Let’s talk about comfort zones for a minute.
There are so many kinds of them. The most important ones being those that ensure basic survival and safety. If we’re in imminent danger, we can usually feel the potential for trouble before it eventuates. And, thanks to our gut-feel, usually back away from situations where we’re uncomfortable. Other comfort zones exist to inform, impact, and drive certain social and professional interactions. In moments both big and small we understand inherently if we’re nervous, unsure, or completely at ease. And, we lean towards interactions that validate and keep safe our needs to feel accepted and liked by others.
Personally, I’m hyper-aware of my comfort zones. Maybe too aware. I get fidgety and uncomfortable in them. Which is weird, right? The whole ‘get used to being comfortable with being uncomfortable’ argument for growth sounds more like self-flagellation than fun. But, it’s where I live my life most days.
Let me explain.
We all have our safe places. Our inner havens, in-built boundaries, & self-check systems. And, we all know without a doubt when our personal boundaries are being pushed, pulled, crossed, mussed or even splintered apart. So, why is it then, that when it comes to finding comfort, I don’t necessarily find it in routine? Or by rights, in spontaneity?
What I’ve come to notice about my own comfort zones is that there’s a constant fuzzy-line-of-discomfort drawn between moments where my worst nightmares & sweetest dreams converge. And, I dance quite the cha-cha on that fuzzy line of peaceful internal existence daily – stepping thoughtfully through the rhythm of work, life, family, and wider societal pressures.
You see, on the outside, I fit every stereotype of extrovert you could imagine. Bubbly, inquisitive, completely individual, confident… yep, typical So-Cal girl in New Zealand, right? Yep, on the outside. But, just below the surface the truth is bubbling away. I’m an introvert. I’ve done hundreds of personality quizzes, and each time have come out an INFJ. Which confounds most people I confide in. Most, but not all.
You see, while I like to be who I am and to push boundaries – I’m much happier and comfortable recharging my batteries in solitude. Earphones on, music playing, out for a run. Or, TV on in the background, reading and ingesting information in my own way, on my own time. If I could magic-up a perfect day it would include all of the above – peppered with a few people throughout to sweeten the narrative. It’d be a lovely, drawn out day of quiet introspection and small treats of socialising. See? Introvert.
That said, I also love short, sharp moments of discomfort when I get to be in a group teaching, creating, and working collaboratively with some of the most amazing people/peers in the game. A lot of the time if I know I’ll be speaking or presenting something to a crowd, I’ll psych myself up for it. Just like I used to do when I was playing sports – I treat most days like The Big Game. I give my all to what I can, and then head home in the evenings to rest and recharge. Because, as much as I absolutely love a little bit of extrovert time, it zaps my energy stores and sets me right outside of my comfort zones.
The conclusion I’ve come to about myself is this: I am a study in opposites. An introvert forever doing extrovert things. And, I’ve also come to realize that the coping mechanisms that I’ve built up over the years are super important, super necessary, and super easy when they’re simplified down to the good stuff.
So, in no particular order, here are some of my own Survival Tips for introverts living in a world of extroverts:
- Do your homework
This obviously only works for moments of discomfort that you can actively plan on. Things like big presentations (or small ones!), public speaking, pitching to clients, and the like. I find I’m much better at finding comfort in discomfort when I’m well prepared or learned on a topic. If I’m speaking at an event, I practice, practice, practice before presenting. Most of the time this means working through a presentation far in advance and then getting up each day at 3am a week or so before speaking to run through the narrative in my mind. For pitches and other moments where I know my palms might start sweating a bit, I study up on both the people and the ideas being spoken to. That way I feel like I’m talking more to friends than to potential investors or clients. Planning ahead and doing the leg-work has been a consistent winner in the coping stakes for me.
- Schedule in quiet time
Whether it’s in short bursts throughout the day, small walks outside, or through meditation – scheduling in time to recharge is key to going full steam ahead (in bursts) daily. I try to take at least 10 minutes a day – though 30 would be better! – to get outside, grab a bite to eat, listen to music, browse the interwebs, and do non-work stuff. I find even small moments of shutting my mind off from work helps me come back with better creativity, focus, and the ability to really pack all of my best hours into a day at the office. Without a break, I tend to break. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. So, if you see me taking a walk around the block with my earbuds in, I’m recharging and will be back to chat soon.
- Get to know what stresses you out intimately
Self-awareness is an art. Believe me, there’s a reason EQ is such a sought after attribute in the workplace these days. People who understand their own emotions and drivers are able to lead better, more efficiently, and drive engagement with their teams. Knowing what stresses you out can void or limit the power each moment of fear has over you. By accepting your discomfort, you can really get zen with it and feel the moment. Acknowledge your fears, then move on. One of the best talks I’ve ever seen, from the amazing Simon Sinek of course, was about how the human body processes fear and excitement. Both are translated in very similar, almost identical ways. We get to choose how we interpret our stressors sometimes. So for me, even when I’m literally running to the bathroom with nerves before a presentation or speech, I tell myself I’m stoked/happy/excited/fizzing to get going. More often than not, a positive outlook works in finding a calm place to work from – in front of a crowd or not.
- Don’t be afraid to be honest (or, imperfect)
Quite often in the corporate world we’re encouraged to live our lives as flawless, perfect, unflappable versions of our true selves. Never messing up. Never failing at a project. Never standing up for what’s right, or obvious, or truly common sensical – instead we live standing in the shadows of not-ruffling-feathers. I call bunk on this. All of it. Personally, I tend to like the leaders and innovators who show their human sides. They wear the dents in their armor proudly – as scars that encouraged growth and change. They believe in honesty. And, they live by it regardless of popular trends or belief. Let’s face it, there are times when all of us struggle. If you’re able to embrace the struggle, ask for help, and teach others from your own journey – you’re not less of a person. You’re more. From an introvert’s perspective, I crave connection with a small inner-circle who allow me to ask questions, admit gaps in strengths, and grow from it all. With a core team you can trust, the sky really is the limit.
- Accept who you are and play to your strengths
Who decided that the best way to ‘grow’ people in business was through concentrating maximum efforts on hiding or erasing weaknesses? To me, this way of thinking is off piste with reality. You want people to come into work engaged, passionate, and willing to learn? Ask them what their passions are. Grow what they’re good at. And, as a matter of course, address weaknesses when they hinder performance. I mean, you wouldn’t take a point guard and put them under the hoop to box out the big guns if your game plan was to win. You’d set the team up in a way that would at least level an already star-studded playing field. Beyond the office, I’m a person who completely accepts that I’m not perfect. I don’t want to be. And, I really don’t get on well with people who pretend they’re perfect and belittle others in the process for a journey that has peaks, valleys, roundabouts, and stops. I reckon it’s simple: accept who you are and who your colleagues are, and play well together. You’ll find you’re more comfortable in your own skin. And you’ll be surrounded by people who are more comfortable in their own, too.
So there you have it – my 5 tips for being you, when you have to put yourself out on the line more often than you might be wired to be comfortable with. Sure it can be scary. But, it can be very appealing – exciting even! Success really is at the end of your comfort zones – especially if you’re able to push your own boundaries in a way that makes you feel secure in the long run.
As an introvert, knowing yourself is your best, most powerful weapon out in the wide world. Wield that knowledge wildly. Thrive like it’s going out of style.