (and smile)
Maybe my first big adventure out of my comfort zone gave me a taste for a little bit of adventure because a few years after this UK trip I decided that I wanted to spend a summer working abroad. I organized it all by myself, found a job in Spain and suddenly it was happening again. I was sitting in a plane wondering what the heck was I thinking! (This scene is happening each time I am making a decision that leads me away from everything I know).
During three months, I shared a house with 8 Dutch, worked with all nationalities and had to face customers coming from all over Europe. It was great, tiring, fun, terrifying, hard and one of the most interesting things I have ever done. Because it confirmed that most of the time people are good. Because it taught me I could fully be myself and people would like me, even when down, upset or tired. I had the right to be me, to need time for myself. More important I understood that faking to be someone would just lead people to believe I am someone I am not, and trap me in a fake me!
Oh, important, lesson. A smile can open any door. Really. Until then I wasn’t a huge fan of smiling. Because it draws attention. But I discovered the magic power of smiling, which is opening to people in a way. Smiling is taking the risk not to have a smile back, but in the end, this is the worst that could happen. Most of the time it makes everyone’s life look brighter!
Let it go
In French, we say “jamais deux sans trois”, which means never twice without a third time! So after two adventures abroad, destiny brought me a new one! Well, I looked for it. I fell in love with travelling and I chose a master for which I had to spend a semester abroad. I had to choose between studying in San Francisco or Belo Horizonte in Brazil. People advised me San Francisco. My English was good, I had already been there and everybody had the American dream. That might be why I chose Brazil. As well as the fact I was fascinated by this country. So here I was again, sitting on a plane, wondering about this new adventure.
And I was right to question myself. By far the beginnings of my stay in Brazil had been the hardest. But this trip also brought me more than I could have ever expected. I cried, wanted to go home. I hated everything, how slow people walk, what they eat, how the university was organized. I tried to create a safe place for myself. Didn’t talk to anyone. Walked home straight after classes just to be in my little room with my pasta watching a movie in French. And I met another international student, a French girl. My opposite. She dragged me to the nearest bar, offered me a caipirinha. She taught me to let it go and enjoy the moment. To stop worrying. Because this would never happen again. She made me go on a road trip, skip uni, talk to strangers. And little by little I started enjoying the pace, the food, the absence of organization. I released myself from “having” to be a certain way, I let myself be myself. And the country and all the people I met gave me a new way to look at the world. Suddenly things weren’t so complicated anymore. Suddenly worrying wasn’t the most important thing to do.
I arrived in Brazil crying and I left crying even more. I had learned a lot. I changed so much that for a few months after I came home my mother kept asking me if I was okay when I was waiting without complaining, or smiling to people, or just saying “oh, we’ll see”. Brazil gave me a mindset of letting it go and enjoying the moment without worrying. Because “tudo bom, tudo vai dar certo”, “everything is ok, everything is going to be alright”. And in most cases, this is how things go. The worse scenarios that we have in mind never happen. So why worry? Plan a little bit but most of the time it’s not in your hands! (I swear it works).
Set your limits
This one was a hard lesson. A tough one that changed my life forever. As a young graduate, I found a job at a startup. Very challenging but interesting position with a nice salary, in Paris. I didn’t listen to the little voice in my head warning me about this job, the company and the boss. I loved it at first. But soon enough I started working from 8am till 10pm, with no reward, no thank you. My boss started yelling at me. Colleagues were awesome but the pressure was high. I was working like crazy, dreaming of it, running to work on Sundays, crying because I couldn’t handle it.
It’s a long story, which could be a full article on why I left normal work life, but in short, I ended up being a mess. Family & friends worrying. Having to take days off to be able to cope. Until the last idea of my boss to make my life harder. It was on a Friday. Just before the weekend around 8pm. I went out of the office crying. The whole weekend I thought about it. I couldn’t continue. I wasn’t myself anymore. I wasn’t enjoying anything. I decided to quit. That was hard. To say no, stop, enough. It was never something easy (as said earlier). But I was done with it. It was the best decision. I knew it but still. By saying no, facing my boss, telling what I was thinking and feeling I stepped out of my comfort zone of ‘nice girl who wants to please everybody’ and fit in a normal life – I was on the right path!
I quit and by doing this I realized that the situation I was in was not only because of the company and of my boss. It was also my responsibility. I put myself where I was by never saying no, I can’t come on Sunday night, stop yelling at me or I need you to give me more time. I never showed where my limits were. And showing limits is a way to express yourself and to gain respect.
By leaving the limits of my own comfort zone I set the limits of what I can accept and what I can’t. And for the first time, I realized I can’t please everybody. And more important it wasn’t possible to try doing it and be happy and myself. So yes, sometimes a no is hard to say. But it’s the only way to BE.
Life is well made
I lost my job and flat the same week. Went back to living with my mother after 7 years of independence. Upset and lost. It took me a few months to leave this cocooning zone I created around myself to protect me from the rough world. I was asking myself tons of questions: how could I trust people again? How could I be myself who wants to please and still being able to say no? How could I let it go?
Walking in the limits of my little village these questions found no answers until one of life’s beautiful chances: an ex-boss’ advice a few months ago to check a website. And a job offer in Africa. And this little voice saying you’ve got nothing to lose. And suddenly the soft hand of the universe pushed me. I listen to my instinct and I took the job, flew to Africa and changed my whole life.
For the very first time, my decision wasn’t totally rational. It was mostly instinct. The deep need to do something different. To get out of the system of my life, my comfort zone. Because this little comfort zone was not that comfortable anymore. I was pushed out of it for the second time in a few months. As if life were telling me: you didn’t understand that you need to do something else and then offered me this “else”.
I stepped out of my comfort zone by choosing not to do the most indicated thing: finding a new job, a flat, but by following what I felt was needed. Leaving France, or more exactly choosing to leave taught me that things happen for a reason – it brought me here, where I’m happy and starting something new.
This gave me three deep beliefs (*): one, nothing is written in life, so do what you want, not many wrong things will happen, you are responsible for your own happiness. Two, everything happens for a reason, so in the toughest time think that something good will come out of this. And three, follow your instinct. Not any thought you might have but any deep feeling is a clue.
(*) That apply to my life, the life of a lucky French girl
What If your comfort zone were the whole world?
Leaving my comfort zone each time was the greatest decision. It brought me where I am. By leaving my comfort zone I discovered that language is not a huge barrier and a few words can make a huge difference. I discovered that most of the time people are great and willing to help if you ask for it. I learned that you must be yourself, no matter what, and stand for yourself. Let it go and relax but don’t forget to say no, to draw the limit where necessary, you can’t please the whole world. And finally: follow your guts, your instinct or whatever weird feeling that is leading you a different way, it may be strange at first but roll with it.
The universe is powerful and continues sending us direction and indication, to help us get to where we deeply need or want to be. When you start giving attention to those little details, to this little voice in your head telling you this job might not be for you or that you should join this yoga retreat, you might end up very happy or on the way to ‘finding yourself’.
Which is exactly what happened to me. Leaving my comfort zone was like going on an adventure to find myself. So far, I was just who people were telling me I was, I was just acting the way I was expected to act. Upon leaving this circle of expectation anything was possible. Finding myself, living my life and trying to find my path to create my dream life. Not the life of someone else. Mine.
Leaving your comfort zone is great. You learn, change and evolve. So, explore, go on an adventure, open your mind and your eyes, discuss, try, experiment. (You can always come back, it’s fine to rest). And even better, make your comfort zone bigger, make it the whole world!
All the illustrations are by Cloé. Check out her Instagram: monsibeaumonde to see more.
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