You’ve probably heard it more than once. The only way to learn and to reach a higher level in anything is to step out of your comfort zone and do the things you’ve never done before. Performing the same tasks, day in and day out, that’s not hard. Everyone can do that. Doing something different is what requires courage, strength, and guts. It can be scary at first, but always remember where it will take you. See the clear picture of what it will bring you. Always think about how it will make you better in the end.
It’s a question I ask my self continuously:
How do I step out of my comfort zone? What’s the next thing I’ve never done before that will help me reach higher ground?
Since I was 7 years old, I’ve been doing athletics. As a kid, I competed in all sporting events, like running, jumping and throwing. Over time, as I grew older, I specialized more in middle distance running. Currently, I’m training to run in events around 5 kilometers in distance.
Over the years, you can certainly say that athletics has become a stable part in my life. Doing athletics is not something that’s outside of my comfort zone anymore. So, inspired by the question I wrote above: how should I step out of it? I do want to continue practicing athletics because it’s way too much fun to stop. An interesting question: how can you keep doing what you love, and simultaneously stay outside of your comfort zone? When I was around fifteen years old, I found the answer to that question.
I became an athletics trainer.
Practicing athletics yourself is one thing, but coaching others in doing the same is quite another. For example — since I’m training youth athletes — there’s the whole pedagogical aspect that was completely new to me. How do you handle kids who are generally trying to do their very best, but can also be a pain in the ass on days they’re not that motivated.
How to cope with that is a completely different thing. Do you need to be very strict and on top of every situation, or should you be a bit more reserved when part of the group is fooling around? If only there was a concrete answer to this question that works every time. I’ve learned that it’s best to not control everything you see. That’s impossible. As long as the behavior of one person doesn’t interfere with the rest of the group, it’s usually fine to let things be.
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked a bit. Like I said, the point of the story is that I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and do things I’ve never done before (becoming a trainer), but from within an environment I already knew (athletics). In other words, I took a field in which I have experience and expertise and extended it with something new and different. I think and feel that’s a perfect way to grow. It certainly is for me.
Over time, continuously training the same group of athletes (of the same age) can get old. It can sneak into the circle that is your comfort zone. So through the years, as I got older myself, I also transferred a few times to other groups with athletes that were older than the ones I trained before. Because of this I kept challenging myself and stepped into new environments, every time trying to step out of that comfort zone. I’ve trained adults in a Start to Run program. I’ve followed an education to become a certified athletic trainer.
Do you see the pattern?
With athletics training, I’ve found something that can help me to keep developing myself from within an area I already have experience in. But being an athletic trainer is something I do as a side-project, as a hobby. It’s not my main profession. In my day to day job I’m a developer in a software company. Of course, I’m learning new things every day while working on that job, but I also thought about how I could do even more to reach the goal of continuously pushing myself, the goal of stepping outside my comfort zone. For a while, I didn’t know what to do to achieve that goal.
Strange, because the solution was hidden in plain sight.
I mean, I already extended my athletics side-project by becoming a trainer in that field. So why not do the same with my main profession? Why not become a trainer in development of software? In hindsight, it’s obvious. But then again, it’s always easy to talk about the past. So I started looking for opportunities. Since I’m already working with kids and like to train them to become the better version of themselves, I narrowed my search into that direction.
As a result, I found CoderDojo.
In short, a (coder)dojo is a place that everyone between the age of seven and seventeen can visit and “where they can learn how to code, build a website, create an app or a game, and explore technology in an informal, creative, and social environment” (source).
When I started as what is called a mentor, I was a bit nervous. I mean, I do know how to program, but the tooling used at the dojo is different from what I’m used to. But just like you’re learning on your job, I’m also learning while being a mentor at the dojos. I help the kids to think like a programmer and ask them the right questions that help them advance. And at the same time, I’m learning new tools that I’m getting more comfortable with every week. Those are experiences I can then transfer to other kids, and so the wheels keep turning.
I’m amazed by how fast the “ninjas” pick up new stuff and can be completely immersed in what they’re doing. It gives me so much energy that I’m sad that I didn’t start being a mentor earlier.
That’s what stepping out of the comfort zone does for you. It might be scary at first, but the advantages are overwhelming and worth every bit of uncertainty and tension you might’ve had at the start.