The uncomfortable comfort zone

Why do we call it a comfort zone when it’s so uncomfortable? Or maybe our comfort zone was really comfortable for a very long time. But there comes a point when it becomes a very painful place to be – a tense, abrasive place, a place where our hopes and dreams rub up against our fears and limiting beliefs and a place where our awareness of the path we must take for the sake of our sanity contrasts so starkly with the path we’re taking that it makes us grimace.

OK, so this all sounds a little dramatic but I’ve just come back from another women’s networking event (I wrote the first paragraph of this blog in the early hours of this morning when insomnia set in). Now, if you’re familiar with this site and my writing, you’ll know these women’s networking events generally get me all fired up and passionate. I get to meet so many women who are doing their dream jobs or who have overcome the same hurdles and obstacles that often hold me back. On past experience, it seems the fire dwindles quite soon after the event and I slip back into my own comfort zone until the next women’s bash comes around, but this time I’m really hoping it’ll stay with me and I’ll be able to turn my feelings of anger and frustration with myself (coupled, as always, with a healthy dose of self-acceptance) into action.

So last night, I was at a Women of Westminster event hosted by the Westminster Business Council and the women’s networking group Ladies At E11Even. As things stand, I don’t actually own a business as such – I am self-employed, a journalist, journalism trainer, media consultant, writer and blogger. But I hope to have a business in the future and I hope this site will somehow lead me to that business.

As ever, I met a bunch of go-getting women who had some great tips on how to get a business off the ground, grow a business or create your own dream job or dream life. I’d met and written about some of the women before, but there were some new faces.

The inspiration for today’s blog title, in fact, came from one of the speakers: Carole Ann Rice of The Real Coaching Company. Carole Ann is a journalist, a co-author, a media expert and a life coach. Check out the videos on her site if you’re wondering what life coaching is all about or its potential benefits. I have to say I’m sold. Carole Ann made a lot of sense – she talked about our ‘secret saboteurs’ such as our inner perfectionist, people-pleaser, procrastinator or control freak – all things I’ve written about over the past few months. But when she said that staying in our comfort zone isn’t actually very comfortable, that really struck a chord with me.

I feel very angry right now – angry that I’m not fulfilling my potential, angry that I allow my fears to hold me back and angry that I continue to accept work on terms and conditions I know undervalue my skills and experience. Doing what I’ve always done seems like the safe, comfortable option but it’s actually the more painful one. I’m also angry that I can’t afford to fill my wardrobe with fabulous clothes and that I haven’t figured out a way of planning my time and work that enables me to exercise a few times a week. OK, so it’s progress not perfection and I know I’ll get there eventually but sometimes a bit of fire in the belly doesn’t go amiss. And the good thing about anger is it can stir us into action. So for me it’s a good thing – provided I don’t end up punching a wall or turning my anger inwards by overeating or acting out with other self-harming behaviours, which sometimes I still do. I have this image in my head right now of a bubbling pool of hot lava – yes, I actually kind of feel like a bubbling pool of hot lava. Hopefully I can use the energy to good effect.

Another speaker who really impressed me last night was Natasha Faith, co-founder of La Diosa jewellery business. She’s only 23! She launched her business just two years ago with her partner Semhal Zemikael and with the help of the Prince’s Trust. The likes of Alicia Keys, Leona Lewis, Naomi Campbell and Sarah Brown are now wearing her company’s funky designs. And Michelle Obama wants a piece! I hope to interview Natasha for this site so she can share her inspiration with us all. It just goes to show that sharing wisdom, inspiring and mentoring definitely works both ways – from older to younger women and the other way around. We can all learn from each other.

Natasha talked last night about how she never doubted herself, never ran away from challenges and was never afraid of failure. She took the first La Diosa jewellery collection straight to Harvey Nichols – nothing like aiming high – and they said yes. I like to aim high too, but I’m starting to notice that I give up pretty easily. I guess it’s a case of aiming high but if at first you don’t succeed, just keep on aiming, maybe a little bit lower, until something pays off. Natasha left us with an interesting question: if you knew you couldn’t fail, what three things would you do? It’s worth pondering but without even thinking about it too much, I know one thing I’d do would be to turn this site into a fabulous online magazine with stories of inspiring women and men from around the world whose lives are impacting others in a positive way. I’d also stop accepting work I don’t really want to do and I’d put all my time, energy and effort into the things I love and am passionate about.

Sonia Brown, from the National Women’s Black Network and SistaTalk, who I featured in my If you can dream it post, was also speaking last night. She told us that if you don’t like the job you’re doing, design your ideal job and then find a way of turning it into a reality. That’s what she did. “I can’t tell women to live their dreams if I’m still in a safe position,” she said. That’s very true and very relevant to me. Sonia also reminded me of the value of dressing to impress. I always loved the maxim: dress for the job you want, not for the one you’ve got. But Sonia made the point that dressing well is for our own benefit just as much as it is for our audience. I know that when I make a bit of an effort, I definitely feel better about myself and more confident. I don’t think it’s about letting externals dictate the way we feel – I think it’s just about giving ourselves the best chance. That’s why I’m very annoyed my wardrobe isn’t filled with gorgeous clothes and shoes and my bank balance isn’t healthy enough to support a shopping spree. Maybe my bubbling lava pool will help me do something about that!

