When I started my career as a journalist, I felt like I was stepping onto a train without knowing my destination. Technically, it might have been an accurate intuition – if you've ever experienced an NJ Transit commute, you know that there's no telling what's to come or if you'll really end up where you intended. But I felt the same way about my new job. Was I as qualified as my resume said? As talented as my parents liked to assure me I was? Could I really make my editor proud?
Applying and interviewing for the position was nerve-wracking, but I knew it was necessary to get where I wanted to be. And now that I'm here, working a job that I don't mind commuting nearly two hours to, I sometimes still feel trapped within the boundaries of my anxiety.
I often watch my colleagues at work and wonder how they do what they do. How does he spend hours on the phone with sources, conversing like they're best friends? How does she deliver presentations to our entire team without a red face and shaky voice? And why can't I seem to do the same?
The answer is simple: I'm not pushing myself as much as I could be. Even when you've reached a goal or are comfortable with where you are in life, it's still important to challenge yourself so you can continue to grow and reach your full potential. Here's how stepping outside of your comfort zone will benefit your career.
1. You'll become more confident.
I've spent most of my life wishing to be someone else, wishing to be able to do more than I believed I could. And I realize now that I could be that person and do those things. But many of my goals are safe – goals that I know, though they require work, are attainable without too much risk.
However, the more you push yourself, the more you realize how capable you are of doing the things you thought were impossible. You become more comfortable in situations that used to scare you, and in turn, you'll feel more self-assured.
Just recently, I joined a monthly conference call with my team where we shared content ideas. I'm not one for public speaking, so I typically try to keep my commentary to a minimum so I don't have to talk for too long. But I had a lot of pitches I was sitting on, and I was tired of allowing my fear of rejection or failure stop me from presenting them to the group.
When I spoke up, though my voice felt shaky and my thoughts scattered, I remembered that my team wanted to hear what I had to say, and I was able to connect with them in valuable ways. I immediately felt more confident in myself and my ideas.
2. Others will view you as credible.
You've heard the saying "fake it till you make it." No matter how uncomfortable or afraid you feel, sometimes you need to wear a brave face and push forward. If you allow others to see your hesitation or apprehension, they'll lose trust in you and your potential.
The first time I ever interviewed a source, I was clueless. What should I ask? How should I record her responses? How long should the interview last? Of course, I didn't want to make my uncertainty and confusion visible to this expert. I wanted her to know that, despite how much my hands were quivering, I was a credible journalist who was capable of doing her job.
Even if I didn't believe that myself at the time, I needed to push myself to portray that image and complete the interview (which went well, aside from my awkward laughs drowning out her voice in the audio – but those are just minor details). Afterward, I was shocked at how willing the source was to speak again in the future, and how many new sources reached out for the opportunity as well.
3. You'll gain experience.
Saying yes to new opportunities, no matter how intimidating they may seem, is the only way you can continue to grow. With these experiences come valuable lessons that you can't learn in a classroom.
When I was in college, I worked various internships as a writer, editor, health intern, reporter, photographer, copy editor and researcher. Each position I assumed felt like a shot in the dark, and I made mistakes that make me cringe to this day. I was petrified of falling short, and I did a few times, but I know I needed that experience, those rejections, to learn, improve and progress in the industry.
4. You'll broaden your horizons.
As an introvert, I love being alone. The concept of making new friends sounds awesome, but it isn't always easy for me. When I was in college, I was the editor of a magazine at my school, and I was forced to hold weekly meetings with a group of people I barely knew at the time. I nearly turned down the opportunity out of unease.
But now I can say that those same individuals, and that same experience, got me where I am today. They're the same girls who now take the time to edit my first novel and share my articles on their social media accounts. I learned how to become a better writer, public speaker, worker and leader during my time working with them, which has helped me tremendously in the business world.
Trying new ventures might mean finding new interests, meeting new contacts or honing new skills, which can help you become a well-versed worker. While you might find a night alone more appealing, forcing yourself to get out of your comfort zone (and your apartment) might inspire you more than you realize. At the end of the day, the only person who can hold you back is you.