A few days after my 32nd birthday, I stood in front of a crowded auditorium and pretended to be an 18-year-old high school student in a theatrical production. I never intended on playing the lead role when I signed on to volunteer as a program coordinator, but my behind-the-scenes gig ended when the director asked me to step in two weeks before show time.
The high school senior scheduled to play the main character stopped coming to rehearsals a month before opening night, and I agreed to fill in for her until they found someone else (I didn’t know that person was me!). Although my girlfriend predicted the director would ask me, I didn’t see the writing on the wall.
I reminded him about my upcoming 32nd birthday, and to my dismay and surprise he simply responded with: “Great. Can you do it?” He fully believed in my ability to play the role, despite my age and lack of acting experience. Yikes!
I agreed to play a high school senior as a grown adult. (Yup…I had officially become a Beverly Hills 90210 cast member). Although I looked the part, my youthful appearance did nothing to alleviate the uneasiness I felt outside of my comfort zone.
Statistics show that 75 percent of people have a fear of public speaking, making it one of the most common phobias. Well, I don’t fall in the minority on this one. I avoided speech classes like the plague until I was forced to enroll in a mandatory speech class during my freshman year in college. Although I aced the class, I never wanted to take another public speaking class again. I’ve always loved being behind-the-scenes.
So why did I agree to play the part? As much as I preferred assisting the cast behind-the-scenes, I realized the event wasn’t about me. The director created an opportunity to teach high school students about Black History Month and other valuable life lessons through theater. Unforeseen circumstances left him in a bind, and I had the ability to help out. Although the thought of being on stage as the star of the show made me super uncomfortable, the overall mission was more important than my uneasiness. His request was also an opportunity for me to step outside of my comfort zone to do something new. To take an afraid moment and change it into something brave.
Exploring New Territory
Living in familiar territory is often easy and convenient, so it’s no surprise that resistance kicks in the minute we step outside of our regular routine to pursue the unfamiliar. A voice tells us what we can’t do, why we can’t do it, why things won’t ever work, etc. Familiar territory makes us feel safe and secure and paints a picture that doing anything uncomfortable will only lead to failure and embarrassment.
When we excel in our comfort zone, we are confident in our ability. We’ve been here before. We know what to expect in our zone. But if we only did what was comfortable, how would we grow?
That’s why it’s important to engage in endeavors that stretch you beyond your familiarities, which includes pursuing opportunities that make you uneasy. Thriving in uncomfortable moments shows what you are capable of, even while facing your fears. You just need to be willing to take the risk. Even when it’s scary.
3 Ways to Excel in the Unfamiliar
Practice: It’s easy to put yourself on autopilot when you’re in your zone, but new levels require new skills. When my former job asked me to write speeches and scripts for the organization’s annual conference, I signed up for an online course because I had zero experience with speech writing. Take classes, conduct research, or read books to hone your craft and stay on top of your game when facing the unfamiliar. If I’d let fear rule my situation, I would have missed out on an opportunity to learn something new and grow as a writer. Instead, I did what I needed to do to execute a successful script and several speeches, which turned out to be an invaluable skillset that continues to benefit me in my writing career.
Pray/Meditate: Stepping into the unfamiliar reminds us that we can do it alone and struggle or we can do it with God’s help. When God calls you to a new place to stretch you, He won’t leave you hanging. I recently wrote a post in this series about facing our assignments with courage. God will send us the help we need, but He still expects for us to get the job done. Prayer and meditation on the Word provides comfort during challenging times and reminds us that His grace is sufficient in our weakest areas.
Position yourself: Surrounding yourself with the right people makes a difference when you encounter difficult moments outside of your comfort zone. Those people will push you, encourage you, and support you through the highs and lows. The wrong people will criticize you or try to make you feel bad when you want to do something new. Your desire to pursue the unfamiliar will make them uncomfortable because they are content in their comfort zone. They won’t understand why you want more or why you’re not satisfied with doing the same ‘ole thing the same ‘ole way. You won’t connect with them because you seek purpose. Not contentment.
Do it Afraid
As a writer, I’ve envisioned myself working on productions, such as film, television or theater, but I always saw myself behind-the-scenes. I was a nervous wreck opening night, but none of the worst-case scenarios I imagined in my head actually happened (falling on stage, forgetting my lines, etc.).Saying yes to performing in front of 200-plus people was a big deal to me, but I pushed through the nervous excitement and butterflies and delivered a great performance. I had a fabulous time and walked away without any regrets. Before the final curtain closed, I took one last bow and exhaled. The excitement lingered in the air. My fear subsided, and I took it all in.
Did my debut performance several years ago awaken a hidden desire to become an actress or change the trajectory of my career? Not at all. Although I enjoyed my first acting experience, I won’t lose any sleep if I never performed on anyone’s stage again. That experience wasn’t about pursuing a new calling. I needed to confront my fears. I needed to say yes to an opportunity that took me outside of my comfort zone and challenged me. I needed to know that I can do all things, and I can do them brave even when I’m afraid.
B2B Reflection: Journaling prompt
We all have that ‘one’ thing that makes us uncomfortable. Take note of any recent opportunities. Are you turning anything down because of fear? Do you have an enormous creative project you want to complete in the near future? Do you have a book idea that intimidates you? Maybe you want to write in a different genre or you have an article idea you’re afraid to pitch. Identify your fear, and choose to pursue the opportunity anyway. When you take that first step, your courage will override your fears.