Friday, May 17, 2013

BCIT Alumni Keynote Presentation: How to Leap Out of Your Comfort Zone

This evening I had the honor of delivering the keynote speech at the BCIT Alumni AGM. Many of you asked me if I would be sharing it on my website - so here it is. 
There will be a video available in the near future and we will upload it soon.
Go Forth and Enjoy!
Adventures Await...

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

Sounds pretty simple right?

But if you're like most of us you make think your answer is unattainable in 'real life' or maybe you just think it's something you'll try when the perfect conditions exist.

I'd like to share some of my experiences with you that may help you make your answer a reality right now.

As you probably know I recently wrote a book called 'Learning to Play with a Lion's Testicles', most people raise their eyebrows or laugh when they hear the title because they've never heard anything so crazy before!

The title isn't just a catchy phrase, it's a South African expression that means Learning to Take Chances or Learning to Step Out of the Comfort Zone and that's what I'm here.

So what is the thing called the comfort zone?

Scientists define it as: a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, without a sense of risk.
In other words it's a state of complacency and lost potential.

Some people will say
         'It's just not in my nature to be a risk-taker, I wasn't born that way."
Actually it is in your nature, and you were born that way.

In fact birth is the perfect example of this. We live in the ultimate comfort zone for about nine months until we can't grow anymore and we have to bust out.

And it's stressful to leave the boundaries of our comfort zone, In fact most of us come out screaming and crying but it's the same for all of us.

Now out in the real world we're going to experience stress, anxiety and setbacks, that's what scientists, call the performance zone. And it's during these times of stress that some of us shrink back into a comfort zone but if we can soldier on and stay in that performance zone despite the setbacks and anxiety eventually we're going to end up in this place called the magic zone - where anything and everything is possible.

And that is why it's imperative to step out of our comfort zone.

So how do we do this?

1) The first step is to do is identify our comfort zone

Do you remember the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver? Wasn't that awesome?

My role during the Olympics was Olympic Catering Project Manager; together with an outstanding team we were responsible for feeding 30,000 people a day - from spectators to athletes, to VANOC workforce and volunteers to Olympic delegates. It was a tremendous and challenging experience.

But then the Olympics came to an end and so did my job. Finding a job right after the Olympics was going to be tough; they said prepare to be unemployed for a year.

But I got lucky. I had a job offer to sit at the head of a company in a business I knew inside and out, it would have been pretty smooth sailing.

So as I stood there with this opportunity in front of me, I had to ask myself very honestly; is this going to challenge you for all the right reasons? And more importantly, in five years when you look back at this decision are you going to say 'you did the right thing' or will you be angry at yourself for not 'embracing the unknown'.

2) Embrace the Unknown.
Now I'm not suggesting for a moment that anyone up and quit their job or turn down a great offer.  Stepping out of your comfort zone is as individual as you.

But I decided not to take the job. And that was the defining moment for me. I had just stepped out of my comfort zone and into the performance zone. Please keep this in mind as you read the rest of my story.

It was scary out there. Stress, anxiety, uncertainty and risk were all present and I thought well now what do I do?

3) Follow Your Passion

I followed my passion because stepping out is a lot easier if we're stepping towards something we're passionate about.

Three things I'm passionate about are animals, Africa and giving so I signed up to volunteer with an organization called Edge of Africa on a Big Five Conservation Project.

Well I got there and learned that I would be sleeping alone in a tent camp surrounded by lions, elephants and just about every other beast known to man. The only thing separating them from me was a small wire fence that merely served as a mental block to the animals. And no, I did not have a weapon!
My comfort zone was nowhere in sight. I had never even slept in a tent before.

Every day I was living in that performance zone of stress and anxiety and learning new skills and many times I stumbled and fell on my butt and made a fool out of myself but it didn't matter because each time I fell I landed higher than where I started from and that gave me the courage to keep taking chances and that is when the magic started happening.

4) Small Step Lead To Big Things
Right now some of you may be thinking 'What should I do to step out of my comfort zone?'
The answer to this question right now doesn't have to be your 'eternal burning life's purpose that you know exists but can't quite figure out' In fact I believe the key to success is to start small because small steps lead to big things.

