How to Step Out of Your Comfort Zone (From a Bona Fide Scaredy Cat)

A couple months ago, I received an email inviting me to read and talk about my book, We Are Fungi, at a local elementary school. At first, I was flattered and excited they wanted ​me ​to read ​my book. But within seconds, my thoughts switched to: “Oh no, I can’t do that. I’ve never done an author visit, and have no idea how to. I should say no until I’m more prepared.”

Stepping Our of Your Comfort Zone, Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

But then I remembered all those motivational articles and books I’ve read that shout over and over, “take risks!”, “do things that scare you!”, “step out of your comfort zone!”. So I forced myself to reply to the email and say yes.

 

Wait, Why Did I Say That

Fast forward to last Thursday, the day of the event. I woke up that morning full of worry and dread. I wasn’t looking forward to the event at all.  There were so many unknowns it was making me nauseous. There was so much that could go wrong!

Stepping Our of Your Comfort Zone, Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

And things were already going wrong. The books I ordered to bring with me were lost in the mail somewhere in Smyrna and I only had one book to bring, so how was I supposed to explain that? I didn’t know how many children would be at the event or what the setup or schedule would be, so how was I supposed to plan my presentation? Google Maps told me it would take between 22–55 minutes to get to the event, so when was I supposed to leave? My husband Declan had an important event he was supposed to go to at the same time as my event, so was he going to be able to come and help calm me down or was I doing this solo? And most stressing of all: the event was from 6–8pm, so when the heck was I supposed to eat dinner?

I was scared. I was scared of having all these unknowns thrust on me all at once. I was scared of being embarrassed and making a fool of myself. I was scared of doing something I’d never done before. I was scared of stepping out of my comfort zone.

Stepping Our of Your Comfort Zone, Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

Safety, Knowns, and Comfort Zones

I am a creature of habit who often lives happily and snuggly in my blanket-wrapped comfort zone. I work from home and have complete control over my schedule. I do the same things in the same order every morning. I use the same mug for my coffee every day (don’t worry, I wash it every day too). Once I go into a public bathroom once, I will—if possible—choose to use that same stall for all future visits. I’m one of those people that has a “self-assigned” seat at the home dinner table. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s doing things consistently.

I am also a complete scaredy cat. I hate scary movies. I hate roller coasters. I hate haunted houses. I’m scared of saying something dumb, making a big mistake, offending someone, getting robbed in the street, falling while hiking and breaking my neck, losing my dog, being a plane crash because we hit a bird mid-take off, choking on a green bean when I’m home alone…

Stepping Our of Your Comfort Zone, Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

The week of the book reading, I was in the middle of making the final artwork for my next book, which is one of the parts of the process I love most. It’s a time of being alone for long periods of time, makin’ the art, totally in the flow. It’s a place I know. Just me and my pencil. All I wanted to do the day of the author event was to keep sitting at my desk, and keep drawing my art. ​I wanted to stay in my comfort zone.

I wanted to email them and say, “Oops sorry lady, something came up I can’t make it!”

Stepping Our of Your Comfort Zone, Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

But I didn’t.

I went through with it because if I said no to everything I was scared of, everything that made me anxious, everything that wasn’t perfectly prepared for, planned for, and KNOWN, then I wouldn’t ever do anything.

Because the truth is, I’m afraid of everything.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” –Georgia O’Keefe

Stepping Our of Your Comfort Zone, Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

Not a Disaster

So I went to the author event with my one book. I made it there on time. I read my story, and shared how the book was made.

And it went great. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it wasn’t a disaster. I really connected with a few of the kids who told me how they love to draw and want to write their own stories. Most of them listened intently when I read the book, asked questions about how I made it, and excitedly looked through my sketchbook drawings. There were a few boys who were much more interested in playing games on the computer in the back of the room than listening me talk about mushrooms, but you can’t win them all.

All in all, it was a wonderful event that didn’t end in flames of embarrassment and shame as I had imagined. I went to sleep that night in the comfort of my blankets with a new boost of confidence and renewed energy for working on my next book. I closed my eyes, proud of myself for stepping out of my comfort zone and doing something that scared me.

“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” –Dale Carnegie

Stepping Our of Your Comfort Zone, Christine Nishiyama, Might Could Studios

Tips for Doing Something Scary (from a bona fide scaredy cat)

Get in the right mindset.

Everything is unknown. Even when you think you’ve planned for something, things can change at any moment. It’s alright, you’ll adapt. You always do.

Start small.

Maybe don’t book your first speaking gig in front of 20,000 people. Start with a tiny local event. That way if you DO embarrass yourself, you won’t feel so bad about it, and can laugh it off and try again.

Let go of your expectations.

And so what if you embarrass yourself? So what if you do a bad job? The only way you learn how to do something is by doing it. You’ll learn if it goes well, and you’ll learn even more if it doesn’t go well. And you’ll learn a heck of a lot more than if you just sat at home in your blankets reading about it, instead of doing it.

