This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.
Some of the most frequently accepted words of advice in the many self-help books I have read — designed to bolster self-confidence and creativity — is to “step outside your comfort zone.” In other words, to challenge yourself in new ways in order to encourage growth and combat stagnation.
What freelancer does not wish for those things?
This pandemic would seem the perfect time to “step outside of our comfort zone.” With so many gigs disappearing and so much free time available, what better use can we make of it?
In theory, this is all well and good.
But in practice, “stepping out of your comfort zone” taken to its extreme can be a problem.
I would posit it is far more advantageous to reimagine your “comfort zone” as a positive construct well worth remaining in and to reframe “stepping out” of it as simply expanding and enriching it.
So what is this “comfort zone” anyway?
The idea of a “comfort zone” has come to have a highly negative or pejorative connotation by default.
Why is that?
For some, “comfort zone” implies a narrowness of vision, a laziness of energy, a general lacklustre.
Now, OK. If this definition accurately reflects you, well then, you probably do need a kick up the backside. So “step out” right away!
But for many of us, our comfort zone is a positive, hard-won, confidence-building concept. It defines what we do best and enjoy the most.
For some of us “comfort zone” means a genuine self-awareness of our own strengths and weaknesses, tested time and time again with experience. It’s not about narrowing down our options but refining and fine-tuning our skills and professional direction until we start to “get it right.”
We can continually probe and explore the endless opportunities within that zone.
It is, in fact, a golden zone.
But I had read all the self-help books about “stepping out of your comfort zone” and eventually succumbed to that guilt-inducing emotional blackmail. If I didn’t try “stepping out,” I thought, then I must truly be a creative sloth!
New experiences can be invaluable. So choosing to have them can never be a mistake.
My mistake was in throwing away essentials of self-knowledge.
A most useful example, of the multitude I could share
A few years ago, while writing animated cartoon shows, I was constantly impressed with how well talented voice actors brought into life my humble words. Privately, I too could do funny voices, having watched thousands of hours of animated cartoons.
So I decided to “step out of my comfort zone” – writing animated shows – and audition to do voices for them. I knew the industry well. It seemed a natural progression, professionally.
Since I had an “in” with production houses, it was a simple matter to find out when the next open-cattle-call was to be held. I practiced my “funny voices” until I was certain I would win any audition.
I arrived at the studios with great confidence. This “stepping out of my comfort zone” was going to be a blast!
The audition began well. I read the “sides” left on the table before me in a variety of my funniest voices, until the casting director cut me off midstream on the intercom.
“Could you use your real voice? We’re looking for realism.”
My stomach tightened. Sweat suddenly dripped from my brow. My real voice? What did they mean, realism? I was auditioning for animated cartoon characters for [blank’s] sake!
The little voice inside me, the crackling hotline to my comfort zone, was imploring me to tell them that what I did best were funny voices. I wasn’t a trained actor.
But I was there to “step out of my comfort zone.” And so I mustered up all the false bravado I didn’t feel and proceeded to read the rest of the sides in my “real” voice.
And completely failed the audition.
What had I learned?
It was, of course, good to try something new and expand my professional experiences.
My mistake was in my zealous “stepping out” and throwing away of the most significant aspects of my “comfort zone” — especially its confidence-building self-awareness.
I already knew that I was no trained actor, just someone who could do funny voices. I should have acknowledged it and insisted I use them, even if it meant losing the audition.
At least they would have heard some funny voices really bringing words off the page as I knew I could do. Instead they heard an untrained “real” voice struggling incompetently with unfamiliar material.
I had erroneously bought into the extremist “step out your comfort zone” mythology instead of recognizing the value of my “comfort zone.”
The next time I did an audition my mindset, if not the results, would be very different.
There is no shame in failure. From it we learn. But failure due to willfully “stepping out” of our comfort zone is sheer self-inflicted folly that can devastate your self-confidence.
A far superior mindset is to find ways to reinvigorate and challenge yourself with new experiences that fall within your comfort zone or – as I prefer to think of it – my zone of best-honed-skills and known talents.
And, of course, there is no reason not to seek formal or informal training for any coveted skills and talents that remain undeveloped.
So learn to accept and embrace your “comfort zone.”
It really is your golden zone.
POSTED IN: Features