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Venturing Outside Your Comfort Zone

Has anyone been watching the new Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien? I have. Last night during the opening monologue, I learned that George Bush Sr. went skydiving for his 85th birthday. Wow – I’m impressed! I’m only 45 and you could not pay me enough to go skydiving. I am the total opposite of a thrill seeker - a self-professed chicken. There are very few things I choose to do that push me outside my comfort zone.

Are you a chicken like me, or do you welcome an occasional adrenaline rush? When is the last time you voluntarily ventured outside your comfort zone? Did you go WAY outside your comfort zone or did you stay near the fringe? What inspired you to challenge yourself, and how did the experience make you feel?

Last month when I was on vacation, I ventured WAY outside my comfort zone by participating in an outdoor challenge called Quantum Leap 2. The challenge involved climbing a 35 foot telephone pole, pulling myself up onto a small wooden platform, standing there long enough to catch my breath before jumping to the ground with trust that the total stranger managing the rope attached to my body harness would not let go.

The experience was part of the outdoor challenge course at Miraval Resort and Spa in Tucson, Arizona. I knew that the challenge was 10% physical and 90% mental and that was part of the problem. I was scared to death. Part of my fear was fear of heights, but the greater part of my fear was fear of failure, and fear of public humiliation among a group of my peers.

Thankfully, Neil was there to help me. Neil was the tanned, rugged, outdoorsy type assigned to guide our challenge. Neil began the challenge by reminding us that the philosophy of Miraval is to live in the moment and to be mindful of our journey. As such, making it to the top of the pole need not be our goal. However, I could tell by the determined look in the eyes of my fellow Type-A participants that reaching the top was our only acceptable outcome.

Collectively, we began putting on our harnesses. Neil’s calm, centered demeanor was a comforting contrast to my growing panic. He instructed us to decide amongst ourselves who would go first and who would go last. He challenged us to think outside our comfort zone. If we are people who typically go first, then go last, and vice versa.

I immediately volunteered to go first, not because I typically go last, but because I had been thinking about this challenge for three years and could not wait another minute to begin. As background, I participated in a similar outdoor challenge at Miraval three years earlier and had not made it to the top. I’d let fear stop me that time, and the feeling of failure had stuck with me. As a person who typically accomplishes my goals, I could not let go of what I perceived as failure. I was determined this time to make it to the top of the pole no matter how scared I was.

My husband climbed the pole first and waited for me on top of the tiny platform. Partnership is part of the experience of Quantum Leap 2, and perhaps his emotional support, the feeling of teamwork, or sheer determination was the incentive I needed. My heart pounded with every step I took on the metal staples of the pole, and my mouth was totally dry by the time my feet reached the last staple. I nervously pulled myself up onto the tiny platform and stood up next to my husband. I felt an amazing rush of relief and accomplishment. Wow, I really did it! I remembered thinking if I could do this, I could do anything!

On the countdown of 3, 2, 1, we jumped, and I’ve never been so happy to be back on the ground and out of a body harness. I glowed with relief and excitement! I cheered as the other participants made their way to the top of the platform too. It was so much fun to witness the thrill of their accomplishment. One woman was having an especially difficult time making it from the pole to the platform, and we all rallied around her shouting advice and encouragement from the ground. When she finally stood up on top of the platform we celebrated the victory with her. It was a vivid reminder of the power of teamwork. Together we can accomplish more than we can alone.

I don’t plan to tackle any outdoor challenges again in the near future, but I do hope the lessons I learned at the challenge stick with me. I hope I can remember to enjoy the journey, not just the destination, and I hope I can remember that most challenges are a test of our fears more than a test of our actual abilities. This summer, I strongly encourage you to venture outside your comfort zone. Try an outdoor challenge, or take on a professional challenge that makes you a little nervous.

A wise mentor once told me that it’s good to be scared of professional challenges because it means you’re pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. The potential to learn, to grow, and to gain self-confidence are greatly enhanced when you’re venturing outside your comfort zone. My experience at Miraval is living proof of that!