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Why is it Important to Step Outside My Comfort Zone?

Updated: Mar 20, 2023

This blog is inspired by a recent commission I did for a special birthday and it deals with the topic of pushing your boundaries to enable growth and development.

A Bit of Background

I was asked to complete the landscape piece shown above which included a request for personalisation. Traditionally, when I add text to a picture the process has always been to print it onto card before completing the rest of the design. There isn’t anything particularly fancy about this, I use Microsoft Word and a standard printer but there is a problem occasionally with this process. If the picture size is standard then everything is fine, but if someone asks for a non-standard size such as a long narrow piece like this one, printing on a standard printer intended for office use becomes a lot more problematic. On the odd occasion this has happened, my solution has been to print the text separately, cut it out and glue it to the final design using a special 3D glue which raises it off the background card in line with the rest of the 3D nature of the piece.

However, on this occasion, that wasn’t a suitable solution for the customer (who happened to be part of a Watsapp group who were all pitching in their ideas). Now it would be very easy to think at this point that dealing with a group of people who might have different ideas about how a perfect finished piece should look is too difficult so I’m not going to do it and I’ll stick to my guns… after all, I’m the artist right? OK, so I’ll admit, I did have a little ‘moment’ but then I realised that this situation is a little challenging but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t work to resolve it so that all parties are happy.

Questioning the Process

This might seem like an obvious thing to say but I’ll say it anyway, “Doing things the same way that you have always done them isn’t always right.” In this case, right for me, but not necessarily right for the customer and that’s who matters ultimately.

Time to Get Ugly

I’ve talked about Dave Aldred’s Ugly Zone before and I’ll mention it again here because it’s what immediately springs to mind and I find it really easy to relate to. Dave Aldred is a world-renown rugby coach and his book The Pressure Principle had a profound effect on me and I can certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to explore this topic a little more.

In essence, The Ugly Zone is what happens between the Comfort Zone and any kind of personal development and this can be applied to physical, psychological, career development, probably any kind of development you can think of. It’s the Ugly Zone because it isn’t usually pleasant and we would rather not do it (it’s called ‘The Comfort Zone’ for a reason after all) but it’s what bridges the gap between the two and if you want to get better at something then you need to visit it once in a while, you can’t really avoid that.

What stops us from visiting? Well, it’s predominantly the fear of failure because the risk is high, well higher than normal anyway. If I revisit my scenario with the picture, the customer requested hand written names to be added to the design. It's something I've considered before but dismissed it because the risk of failure is higher than if I print it. What if my extreme OCD kicks in and I’m not happy with my free hand, the customer isn’t happy with it, I spell something incorrectly? I could go on and ultimately the situation is I have to start the thing all over again which costs me time and money. I didn’t want to go there particularly but I was ‘gently nudged’ towards it so that’s where I found myself.

In actual fact, the outcome of my story is that nothing turned out ugly at all. As you can see, it has turned out well, I am pleased with my work, my customer was delighted with it (yes… all of them!), confidence in my abilities have been raised, I have added another string to my bow when it comes to what I can offer to future customers and I won't fear it in the future, so it’s a win all round.

But What Happens When we do Fail?

What I have neglected to mention here is what would have happened should I have failed with my quest. Well, yes, I would have needed to repeat the process which would have cost me in the short term but before doing so I would have asked myself some serious questions… “OK so what went wrong specifically? Is this easily rectifiable? Is there much to gain by repeating it with improvements in place? Do I have the time / motivation / purpose to do it again? In which case the outcome is still something new to learn and hence further development so actually there are no fails, only wins.

As humans we’re not born to fear failure, very small children are far more willing than adults to launch themselves into the ugly zone, we learn to fear it by reacting negatively to unpleasant situations. Thinking about how we can reframe our thought processes in the light of a bad situation and supporting young people to do the same is how we can increase our capacity for development and the speed in which we can do so.

As a final thought, again I’ve referred to this podcast before, but here is a link to an excellent edition of the High Performance Podcast with Matthew Syed I recently listening to with some further thoughts on this topic.

Good luck on your journey and do share in the comments anything that you have learnt yourself on this topic.

Thanks for reading, Helen x

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