February 1, 2018

You’re standing with a group of friends who are ready to do the next big thing, and it’s your turn. The problem is, you’re terrified. You made a resolution to be braver this year, but there’s an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach. Your friends keep saying that you’ll be fine and it will be a great experience, but you’re not so sure.

When we’re tackling a new goal or challenge, people are often quick to give us advice like, “Just push yourself to do it!” and “Just dive in right away—don’t think!” Though they’re attempting to help, it can sometimes feel like peer pressure—like we’re supposed to radically reinvent ourselves right away, regardless of how uncomfortable it makes us feel. Yes, trying new things is an important practice in self-development, but one person’s quick change is another person’s months-long journey.

What I’ve learned: The key is to step out of your comfort zone because you want to, not because everyone else is doing it. The power is in trusting your gut and your intuition.

Real growth comes from making decisions for yourself.

Today, I try new things for my own reasons and when I feel prepared to step out into the great unknown. I’ve learned not to give into peer pressure simply for the sake of appearing courageous. It’s not about waiting for your fear to disappear completely, but knowing when you’re ready to get outside your comfort zone. Real growth comes from making decisions for yourself.

Here, three things I’ve learned about going at my own pace:

1. Everything Isn’t For Everyone

zipline snow

Some people get a rush from living on the edge, but I’m not one of those people. One example: I have always been afraid of heights, though most of the time I wouldn’t admit it. So when a group of friends and I went zip-lining one summer, I thought I could handle it. But when I put on the harness and stood at the top of the precipice, looking out into the distance, I realized that this adventure may not be for me. I politely bowed out. Everyone tried to convince me to do it and said I’d regret it if I didn’t, but the idea of flying through the air thousands of feet from the ground did not sound like fun to me. In fact, I imagined that I would pass out mid-air from the intense fear I felt.

I realized that the reason I was hesitant to say no wasn’t because part of me wanted to fly through the air—it was the pressure that the others were putting on me. I didn’t truly want to zipline. Once I stood strong in my decision, I felt relieved and proud of myself. I went back down the trail and watched my friends as they descended towards me.

Afterwards, they said it was amazing. I was very happy for them, but I felt no regrets. I was glad I didn’t force myself to do something I was 100 percent uncomfortable with, and that’s what was important to me. Will I ever zip-line? Maybe. I just know that at that moment, I wasn’t ready and it was OK.

2. Do It For Yourself—Not Someone Else

white-dress-and-tattoo 925x

Taking advantage of opportunities for growth is essential to life, but there are times when the people who are giving you the shot might not have your best interests in mind. Especially on the job, it’s hard to turn down opportunities for fear of stunting your career development, but sometimes that’s exactly what you need to do.

One day, on a job where I was fairly new, I was approached by someone who had never shown interest in me or what I did there. She barely took the time to find out my name. She asked me to be a part of a video and, although I was nervous, it sounded like a great opportunity. Minutes after I agreed to do it, I discovered that the woman would not give me a minute to prepare and that I was the last resort after everyone else had turned her down. So, with this new information, I decided not to do it.

The woman was so upset that she began to try to guilt me into doing the video anyway. But I stood firm in my decision to say no, especially after realizing that it was an experience that would potentially harm me. Starring in that video unprepared and flustered would have been a bad look for me professionally.

If I had allowed myself to be bullied into doing the video, I wouldn’t have learned anything and would have left feeling used. Luckily, my gut feeling gave me the confidence to say no and stand my ground.

3. Work to Your ‘I’m Ready’

red clock

When I was a child, my mom believed that being a shy introvert would have a detrimental effect on how I moved through life. She tried to help me get past my shyness by pushing me into situations that would take me out of my comfort zone.

Though she was attempting to help, in many ways it actually made me feel more isolated and fearful. As an adult I now understand her good intentions, but growing up I spent many years resenting her and trying to crawl back into the shell that I regretted leaving.

As children, it’s not really easy to say no to our parents when they are trying to teach us new skills. But as adults, we can learn to stand up for ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “No, I am not ready, but one day I will be” and then work on getting there in your own time.

I carried my fear of social situations into adulthood, and, because of this, I hated networking events. But everyone said they were the only way to advance in my career, so I forced myself to go instead of working through my anxiety first. One day, I went to a very intimidating event and, instead of gaining contacts, I was paralyzed with fear. I vowed never to go to another event again.

After a while, I realized I had to face my fear rather than trying to boldly push past it.

After a while, I realized I had to face my fear rather than trying to boldly push past it. I learned networking hacks, like bringing a friend or making a game plan prior to an event, even rehearsing what I would say while there.

Once I saw the value in making connections and felt ready personally, I started to go back to networking events and having more success. I was still super nervous and may have only spoken to two people at each event, but I didn’t let fear immobilize me. I was able to do it because I was ready—and I was finally doing it for me.

It’s brave to step out of your comfort zone, but it’s brave to own when you’re ready for that moment, too. Remember: Real growth comes from making decisions for yourself. And you have the power to decide when you’re ready for your next leap into the unknown.

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