Growing up my parents use to send us to summer camp and one of the highlights was learning how to water-ski, well I would have no part of it, I wouldn't even go on the boat. In fact I avoided all water activities - including swimming alone in a swimming pool and it wasn't because I had an aversion towards the water, in fact I really wanted to do those things but I couldn't because I had a phobia of Jaws.

But after all the small victories on that tiny game reserve in South Africa  - which also happens to be the Great White Capital of the world I was finally ready to confront my life-long phobia. So I signed up for a Great White Shark cage dive.

Early on a Sunday morning we set sail for Seal Island. You may have heard about it on Discovery Channel's shark week - they call it the Mini Mart for Sharks.

While we got suited up they baited the water with raw meat to get the sharks interested. Well they were interested.

Then they told us to get in the cage.

By this point I was beyond petrified, I couldn't believe I was actually dressing up like a seal and getting into the water with hungry sharks in a place called the mini mart.

So this is what I looked like.

BUT this is what I felt like

Inside the cage I hooked my feet under the foot bar and white knuckled the handrail in front of me. I couldn't even breathe because I had forgotten how.

Suddenly the cage violently rocked forward because something massive had just displaced the water behind us.

I couldn't turn around if I had wanted to because I was frozen in terror.
Out of the depths of the Indian Ocean Jaws emerged and torpedoed straight for me. I braced myself for the impact that would shatter the cage and end in me being eaten alive.

But there was no impact. It was worse!

Jaws' nose came right through that gap and stopped just inches in front of my face.

He was 1000 times bigger under water. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited for the horror movie to unfold.

But nothing happened.

I opened my eyes and that's when I saw Jaws for what he really was...a majestic yet misrepresented creature, and I could not believe I had missed out on so much in life because I was afraid of something that DID NOT EXIST because there is no such thing as a man-eating shark. In fact,

Sharks accidently kill 5 humans a year;

Humans kill 40 million sharks a year
They are racing towards extinction for...


Now I hadn't gone to Africa with the intention of writing a book, but the experience led me down that path so I started researching the publishing industry.

5) Do your research but don't let it fuel your fears
The first thing I would have to do was write a book proposal, no problem, I can write a proposal in my sleep.

The next thing I would have to do was find a literary agent. They are the gatekeepers to the publishing industry. You do not get in front of a publisher without one.

Well the average agent gets 15,000 queries a year of which they may choose five - and preferably half of those authors would be previously published.
I did the math and statistically my best chance of getting an agent was less than one fiftieth of one percent.

It would have been easy to quit right then but I didn't because my experiences on that tiny game reserve in South Africa had taught me that if I could just stay in that Performance Zone eventually I would break through into the magic zone.

It wasn't easy and during the toughest times when the rejection letters started pouring in - and they did, in fact I could have wallpapered my whole office with those letters, my fears and doubts were trying desperately to drag me back down into the comfort zone, that is when I had to fight harder than ever.

And you have to be prepared for that too.

What I did in those moments was I grabbed a big sheet of paper and I listed all my fears - even the craziest ones because in order to silence them I had to confront them.

Then I took that big piece of paper outside and lit it on fire, literally releasing them so that I could get back to work and keep sending out proposals without the distraction of these fears taking up my headspace!

And then POOF!

I broke into the magic zone and got a literary agent and then on May 13th 2012 I signed my first publishing contract.
It was nothing short of a miracle.

So it doesn't matter how old we are or what our circumstances are, we can all benefit from stepping out of our comfort zones.

I'd like to share one final story with you because we just celebrated Mother's Day.

My mom had always wanted to spend Christmas on a beach somewhere. But every year there was another reason to delay it.
Then in May of 2005 she was diagnosed with lung cancer - she wasn't a smoker, in fact she was still a relatively young, fit woman.
She went through aggressive chemo and radiation and her prognosis was good.
We finally booked that trip. We would arrive on Christmas Eve just in time to order a margarita and watch the sunset.

7) Make your Bucket List a To-Do List

But then on December 21st she had a stroke. Her lung cancer had spread and she was now in the final stage of brain cancer.

She died three weeks later.

Tomorrow is not a guarantee for any of us. There is no such thing as 'the perfect time' and one of the greatest tragedies of life is that we THINK we have time.

So what would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?

© Melissa J Haynes

1 comment:

  1. When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. VF