Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone
Lately I have felt a lot like George Clooney’s character from the film “Up in the Air” (Kirn, W., Reitman, J. & Turner, S. 2009). Thankfully I am not in the business of laying off employees, but I have been in the business of traveling and collaborating with our Higher Ed colleagues around the nation. I am grateful to work for an institution that supports travel and professional development and I am always appreciative when l return home and have time reflect on what I’ve learned and consider how to apply it in my personal and professional life.
Before my travels began, I decided a year ago to begin setting intentions for myself. According to Deepak Chopra (2018), an “intention is the starting point of every dream. It is the creative power that fulfills all of our needs, whether for money, relationships, spiritual awakening or love”. I spent time reflecting and meditating on how I wanted to grow as a person, where was I limiting myself and how I was getting in my own way. I realized I was rigid in my beliefs, afraid to take risks and frankly, not very open to new experiences. So the intention was set, I was going to force myself to step out of my comfort zone.
My first opportunity presented itself after attending the NASPA AVP institute. One of the facilitators told us about the NASPA Exchange Program. I took a chance and applied, much to my surprise (and delight) I was invited to participate in the exchange to Northern England. In June of 2017 I spent a week in Northern England with three other NASPA colleagues from the east coast. I was confident I would learn a lot, I anticipated the schedule would be grueling, but I was committed to my own professional and personal growth. What I could not foresee was how much I would learn from my fellow exchange participants. Two of us were fairly new to our leadership positions and two were seasoned AVP’s and NASPA veterans.
As I processed the information sharing that occurred with our host institutions I also became keenly aware that I was observing the behavior and demeanor of my colleagues. I found myself admiring the way they carried themselves, the questions they asked, their experience and how they shared and presented their knowledge and expertise, as well as how they engaged in student affairs centered dialogue. I recognized that I was not only immersed in learning information about our host country and student affairs practices abroad but I was starting to think about how I show up as a leader, how I represent my institution and genuinely considering the type of student affairs professional I want to become. I wonder, had I not taken the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and participate in the exchange program, how stuck I would still feel in my current position?
The NASPA Exchange took place a year ago and my recent travels are related to a large renovation project for our campus, for which I am chairing the committee. This was my next opportunity to take a chance. This project in and of itself has been a new and challenging experience. With so many of us being asked to do more with less resources it can feel overwhelming when you are propositioned to take on a task that is time intensive, includes navigating and coordinating multiple personalities from across disciplines and the outcome expectations are set quite high. I was skeptical and nervous to step out of my comfort zone and to take on this responsibility. I had no idea I would meet so many wonderful people and learn about services and programs outside of my purview, and also find the value in what these services bring to our students and community. I met incredibly knowledgeable professionals in the fields of career services and experiential learning, architecture and design, project planning, alumni relations, advancement and so much more. I was exposed to innovative programming ideas, funding opportunities and creating a vision. Now, I cannot wait to see this vision become a tangible reality for our students and campus community. I thought I would “just chair a committee”, however I am now thoroughly invested in the success of this project.
As an introvert, I can assure you these activities have stretched me beyond my comfort zone. The benefits from these experiences far outweighed any discomfort or fear I may have initially felt. Having had an opportunity to reflect on my travels and professional interactions with our student affairs colleagues abroad and at home, I am truly seeing the bigger picture. I have a renewed energy for my own work. To see the innovation of others in the field is inspiring and it has provided me with growth and a desire to continue to improve the programs and services offered to students at my home institution. However, most importantly it has allowed me to pause and reflect on the emerging leader I am and the type of leader and colleague I aspire to be. My openness and willingness to try something new has contributed to my overall general knowledge and has forced me to see things beyond my scope of practice, to see the contributions each area of campus makes to creating a sense of community and experience for our students and the role I can play in ensuring this continues to happen.
So, the next time an opportunity presents itself to you, I don’t want to just encourage you to step outside of your comfort zone I challenge you to leap outside of it! Say yes and try something new! Listen and learn from colleagues both at your home institution and elsewhere. Observe the leaders around you and consider the type of leader you wish to become. Take a moment to reflect and appreciate where you’ve been, how you’ve grown and where you want to go because that next step may be something you haven’t even considered!
Chopra, D. (2018). Five Steps to Setting Powerful Intentions. Retrieved from
Kirn, W., Reitman, J. & Turner, S. (Writers) Reitman, J. (Director). (2009) Up in the Air [Motion
Picture]. USA: Paramount Pictures.