Pause, Practice, Pursue: How To Leave Fear & Your Comfort Zone Behind


While I was up north living
my alternate timeline this summer, I got this text message from a colleague:

<<Hey, sorry to bug you… I can’t make the Drupal North presentation. Do you want to do it with David?>>

Ignoring the fact that I shouldn’t have had my phone on me at the time, I put the box of popsicles down, stepped away from the group I was leading, and thought about my response.

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On the one hand, it made a lot of sense: I’d helped with the presentation submission, the topic is one I’m well versed on, and I had been wanting to get more involved in events and opportunities like these. It seemed like a natural fit to switch my no-longer-available colleague for me. But on the other hand… was I really the right choice? I wasn’t sure. So I hesitated.

I am, fundamentally, a skittish person, both literally (if you are quiet when approaching, I am guaranteed to jump out of my skin when you start talking to me) and figuratively. I don’t like change, which means I don’t like trying new things, especially if I think I’ll be bad at them. I’m a bit of a stick in the mud, when it comes down to it. Hesitating is not foreign to me.

But this instance should have been different. I should’ve been instantly on board not only for the reasons listed above, but because I actually really like presenting. I’m not known to be a shrinking wallflower, quite the opposite, in fact (at the time I received the message I was addressing a group of about 40 people). And I certainly don’t have anything against Ottawa, where Drupal North took place this year. Yet still, I hesitated.

Why? The reason is the same as it always is, of course: I was afraid.


Fear Factor

What was I so afraid of? Well, first and foremost, I am not a Drupal developer. Why would attendees of this Drupal-specific conference want to hear anything I had to say, even if it was on a non-Drupal topic where I have a lot of worthwhile knowledge to share? It felt like I would be overstepping to just show up, let alone to start telling people how I know something they don’t.

Secondly, even though I’m quite comfortable in front of a crowd, I’ve never spoken at an event as a subject matter expert. From the moment I received the text message, I could feel imposter syndrome setting in. And even though a huge part of my role as Content Manager is focused on building community connections, I hadn’t done any traveling to meet clients or stakeholders, so this would be my first “business trip”. There were lots of things—in my mind at least—to fear. So I hesitated.

Fear is a powerful force. While it has undeniable benefit if you’re potentially facing down a bear—something I’m not particularly afraid of, oddly (and erroneously. I should be more afraid of bears!)—it can also prevent us from doing a lot of worthwhile things. When fear holds too much sway over us, it ends up dictating a large portion of what we do and do not do, whether there’s real danger or not. It takes up a lot of mental space to live in that place of fear. It’s not only self-limiting, it’s exhausting.

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Author preparing for presentation


I’ve spent a fair bit of time in my adult life, both professionally and personally, trying to relearn my responses to things. Why, in some situations, do I have a stronger reaction than might be justified? And how can I move beyond that reaction, when I know it isn’t logical? There’s a fair bit of evidence out there that stepping outside one’s comfort zone is the place where learning and growth can happen. Overcoming those initial, flight-like reactions is kind of crucial for long-term personal growth.

Moving past that kind of fear can be hard. But there are a few things I’ve found that can help me overcome the strong, initial emotions that hold me back. I call these “The Three Ps”. As I’ve gotten better are using these three things, I’ve been more able to step outside my comfort zone and experience new things. And as I’ve challenged myself and had new experiences, I’ve been able to see the opportunities in front me with more clarity and less fear. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle whichever side you land on, and I work hard these days to encourage the side that doesn’t cower so easy.

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The Three Ps

PAUSE

When I was asked to speak and my initial response was hesitance, I was acting out of fear— but not entirely. I didn’t say no outright. I gave myself a moment to stop, think through what could happen (both good and bad) if I said yes vs if I said no. Most importantly, I let the initial emotional response run its course before making a more rational and reasoned response. I have found my tendency to catastrophize can be tamped down when I take a moment to pause and reflect before my emotions run wild.

PRACTICE

One of the things that drew me to Myplanet initially is the support for mindfulness that the company exhibits. Over a decade ago, I went to a 10-day silent mindfulness retreat. I came away feeling renewed and grounded in a way I hadn’t been before, and I have believed strongly in the power of mindfulness ever since. By allowing myself to be aware of what’s happening but not actively judging it, I find myself able to be more open to new ideas and challenges.

PURSUE

As I noted earlier, I’m more than a bit skittish. I’m basically a deer— the slightest chance of danger and I’m sprinting in the other direction. But having spent time working at not letting fear rule my life, I know I’m rarely actually in danger when my brain tells me I am. So instead, I’ve started to use that fear as a trail marker. If I’m afraid of something, there’s a good chance it’s in a potential area of growth for me. Probably this thing I’m afraid is just new, and new is often a very good way to learn, to challenge oneself, and to grow.

* * *

Was I afraid of speaking at Drupal North? Absolutely. But I didn’t say no outright. The old me would have told herself she wasn’t good enough, or experienced enough, or worthy of the company expense of sending her away for two days, but not now. Instead, I’ve learned to take a pause, think through the pros, cons, and worst case scenario, and use fear as a guidepost to point me towards challenges and experiences that are worth exploring.

So this time around I hesitated, yes, but ultimately I said yes. And I’m so glad I did, because I met amazing people at Drupal North, gained valuable experience about speaking at events like these, and even got to hear an attendee describe our presentation as “enlightening”. Excuse me while I place this tiny feather in my cap and take on my next challenge…

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Written by

Leigh Bryant

Leigh Bryant

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