Celebrate!

You did something that scared you! Most people don’t! No matter what happened, reward yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone and keep yourself motivated for the next time so you can do it again.

“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slow you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.”  –Tony Robbins

 

So hey, that thing you’ve been thinking about doing that gives you butterflies in your stomach? It’s time to kick down your fears, stop making excuses, and DO IT. It won’t be easy. It won’t be perfect. But you’ll be so proud of yourself for doing it, and you’ll be able to grow and continue with a new boost of confidence, and the knowledge of how to do it better next time.

C’mon, if a scaredy cat like me drive 45 minutes in rush hour Atlanta traffic to read a weird book about mushrooms to an unknown number of kids, with only one book, zero clue of what I’m supposed to do, all on an empty stomach… you can do your thing too.

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”  –Eleanor Roosevelt

And tell me about your scary thing by commenting below! :D

 

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8 Responses

  1. Great post Christine! We often see professionals doing their thing and think they don’t struggle with any of this anymore, but they do. I almost didn’t post because of the info field that asked me for my website. Its a work in progress, and I often feel like I don’t want anyone to see it until its “good”. I think the comfort zone and fear thing is the hardest part about trying to start a business or working for yourself. Thanks for the being transparent and giving the words of encouragement.

    1. Hi Paula! Thanks so much for sharing! Yes, you’re totally right—professionals really do struggle! All the time! They just don’t let them stop them from keepin’ on, haha. Your website looks great! That’s so cool that you’ve learned how to channel your creativity into remodeling and jewelry making, and are sharing it with the world! I see you also love sharing your process and teaching courses like me! If you’re interested, I use Teachable for my courses, and they’re having a big Teaching Summit next week that’s totally free and full of tons of great info on making online courses, even if you end up not using Teachable at all! I attended last year, and it’s what ended up pushing me over the edge and making the jump, haha. Anyways, if you’d like to check it out, here’s where you can register!: http://sendmeto.teachable.com/jj8BL

  2. Thanks Christine, I love your posts. They are so funny and I identify with everything you are going through. Last week I was a guest lecturer at a university. OMG! Actually last spring was the first time I did it. I was freaking out scared but I had committed! I put my powerpoint in the computer and turned it on to presenter mode. No notes. No notes would show on my lecturn screen. I had to step away from the lecturn and say, ok, no notes, I’m just going to talk. I went through the slides without notes and it actually went great! There were maybe 25 students there. I was pretty proud of myself. This time, same scenario, no notes. Luckily I felt ok doing it again because this time there were probably 100 students there! I took some deep breaths and just started talking. whew! so glad its over (until the spring again).

    1. I’m so glad you enjoy them, Janet! Ack! That would be so nerve-wracking to have to do a lecture with no notes and not know it until you’re already up on stage! Kudos to you for making it through AND for not letting that mishap keep you from speaking again in front of more and more people! It sounds like it ended up maybe being a good thing and loosened you up. Definitely a time to feel proud of yourself. Keep it up! :D

  3. Congratulations for stepping out of your comfort zone and showing up! That was amazing since it was a truly untested situation. As a fellow scared-of-everything-fraidy-cat, I know how exhausting those can be. I, like you, just step out and do it anyway. I’m tired a lot from the effort, but the alternative is doing nothing. What kind of a life would that be? I ask myself: “What’s the worst that can happen? No one is going to die.” and it reminds me to be humble about whatever it is I’m doing. (I don’t know how surgeons do it – someone could actually die, but I think they’re a different breed.) Anyway, I just wanted to say congratulations and I hope a lot of fraidy-cats read your article and are inspired.

    1. Yes, yes, yes! What kind of life would that be? So boring! And that’s a great strategy, to remind yourself that what you’re doing is not a life or death situation! In the end I was just reading to kids, so yeah, what’s the worst that could happen? Thank you so much for your kind words and congrats to you too for stepping out there and doing those scary things anyways! Go Team Fraidy-Cats! :D

  4. I love your posts, Christine! And this one so actually for me. The theme of comfort zone always dominates on my abillity to feel free about my art and about someone’s feedback. A lot of things scare me during the life, and i see now not only me feel the same. Thank you for this inspirational post. I trying to work on myself and I really do something. This year I did very brave step, from the September I’m on my way to get MFA in Illustrstor (on-line education in AAU San Francisco). Not easy way for me, and not only because English my second language. But I just want to do what I love. And ready to work hard. Even if I need to step across my fears.

    1. So glad you liked it, Natalia! And yes, I think people are often more scared than they let on. I’ve heard of tons of musicians and broadway actors who still get scared every time they go on stage, even after decades of doing it! That’s amazing you took that big jump to get your MFA! Way to go! I’m sure it will be hard, and I’m so proud of you for doing it even though I’m sure it’s very scary and DEFINITELY out of your comfort zone. Keep it up! :D

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