Growing up, my best friend was like my own personal treasure trove of inspirational quotes. She’s kind of like Oprah, that way. The mantra that has remained close to my heart for many years is that it’s important to “do one thing each day that scares you.”
I think about this quote nearly every day, or each time I come up against a situation or task that makes me want to run and hide under a rock. I think it’s time for every twenty-something to stow this advice away in their arsenals. This doesn’t mean you need to start packing your schedule full of drag racing and swimming with piranhas (although that would be pretty cool). It simply means you ought to make a conscious effort each day to expand your comfort zone and grow as a person, even if it’s just in a small way.
One way to burst out of your comfort zone? Try going out with a new group of people. Nothing can replace the security blanket of your true confidants, but expanding your social group has numerous benefits. For one thing, having an active social life is proven to have health benefits! Studies show that people with large groups of friends often live longer.
Further, it’s a great way to network with other young professionals in your area. Networking is an indispensable way to move ahead in your career, but many twenty-somethings are struggling to make it a priority. If the networking world is a middle school dance, we’re just a bunch of wallflowers, trying our best not to look awkward.
To tamper your fears of networking, try to find events in your area that are meant specifically for young professionals who are in the same boat. Focus on meeting just a few people with similar interests who might be able to introduce you to some important contacts. If you’re more comfortable with something a little less formal, try looking up fun events in your area on Meetup.com, or even through Twitter and Tumblr. It seems there is no shortage of clubs for almost every interest area, including raw food clubs, children’s book clubs, or Nerdfighter clubs. Go forth and find your people!
Try something new
But maybe your social life is in great shape, and you need to expand your horizons in another way. If you’re a student, or even if you already graduated, you might gain something from taking a class you would usually avoid. Maybe you consider yourself a numbers person, but you could still find a creative writing or literature course useful, especially if you sometimes have trouble expressing your thoughts in words. Similarly, a creatively-minded person might shy away from a computer science course, but it could provide useful skills or inspiration if they are brave enough to take the leap. Your twenties is the perfect time to explore those avenues, just in case you find something you didn’t know was there.
In an effort to both jump out of your comfort zone and earn brownie points with your teacher or boss, you should volunteer to go first. I have never seen anyone in the history of anything be excited to go first, except for maybe the infamous Stuart Minkus on Boy Meets World. Why are we all so afraid to speak up or present our report first? Easy. It’s because we’re all afraid of looking stupid. In most studies, people rank their fear of public speaking even before their fear of death. But just because the fear is natural doesn’t mean it’s okay to clam up when your professor or boss asks for a volunteer. Not only will you get the experience over with faster, but you’ll have taken a step to conquer a major fear.
Another way to take the leap out from under your security blanket? Make an effort to push past your natural tendencies. If you tend to be a Chatty Cathy, try listening intently to what someone else has to say. If you tend to be agreeable and passive most of the time, try being assertive and voice your opinions. Everyone naturally veers towards certain behaviors, and that’s perfectly okay. That’s what makes you you. But trying to step outside your comfort zone is a great way to grow as a person and see people or situations in a completely new way.
This article wouldn’t be complete without urging you to do something that literally scares you at least once in awhile. It doesn’t have to be Fear Factor-esque, like sticking your hand inside a bee hive, of course. But what’s life without a little adventure? I encourage you to do something that will get your heart racing, like bungee jumping, trying out a new roller coaster, or even sky diving. If you have the means, it’s worth it to take trip to a place very different from home. Once you’ve survived in a foreign country with hard-to-stomach food, an impenetrable language barrier, the craziest driving habits you’ve ever seen, and absolutely none of the comforts of home, you’ll feel like you can manage just about anything.
A similar piece of sage advice that my best friend frequently reminded me of: “growth begins at the edge of your comfort zone.” Your comfort zone is everything that comes naturally and easily to you. It’s your usual lunch order at the sandwich shop down the street. It’s the same group of friends you go out with each weekend. It’s the same section of the library you browse for new things to read. There’s nothing wrong with knowing what you like and sticking to it, but there’s something to be said for trying something new every once in awhile, if only to see what life is like outside of your security blanket.