We all know that feeling. The feeling when you’re walking down a new street in a new city for the first time. The feeling of standing up in front of a group of classmates, colleagues, or strangers and having hundreds of eyes staring quizzically, expectantly at you and your two eyes. The feeling of staring into the mirror of your hotel bathroom minutes before you head out to begin an all-day interview.
We all have a comfort zone. Some of ours have a broader radius than others. I believe mine has grown to be quite broad, in fact. Mine has become quite an elastic boundary, due to the extent of my travels, networking, and other generally odd types of human behavior. But there are still limits. I’ve found that I usually reach the boundaries of my comfort zone the very first time I have to try something new. The time I bungee jumped a mile away from Tibet is a good example. Even having experienced wildassery all over the world, that was an endeavor that I lost many nights of sleep over with anticipatory anxiety. However, now that I know what its like, what to expect, how it feels, the next time I bungee jump, it will certainly be easier to muster up the confidence and take that leap of faith.
The next two weeks, I will be outside of my comfort zone again, this time professionally. Product Managers are frequently asked to give in depth discussions to prospective clients about what they can expect to gain in the new feature set by upgrading to a new Blackbaud product. This frequently includes discussing both the present state and planned future strategy, or “roadmap”, of the product. This coming Tuesday, I will give an hour-long webinar of present state functionality of Raiser’s Edge NXT to legacy version customers that are interested in upgrading. Then the following week, I am flying to Maine to present our 6-12-18 month roadmap vision and strategy for RE NXT to IT professionals and executives at a leading university. I have never done this before. Nothing quite of this importance. Nothing quite with this level of direct and immediate impact potential to our group’s financial performance – this will be a multi-million dollar contract upgrade.
How do I even begin to wrap my head around preparing for these new, stressful experiences? How do I not allow my understanding of this deal’s significance to weigh me down with anxiety? Well the first step is to stay confident. Confidence is palpable and odorous. Things simply go better with confidence and go worse without it. So how do we maintain confidence? Well, the best assistance is past experience, but in the absence of that, preparation is the next best solution. While I’ve never done something quite within this scope before, I do have the confidence to lean on the many, many past presentations I’ve given, and prepare as I did with each of those successful outcomes. I’ve also already begun having 1:1 meetings with every fellow Blackbaud employee who would be able to provide me with greater depth of our enormously complex software product. Because the more advice and insight you gain from others, the easier it will be to fake it till you make it.
Don’t be afraid to stretch your comfort zone through purposeful and developmental experiences. It will, by definition, be uncomfortable. It will seem bizarre, you’ll second and third and forth guess yourself, and you’ll question all the life events that led you to that circumstance. Expect that, know that, welcome that. Because after completion, even if the result was not what you expected and was tough, you’ll then have that previous experience and context, and your comfort zone will have expanded, offering a broader radius from which to expand further and further in the future.