We are adapting creatures. We adapt to our surroundings. Our emotions. Our habits. We grow accostumed to daily life and rituals.
Professional speakers and self-help books encourage us to step outside our comfort zones and embrace the new. But even the new becomes a comfort zone after awhile.
I had been working from home since 2011 as a freelance administrative assistant and social marketer. My interactions with co-workers and the outside world involved a computer screen and a keyboard. I didn’t have to read non-verbal cues or respond in real time.
While I was living in a very protected world, I felt stuck. I felt like I was losing the ability to connect with people. Motivating myself to go out into public, even to the grocery store, was growing harder and harder.
The ability to interact with people is a like a muscle. The more you interact face-to-face with people, the easier it gets.
And it’s not just small talk.
The ability to confront issues, handle disagreement, hear criticism and offer contrary opinions is a fine craft that is only honed by immersing oneself into social interactions.
My main reason for joining a local Toastmasters club was an attempt to step outside of a comfort zone. I learned how to interact face-to-face and in front of a large group. I learned how to listen and respond . . . in real time.
But like anything in life, I realized my club was a new comfort zone. I was comfortable there. I knew what would make them laugh and how to respond. It was life — scripted.
I needed “real life” — where the reaction of a person wasn’t guaranteed to be supportive and encouraging. I needed to put myself in a situation where I was going to have bad encounters. Where I may run into terse, gruff people who didn’t want to talk to me or . . . even like me.
I took a job at the local IGA grocery store as a cashier. I interact with hundreds of strangers a day. I have confrontations with customers and co-workers. I feel awkward and uncomfortable hourly.
I have never felt better.
While my interactions are unscripted, I find I have the ability to connect with people over pickles, holiday plans, movies and dairy-free ice cream flavours.
But mostly, I have learned that perhaps I am a social person after all.
We adapt to our environments. Sometimes it is up to us to make the changes we need to be the person we can be.
Be brave. Step outside your comfort zone. That’s where your new life begins.