And finally, I was writing the other day about that feeling of sitting on the sidelines and watching life happen to everyone else and how I’d been triggered by looking at all the fabulous things everyone else was doing on Twitter (by the way I’ve just changed my Twitter name to @From40WithLove from @Just_AsIAm40 – finally I got rid of the underscore!). But I was reminded by a reader – thank you, you know who you are – that Twitter and Facebook give a false impression of people’s lives. Not many of us actually post on Twitter or Facebook when we’re sitting in front of the TV in our worst clothes and feeling sorry for ourselves. So next time I look at Facebook and Twitter, I’ll remember everyone is posting their highlights and that the lowlights often remain behind closed doors.

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This entry was posted in Business, Empowerment, Mentoring, Self-Acceptance, Uncategorized, Women and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The uncomfortable comfort zone

  1. Julia says:

    Katherine, what a great post. Your writing is so easy to read as it is so heartfelt, though I find it a little disarming as I personally find it difficult to openly acknowledge such feelings sometimes and be honest about the anger and dissatisfaction, though I have been taking steps to change that attitude of late. It is easier in some ways to pretend that life is fine… that all is good. Good? Fine? Is that enough? Don’t we all want Amazing, Thrilling, Fantastic instead? Why pretend when we can be honest, open, say out loud what we really want from life? You do this so well.

    You are so open and I love your honesty about the anger and all of those things you struggle with and the fury you feel and the fact that you hope to turn that into something positive. All strength to you!
    Having spent most of my life pretending that all is well in my relationships, my work life, when at times I put on a brave face and hid the fact that I really felt unsatisfied, unsettled, denying my anger, brushing off my dissatisfaction, I am currently in the process of trying to change things. As you say, remaining within your comfort zone seems like the easy option, though it is really the compromising, unsatisfactory one where you end up lying to yourself and feeling anger and regret.

    I realise now that many of my fears are not my own fears but other people’s… they are things that people have told me are frightening, too scary to try, and without that experience myself, how can I know, how can I judge? Isn’t that incredible sense of achievement you feel when you do something you never thought you could do the very best incentive to attempt those things that feel almost impossible?

    I have found that it is OK to say “this is not enough” and to aim higher.

    You say you would like to turn your site into “a fabulous online magazine with stories of inspiring women and men from around the world whose lives are impacting others in a positive way”. That seems totally achievable. I am sure that many of those inspiring people would be delighted to be asked, would probably accept, and would, I am sure, happy to be interviewed by you. Perhaps those inspiring people want to find new ways to get their stories into the world, to inspire others and you could be the one who puts those storied out there, making them happy, you happy and giving others the keys too.

    Today, I was faced with a choice that put me way outside my comfort zone… I will spare you the details, but after a telephone conversation I felt low and less than satisfied. I was faced with a choice… do I spend the day feeling flat, put off again the conversations I have over and over in my head, but rarely for real, or do I now, put my heart on the line and be open about everything I feel and tell all of the things I have been holding back and say exactly what I want in the hope that my words will be received in the same open way, but at the risk they may not? The old me would not have picked up the phone. Or she would have picked up the phone, said something weak and pathetic and felt even worse on ending the call. But no, not today… I was brave and open and honest and I believe it paid off. I felt stronger for being brave and resolved some difficult issues.

    Perhaps it is not possible right now to put all of your time and energy and effort into the things you love, but I do believe that if you follow your heart, the rest will eventually fall into place. If you find little pockets of time to do the things you love, your heart will be lighter and those things you do not want to do will not feel so much like chores as you slowly tip the balance from doing a lot of what you do not want to be doing and a little of what you do, to the delightful place where you are doing a lot of what you love and a little of what you don’t.

    You are so right about the Facebook thing too… people post what they want others to see, believe, understand – rarely their fears and insecurities, which is why your blog is so very refreshing as it reminds us we are not alone. x

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Julia, for your honesty and also for your encouragement with this site and with getting on with the things I feel passionate about. I totally agree with what you said about realising our fears are actually other people’s rather than our own. I am beginning to discover the root of my fears and am now trying to pull out those roots – sometimes a difficult and painful process, but worth it in the end. And congratulations on being open and honest in your telephone conversation. I believe it does pay off when we take a risk and do the opposite of what we’ve already done. It’s uncomfortable at first but the more we do it, the easier it gets. I wish you all the best as you continue to move outside your comfort zone. Feel free to keep sharing your journey here! Katherine x

  2. Adriana Brasileiro says:

    Amiga, thank you so much for this post. It really struck a chord with me. I keep hoping that something revolutionary will happen that will propel me to go step out of my comfort zone and give me the courage to do the things I really want to do. It’s a silly fantasy, of course. I’m the only one who can make that change, and it won’t happen overnight…

    • Hi Adriana,
      Thanks so much for your comment. I’ve often had those thoughts too. I’ve also hoped that something dramatic would happen that would force me to change but I agree it’s best to try to change – in small steps as you say – before lightning strikes. Best of luck in moving outside your comfort zone. Look forward to hearing how it goes.
      Katherine x

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