We ofen hear the advice “get out of your comfort zone”, and in my experience it’s good advice to avoid becoming stationary in whatever it is you’re trying to get better at. Being outside your comfort zone usually means doing something you don’t expect, or something you don’t already know how to do. Being in those situations forces you to adapt and to grow, and break through plateaus, and that’s a good thing.
On the other hand, the advice itself doesn’t help much with the “how” part of the process. If I want to be out of my comfort zone, how do I find that place? When we’re talking about skills, maybe learning a new language, or learning to code, the path seems easier. Try to talk about a new subject in the language, try to read a more complex book in the language, try to code something you’ve never built before, etc.
But when we’re speaking more generally about life itself, what’s the process? I’ve been thinking about this recently, and I think a good candidate is: seek out completely new experiences. Do things you’ve never done before, particularly if they make you feel uncomfortable about your suitability to them.
I’ve been fascinated with languages for as long as I can remember, more recently with Esperanto. For the last year or so I’ve been actively learning to speak the language fluently. However, until recently, not by meeting people and speaking with them in real life. Speaking with people in real life and exposing yourself is scary and uncomfortable – what if the other person doesn’t understand you? What if you don’t understand the other person? What if it gets really awkward?
And so I stayed in my comfort zone far too long with Esperanto. After realising I was doing this, I finally decided to meet a few people that weren’t just streams of 1s and 0s coming over my phone line. It was awesome, and while at times it was just as awkward as I had worried about, it gave me a totally new experience. With that I immediately had more confidence that I was moving again towards the bigger goal of speaking the language fluently.
Reflecting on the experience, I realised that what I had eventually done was to simply jump in and ignore the worry, the lack of comfort, and do something new, where I had no idea what would happen. And guess what? In the end I didn’t die. To the contrary, I had a new unique experience and I became better because of it.
Fast forward about 6 months and the opportunity to attend an event called SES (Somera Esperanto-Studado) came up. SES is a gathering of ~250 Esperanto speakers from all over the world, who live together for a week in a remote Slovakian town, learning and having fun together. Initially I was worried that I didn’t speak sufficiently well enough to attend an event like this. Luckily, I quickly remembered my lesson about avoiding the comfortable thing and instead threw myself into it and committed to going. I realised that it was a huge opportunity to do something very new and unique, and experience something I hadn’t before. I had no idea what would happen, whether I’d enjoy it or hate it.
Well, I’ve just returned home and all I can say is wow. It was a really deep personal experience for all kinds of reasons that are hard to capture in words. To think I may not have done it is a crazy idea to me now. It has once again re-enforced the idea that seeking out new experiences and doing them regardless can uncover so many things you could never anticipate.
It sounds as crazy as it really was – living with hundreds of people for the whole week, where the only language spoken was a language created 130 years ago, learnt by choice by everyone there, to foster understanding between people from all over the world. Where everyone was your friend, sharing this common goal. Where age and any other thing just didn’t matter one little bit.
I didn’t expect any of these things, but now I know it’s real. It has set a new bar for new unique experiences, and now I must find the next. The next thing to broaden my mind and show me how the world can be different, more strange, more fun, more something I don’t even yet know.
I wanted to share this small personal light-bulb moment in case others are coming to realise the same thing. Seek out totally new experiences. Don’t over-think them, just do them instead. Let doing new unexpected things teach you more about the world than you already know.