I’m sure that you might have heard the phrase “doing something outside your comfort zone”. However, do we really know what that really means and why is it important to understand it?
I would like to share with you my experience of becoming a Content Ambassador for The University of Manchester, how it stretched me outside my comfort zone and how it has inspired me to look out for new experiences that, whilst might be daunting, will positively affect my personal development.
But first, let me talk about the “learning zones”. These are the places where our mind relates with our external world and grasps (or not) some learning from it. There are three of them: (i) comfort zone, (ii) learning zone and (iii) panic zone:
In the comfort zone, we master the things we do and thus we feel safe there. We know the drill and could almost do our work with our eyes closed. In the learning zone, we are faced with new things and tasks and we try to carry on with them to learn something. It is here where we are not 100% confident of our performance, but we have the drive to perform our task. Once we master it, it becomes part of the comfort zone. This means our comfort zone grows as we learn and master new things. The panic zone is the space where we feel overwhelmed by all the new stuff and, thus, we do not learn anything. This may be caused by a number of factors, such as stress and previous bad experiences of the task.
The trick is to stay in the learning zone until it becomes the comfort zone and get out to the learning zone again as soon as you can and repeat the process. Always trying to avoid the panic zone. How do you do it? Doing things that are daunting.
In my case, writing in a public platform terrified me. Previously, I had experience drafting legal documents, memorandums and e-mails for clients. However, before joining the Content Ambassadors programme, I had never written a piece that was read by a public community and that was accessible to anyone on the web.
I decided to apply to the programme because I wanted to do something on top of my master’s studies. When I got accepted and came to the first meeting, I was really scared because the majority of the other members had previous experience with creating online content and I didn’t. I was somewhere in between my learning and my panic zone, kind of reaching this second one…
I struggled a little with my first piece of content because I wanted it to be perfect. Plus, I wasn’t quite sure how my content would be received. Nonetheless, after sending in my first piece, I had to make some corrections but, overall, I realized it was good. This gave me a sense of confidence for the second submission, meaning I was a bit more adventurous. Somehow, I started to lose sight of the panic zone I dreaded so much.
In the following months, I started to get more comfortable with my writing and I realized that I needed another challenge to expand a little more my learning zone. Thus, I decided to leap to the vlogging style and made a video about street art in Manchester. Filming it was the easy part, when it came down to editing…oh lord…the panic zone started to wave with a grin from the horizon as I navigated through commands, subtitles, audio settings and all other concepts I was just trying to grasp.
After making any final adjustments, again, from the comments of family, friends and other people, I realized people liked the content, so I felt my comfort zone expanding a bit. I needed a new challenge.
Although I was still in the learning zone, I had now some practice in writing a structured piece of content about simple subjects in a blog style. However, I wanted to write more personal content. For me, this was tricky because it not only entailed to have a good writing and structure but also to put my personal feelings and thoughts out there, subject to another people’s judgement.
Nonetheless, I wrote about my reflection on my experience as a postgraduate student compared to my expectations. After this piece was released, I felt really proud of myself as I had accomplished something really big for me – showing myself vulnerable before others (something that draws us near to the panic zone But, by doing so, it expanded my learning zone – I’d taken a big leap.
My journey as a Content Ambassador has overall helped me to regain the confidence on my own work and writing. As an activity outside the academic rigorousness, I do not have the pressure of marks and, thus, my brain has learned to work in a more creative way. This has shown me that there are other ways, maybe more informally, to present and discuss my ideas. Plus, I now have the ingenuity to write about topics that have never crossed my mind before.
I can also say that this has trickled down into other aspects of my life where I now feel more confident. For example, I now know I can apply new methods when writing my dissertation such as idea generation and story telling, and I might even start a new personal blog once the master’s is over.
Being a Content Ambassador is an activity I never thought about before coming to The University of Manchester. I never thought I had the talent to produce content that was appealing to a community and because of that I never thought about the good things that happen when you open yourself to new opportunities. In hindsight, I can tell you that both my comfort and learning zones have been stretched to the point I feel comfortable with this process of learning. Every time I try to identify the next new challenge and try to pursue it.
I will not tell you it is easy to just jump into the next scary thing because it is not. It takes a great amount of effort and courage. But what I can assure you is that the benefits of doing it make the effort worth it.
I invite you to open up and try new activities or subjects that you might think are not suitable to what you do. They might be the door you have been waiting to open to take your next step.