Our daily activities often fall into two distinct categories. Our comfort zone consists of all the things that we are accustomed to doing. They are free from risk and often relatively easy. Our courage zone consists of things we’ve never tried before and even the thought of doing them produces feelings of fear and anxiety. For many, public speaking is a courage zone activity.
While it’s normal to spend a large portion of each day in our comfort zone, those who consistently seek opportunities to step into their courage zone will more than likely report a greater vitality and zest for life. Why? Because true growth (personal and professional) happens in the courage zone.
Several years ago I found myself going through the motions as a classroom teacher. I was smack dab in the center of my comfort zone and the word challenge was not even a part of my vocabulary. I would wake up in the morning, go to school, come home to grade a huge stack of papers, watch a bit of television, then start the same routine all over again the next day. I was numb to the potential of change. Then it suddenly hit me. If I wanted to go places in my career, I needed to do things that I hadn’t been doing. It wasn’t just going to magically happen while I sat on the couch with my 44oz. diet soda. Little did I know that my choice to sign up for an acting class, an obvious courage zone activity for me, would signify the beginning of the journey that has led me to where I am today.
I showed up for my first class, sweating profusely and repeating the following question in my mind, “What the heck am I doing here?” Most of the people in the room were seasoned actors, many of whom had already been in commercials or starred in local plays. My only acting experience was during my teenage years when I would tape myself doing goofy skits using my parents’ enormous video camera; the kind that made your shoulder ache each time you held it. Needless to say, comfort was the last thing I felt in this new environment.
Normally in situations like this, I would just quit and return to the safety of my comfort zone. After all, I didn’t like challenges and this was clearly a challenge. This time; however, I decided to stick it out. On the morning of our 5th class, I woke up in terror, realizing that it was my day to recite the monologue that I had been practicing for days. My inner critic told me to call in sick, which would give me another week to build up enough courage to act in front of a room full of professionals. Refusing to listen to the critic, I jumped in my car and made the 45 minute drive to the studio. Shortly after arriving, one of my fellow thespians approached me and asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?” Of course the answer was no; girlfriends didn’t fit in my comfort zone. “I have someone I want you to talk to,” he said. He then proceeded to dial a number and briefly spoke to the person on the other end of the call. He handed me the phone and said, “Mike, I’d like you to talk someone.” As I stuttered through the conversation, I realized that I was as far into my courage zone as I had ever been. Not only was I about to deliver my monologue, I was also talking on the phone with a complete stranger.
Well, I’m happy to say that the monologue went very well. More importantly; however, were the follow up conversations with my new mystery friend, which ultimately led to our first date. As I drove to her house, I was once again sweating profusely, this time for a different reason. Hello courage zone! Having just overcome my fear of doing a monologue, I knew that I could handle watching the door open and laying eyes on my blind date for the very first time. As she opened the door and we met in person for the first time, I knew there something very special about this experience.
I’m happy to say that the individual who opened the door that day is my beautiful wife of almost 8 years, Ruth. You see, I would have never met her had it not been for the courage I demonstrated by continuing to take the acting classes, despite my immense fears. Furthermore, it was Ruth who was instrumental in my choice to start KaleidoEye. After all, she was an entrepreneur who was used to stepping into her courage zone. Some would call this luck, while others might refer to it as coincidence. I like to believe that it was a result of my choice to be courageous in the face of fear, and to do something I had never done before. From that seemingly small choice to sign up for an acting class many years ago, I will forever reap the benefits.
I’d love to hear your courage zone story. Please share something you have done in the past that required you step into your courage zone. Be sure to include the result.