Stepping outside of our comfort zone. I ask clients every day to step outside of their comfort zone as it relates to their personal and organizational DEI journeys. I can’t ask my clients to step outside of their comfort zone if I can’t step outside of mine.
But DEI and courageous conversations are my comfort zone. Heights, most certainly, are NOT!
For many people, matters of diversity, equity, and inclusion are as far outside of their comfort zone as rappelling down a building is for me. In my comfort zone, my feet are planted firmly on the earth’s surface. Rappelling down the side of a 30-story building would undoubtedly qualify as stepping outside of my comfort zone — and that’s exactly what I did this summer.
Why did I rappel down a 30-story building? That is the question I’ve been asked over and over again. Two reasons:
The first reason was to donate money to a worthy cause. I was practicing allyship by raising money to support first-generation college students. Honestly, I could have just donated the money as I didn’t actually need to do the deed. After all, isn’t that what people generally do? Donate money to charity? Many companies take this approach to DEI. They give money, but they don’t want to step over the edge. They give money but don’t actually step out in support and don’t really put themselves in any discomfort. Typically we are more willing to extend our wallet than our person. I didn’t need to rappel down a high-rise building to give money to a worthy cause.
So what really had me sitting in my discomfort 330 feet above ground? The second and most compelling reason aligns with asking clients to step outside their comfort zone: for personal growth and continued development. We don’t grow, expand, or develop in our comfort zone. It is outside of our safe space where personal growth happens. We grow when we take risks, and embrace discomfort and doubt. To step outside the comfort zone is to cultivate personal evolution purposefully.
We all have a comfort zone; in it are the people we already know, the places we frequent, and the news and social media we rely on. Unfortunately, our comfort zone is also an echo chamber that reinforces what we already think, our existing perspectives, and world views. In our comfort zone, our beliefs and ideas are amplified by the TV shows we watch, the articles we read, the people we choose to surround ourselves with, and the fears we hold onto. Within this comfort zone, it is easy to fall victim to stereotypical thoughts, misconceptions, and biases — without even realizing that’s what’s happening.
As part of our personal and organizational DEI journeys, we must take deliberate actions to break through our own comfort zones and echo chambers.
The great thing about stepping outside your comfort zone is that, once you do, you have now expanded it. The more you step out, the bigger and more diverse your comfortable space will become. When we step outside our comfort zone, we give ourselves an opportunity to see the world from a different point of view. Rappelling down the side of that San Diego hotel allowed me to see the whole harbor of San Diego from a new, broader, heightened vantage point—one I would never have seen from street level.
How can you step outside of your comfort zone? No, you don’t have to dangle mid-air from a 30-story building. I will give you three simple ideas you can do right away.
- Change your source of news: If you get your news from one primary source, add another. If you watch a particular network for your news, change or add a different one. If you only watch television news, try reading a newspaper. If you read a national newspaper, add a local newspaper. Add news radio or listen to an unfamiliar podcast. While you don’t need to agree with the way these other sources present or interpret the news, you’ll gain a more balanced understanding of current events and the way they’re perceived by others.
- The next time you are at an event, don’t look for people you already know; look for people you don’t know—who might seem different from you—and see if you can strike up a conversation. A few years ago, at a friend’s holiday party, my husband found me engaged in conversation with a trans woman and her wife. His first inclination was to find a different conversation to join, but he could not openly ignore my hand stretched out in his direction. We chatted with the couple for over an hour. During our drive home later that evening, I realized the depth of my husband’s initial discomfort. More importantly, I saw the growth he experienced as a result of that time spent. Books and articles are great sources of learning, but nothing would have been as impactful on his expansion as that personal conversation.
- Spend time with people who disagree with you. I know you have some in your life, probably even your immediate family, as we all do. Getting perspective about “the other side” from a familiar face is a great way to broaden your worldview.
My comfort zone no longer requires that my feet be planted firmly on the ground. I have expanded it to include safely and securely hanging 330 feet above the ground. The more we step over the edge of our current comfort zone, the more we are able to expand our comfort zone to larger and larger dimensions.