Part I: life in the comfort zone
Let me tell you a little something about the comfort zone. It’s safe, familiar, heck, it’s comfortable. But, it gets you nowhere. How do I know? I hung out there for way too long.
Six months post-graduation, I was still working as a part-time Wellness Coach. I was bored, unhappy and lacking in the continuous stream of mental stimulation I’d become so accustomed to as a full-time student up to that point. Still, the fear of the unknown paralyzed me (I let it) and I found myself *waiting* for the right opportunity to make the leap. Here’s the thing: if you’re waiting for the opportunity to come to you, or for the timing to be just right, you’re going to be waiting a long time. There’s never going to be a right time. The time is NOW. Circumstance could always be better, but at some point, we must declare it “good enough.”
Some will get to that point on their own. If you fall into that category, all the more power to you. For me, it took someone else believing in me, giving me the confidence I didn’t have in myself to just do it. Lack of confidence in these times of transition is normal; trust me, I get it. But, that transition period need not be made any longer by failure to TAKE ACTION. Just do. Do something.
I’m a big proponent of the mantra “fake it ‘til you make it” (aka how to believe in yourself when you don’t feel worthy). If you’re not happy, or lean, for example, practice doing things that happy people, lean people do. Like with anything, self-confidence and self-trust come with practice. As silly as it sounds, practicing confidence was key for me in overcoming my gym anxiety. If you’ve read my story, you know that I was anything but confident a year ago. But, I told myself I was. Over and over and over again. And then one day, it was like a switch had flipped. All of a sudden, I was doing what I’d always done, but without the anxiety.
So one of my friends had been pushing me (okay, maybe more like repeated friendly nudge ;)) to get my personal training cert. Recall that at this point in the life plan, we were supposed to have been four months into the first year of medical school. Fail. Ha. Anyways, I’d purchased the textbooks and had been studying… for months lol… so clearly it was something that’d been on my mind a while. But there was something about registering for the exam that made it so real. So I put it off. Then put it off some more, registered and postponed. I told myself I could only postpone once, so I kept the test date (and kept it strictly confidential, I might add) and passed. In retrospect, it’s easy to recognize that I wasn’t afraid of the test itself. In fact, if I had confidence in one thing, it was my study skills. Rather, I was scared of what would come next. I’d worried myself sick over Step 10 before even having attempted Step 1. My dad, though we butt heads more often than I’d like, has always said: “don’t worry about something until you have something to worry about.” So true.
Earning my ACSM cert was the catalyst for change for me. I was deathly afraid to use it and actually start training (and didn’t for a few months), but that’s another story. It was in this moment that I realized I had the potential to do something more.
Hate to leave you hanging, but this is getting lengthier than I’d like so I’m going to stop here. Back tomorrow with PART II…
Part II: life beyond the comfort zone
Alright, so picking up where we left off. I liken my journey over this last year to a turtle coming out of it’s shell. A year ago, I felt lost, scared and alone. My self-confidence was at an all-time low, self-trust basically didn’t exist and I was without the direction I so desperately sought… in “the shell,” if you will. I wanted to ‘do better’ but fear of failure is ultimately what kept me in the comfort zone for so long.
Not long after I started lifting weights, I read Being Happy by Tal Ben-Shahar. A Harvard lecturer in psychology, he coins optimalism as an healthier alternative to perfectionism and suggests adopting an optimalist mindset to overcome the fear of failure- one of the key attributes of a perfectionist. I felt like the book was written for me!! He suggests that by fearing failure, we fall short of our potential: “we either learn to fail or fail to learn.” While the Perfectionist rejects failure, the Optimalist accepts it. Not only accepts it, but realizes that it [failing] is how they learn to succeed.
As someone with Type-A tendencies, I like predictable outcomes. Which is why a year ago, risk-taking didn’t happen… in any domain of my life. In this last year not only have I learned to take risks, but to accept that things may not always be perfect, and that’s ok. Other than unattainable, what is perfect anyway? Plus, predictable is boring. Yes, a direct path into business, law or medicine has its appeal, but I find myself excited now more than ever at the possibility that lies in the unknown: I get to create my own path.
At first, my risks were super teeny tiny ones, and probably ones that others would not classify as risk at all. But with each subsequent step that didn’t end catastrophically (extremist much? ha), I gained the confidence to take a slightly bigger step the next time. I’ll be the first to admit that the scare factor does still exist in trying new things, but a) this is very normal and b) I’ve practiced telling myself to just “get over it,” and then really, actually getting over it lol. Things tend not to be nearly as stressful as you might have thought them to be in your head, but you can make yourself sick when you start to mull over the hypotheticals. Worry about the ‘what-ifs’ only if and when they happen.
Starting with my own journey that commenced when I abandoned my life plan to pursue medical school, I began what would be a slow, but steady approach toward the outer limits of my comfort zone. I started lifting weights and quickly became hooked on something to which I was once so strongly opposed. And then guess what?! Group exercise happened. Not kidding. But, I only take ME… I have the attention span of a five-year old and anything beyond 30-minutes is, too much. Sorry BodyPumpers #sorrynotsorry.
A short five months later, the scheduling, taking and passing of my ACSM exam opened up more doors. After I actually started training, it allowed me to phase out my wellness coach responsibilities and shortly thereafter, leave wellness altogether. So here I was, cPT, telling other people to lift weights, but terrified to lift weights in the gym by myself, outside of group ex and without a trainer. Not a good look. This was one of those “get over it, Emily” moments. I wrote about gym anxiety here, but basically I started small: lifting weights by myself in Women’s Wellness.
Okay, so now that I’m totally hooked on this idea of a career in the fitness industry, I sign myself up for not one, but three additional certs whose practical portions involve filming a mock training session. F*ck. Me, on camera? x3 ? Thank you, no. But, I did it. Then, to start teaching the ME class I was, less than a year ago, afraid to set foot in? [Funny are the ‘what-the-heck-are-you-doing-up-here’ moments midway through teaching a class. It’s like my old self yelling at my new self, “What are you doing?! This is out of your comfort zone!” Then my new self saying, “screw it,” and turning the other way].
And this little blog? Yeah, I’m seriously the most guarded person ever and being vulnerable, well, takes practice. Last weekend was arguably one of the biggest steps I’ve taken out of my comfort zone, yet. I attended the inaugural Radiance Retreat in Asheville, NC, where I knew no one. I feared being the youngest, weakest, smallest and least successful amongst the crowd, but I left feeling more empowered than ever. Recap to come.
NOTE: The latter was not intended as a rant, but rather to illustrate how far I’ve come in the last twelve months. It’s kind of crazy, actually. Milton Berle said, “if opportunity doesn’t knock build a door.” The bottom line is that had I not taken Step 1, I never would’ve gotten to Steps 2, 3 and 4. You’ve got to start sometime so why not now?
I’ll leave you with this. A friend shared it with me back when I was just getting started on this journey and it’s been set as the wallpaper on my phone since. It serves as my daily reminder that I can do anything I want and I get to create the exact life I want.
From Stutz & Michels The Tools (also highly recommend).