Today I want to talk about comfort zones, and how important it is to stretch those limits. I’m sure there is some neurological research about how trying new things strengthens your brain (in fact, I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere), but I also want to talk about your fears and how to confront them. There was a book published in 1987 titled Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, which I haven’t read but which is a motto we all should live by.
When something frightens you, even terrifies you, if you know it will help you in the long run, you need to feel the fear and do it anyway. Don’t wait until you’re no longer afraid to do it because that may never happen. And don’t limit yourself to doing things you aren’t afraid to do, or you’ll miss out on a lot of opportunities. You’ll find that when you do something that frightens you, you’ll gain a lot of confidence from trying something you thought you couldn’t do. And, with that confidence, you’ll be able to do that thing again, and again, and again, until you’re not afraid to do it anymore. You’ll also be able to translate that confidence into other arenas of your life. Here’s an example:
When I lived in LA in the late 90s, I took an acting class with a guy who used to star on a daytime soap opera. I loved my class, and I loved acting, but I was terrified to do my scenes. Then I went skydiving one day. Not tandem skydiving, where you just go along for the ride, but accelerated free fall, where you’re alone in the sky once you pull the cord. Later that week, I had to perform a scene in my acting class. What could I possibly be afraid of, I thought, after risking my life jumping out of a plane? That I’ll look stupid? That someone will laugh at me? The thought was so absurd that I went up there and threw myself into the character. After class, my teacher invited me to join the advance class. So that’s an example of how confronting one fear can translate into confidence confronting another. I’m sure you have many of your own examples.
So what do comfort zones have to do with writing, editing and publishing? A lot. First of all, we can always push our limits within our writing. We can write characters and situations that are uncomfortable for us. We can write in genres that are unfamiliar to us (for me that would be sci-fi or poetry). We can experiment with nonlinear writing or pour our hearts onto the page in a personal essay. Then, once we’re ready to take that work on the road, we’ll need to stretch our comfort zones in order to read our work in front of audiences, to sit on panels, to respond to radio interview questions, to stand in front of a class and teach. My first Works in Progress reading at Mills College was frightening, but now I’m comfortable reading in front of audiences. My first Porchlight story was terrifying, and I still feel sick when I think about it. Another thing I hate is getting my picture taken (despite having worked as a model for nearly ten years), or worse, having a video taken of me, in which I not only have to look good, but TALK as well. And this is why today’s editing hour was a video post. I was inspired by Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It (the Vook), and motivated by an article I read with a senior editor at Harper Studio, who said she gives all their authors Flip cams and tells them to start vlogs. Brilliant! I thought. I’m going to do that. So I did. And it was scary. And I don’t really like it. Because I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and just today opened a Vimeo account and used iMovie for the first time and dusted off my tripod and used my new Canon Elph and I think the resolution is too low and … and … and …. But I did it. And now it’s your turn.
What are you doing (or what have you done in the past) to stretch your comfort limits?