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I get a little annoyed when I read yet another inspirational quote about how the magic happens outside our comfort zone.
While something in me believes this to be true, I have learned that it is a lot more complicated than that.
I stepped out of my comfort zone over two years ago, and while I do not regret it, it has not been magic.
It has been hard work, and it still is. It’s had lots of ups and downs, I’ve learned lots of lessons about myself, and there’s still an uncertain outcome.
When I decided to leave my job, I knew this was the right thing to do. I loved working for the organisation, I loved my colleagues (mostly), and enjoyed my day-to-day. However, there was no part of the job that I wanted to do, nothing that made me proud like it had before.
So, it was time to change—every fiber in my body knew it. I refused a new internal job offer and quit the organisation. I had nothing else to go to, I jumped into nothingness.
Okay, not total nothingness; I knew that I wanted to explore what professional routes were available to me within mindfulness and meditation. As a psychologist and mindfulness trainer, I felt that there was still so much work that needed to be done in this field to make it more accessible for everyone.
And then there was my new reality: no colleagues, no million emails, no meetings, no monthly salary. And with the nothing came boredom, with boredom came my old demons, and with my demons came doubt—a lot of doubt—and still no salary.
With this came my first lesson.
You do not know what will make you most uncomfortable.
While I had planned out my finances before quitting my job, and I knew that I would be okay for a while, not having a monthly salary made me super uncomfortable. I had no idea that this would be the case, because I had never as an adult not had a monthly salary.
Before I really acknowledged this truth, I was reacting to my worry, leading me to accept so many consultancy jobs that I had no time to think about, or work on, what I actually wanted to do.
I have changed this now—I choose my clients more carefully so that I can complete assignments I like, manage them on the side of my own company, and that keeps my finances healthy.
The second thing that I had not realised would make me uncomfortable was that I would really miss my colleagues. Quitting my job also meant quitting an important part of my daily chitchat and human interaction—and I love that. I still have not really sorted this one out, and I still miss colleagues. I work in a co-working space, but that is not the same as working with a team toward common goals. I had to get really comfortable with being alone and working alone.
This very quickly opened my eyes to my second lesson:
Let your demons be.
I found that working and being alone throughout the day was not easy—in large part because I was confronted with all my demons, ones that I thought I had put to bed a long time ago. But there they were. Partly because of the alone time, but also because of the uncertainty of stepping out of my comfort zone. So when you do step out of your comfort zone, be prepared for your demons to show up.
Seeing them while not letting them decide my actions needed (and still needs) constant attention and mindfulness—and this can be quite exhausting. The way I tried to manage this, sometimes with more success than others, was to stick to a routine.
I know I love yoga and exercise, I know I work better when I am at my co-working space, and I know that I need my evening to be as free as possible for other things. So, I started to protect my time to make sure it all fit in. It sounds easy when you suddenly have the whole working day available, but it is surprising how easy it is to not do anything in a day. It is also surprising how other people seem to think that you don’t have anything to do, so they ask you to do all kinds of things during the working day.
When I’d just quit my job, I did put out the message that I could babysit, visit over cups of coffee, or hang out during the day. I almost did not take my own work seriously, because it was just me and my business. But no more. I work from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.—before and after, I can meet up, do fun things, or just chill out, but I really try to stick to working hours, otherwise my days would disappear into nothing.
The last lesson I learned is maybe the most important one. If this one is out of whack, then stepping out of your comfort zone will be too difficult to maintain.
Be very clear about your values.
As a psychologist and mindfulness teacher, I am familiar with ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) and have used a lot of their theory and wisdom in my own work. But importantly, I realised that I needed it for myself. Especially the part where you clarify your values. It has been my life raft during the whole period of developing my own company, and it remains critically important.
As I discovered, values are incredibly powerful to have clear and use in your daily life. It is all about the big things in life, how we want to be, what we stand for, what kind of relationships we want to build, and on what you want to spend your time and energy.
Values are the way you want to live life and give direction to your passions, and my own company is my passion, and knowing that gives me enough support to make it through all the challenges and befriend my demons.
If you do want to step out of your comfort zone, I would really advise you to do the value-setting exercise sooner rather than later. It will help you to decide if indeed stepping out of your comfort zone is what you want and need, and help you stick to it when the going gets tough—and it will.
Stepping out of your comfort zone—do or don’t?
There is only one person who can answer that question for you, and it is not me!
That being said, I would always say that if you want change in your life, make it happen. But don’t take it lightly—it is hard work, it is definitely not immediately magical, and it might never be the way you imagined it to be.
For me, I cannot say that it is magical right now. I have also now gotten a sports injury that makes me housebound, so it’s more time to sit with my demons. It is hard work with an uncertain outcome and lots of challenges. When I write that, it makes me realize it’s just like life really!
I am ploughing on because it aligns with my values, and what I have created makes me proud, but I have my eyes wide open, not expecting magic, but expecting life.