The "Zone of the Unknown"

In elementary school, I did not like to participate in class. I would never raise my hand, and avoided eye contact with my teacher when she asked for volunteers. Come on now, I know many of you - students, teachers, parents and administrators included - have tried this tactic before. For some reason, teachers always seemed to call on the students who did not raise their hands. You had nowhere to hide! To be honest, I fell victim to this throughout middle school, high school and college. Even when I started my first job out of college, I avoided speaking up during team meetings.

Why did I choose not to participate? Well for starters, I was shy and UNCOMFORTABLE. I was UNCOMFORTABLE about saying something wrong. I was UNCOMFORTABLE with speaking in front of large groups of people. I lacked self-confidence. By a show of hands, how many of you have been fearful of being UNCOMFORTABLE? Don’t worry, I will not call on you this time! But if I had to guess, I would say that 100% of you reading this post have at some point avoided something because it made you feel UNCOMFORTABLE.

Like you, I avoided situations that made me UNCOMFORTABLE. However, I eventually came to the realization that I was only hurting myself in the end. I knew that I needed to take corrective actions and find the perfect solution to face my fears. I needed to abandon my own comfort zone and venture out into what I call the “ZONE OF THE UNKNOWN”. In other words, I needed to put myself in situations where I would be UNCOMFORTABLE. That is where growth happens!

So what did that look like for me? During my first job out of college, I was given the task of co-managing a global project. One day my manager asked if I would be willing to travel to Tokyo, Japan to train 200 employees. I was excited, yet UNCOMFORTABLE with the opportunity for a number of reasons:

  1. Although I had visited Japan while in college, I did not understand the business culture there. What if I offended my colleagues due to a lack of knowledge about their customs?
  2. I was nervous about taking a 16-hour flight by myself (and so was my fiancée).
  3. I only knew two words in Japanese, and would have to find a way to communicate with people around the city of Tokyo.
  4. Oh yeah, did I mention that I was going to be speaking in front of large groups of people at the trainings? Luckily for me, I was being given a translator.

I went out on a limb and accepted the offer without hesitation. I knew that I could only grow both personally and professionally from the opportunity. I was going to venture into the “ZONE OF THE UNKNOWN”.

And guess what? It was not so bad after all. Do not get me wrong, the experience was challenging. I prepped for months to gain a better understanding of Japanese customs and business culture. It took me a full day to adjust to the time difference, language barrier and office culture. But I eventually got into a rhythm. My presentations were well received by my colleagues, and in the end, I learned how to become a better communicator.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because people are often inclined to avoid situations that make them UNCOMFORTABLE. This prevents them from reaching their full potential.

Educators -  encourage your students to venture into the “ZONE OF THE UNKNOWN”. Share this story with your class. Seek out those “Charles Winslows” and make it a point to boost their confidence.

Parents - please share and discuss this story with your children. You can share a time when you overcame your fear of being UNCOMFORTABLE.

Students - challenge yourself to step out of your own comfort zone. Be the first to raise your hand.

Stay Educated. Stay Empowered. Stay WellTraveled.