There has been so much talking about living out of the comfort zone these last years that an article about this may feel superfluous.
However, it is also true that pushing yourself beyond your limits is often rewarding and it does help you to grow up and be more connected with yourself and others. And since this is the foundation of what Sentient Life is, I will share with you my experience outside of the comfort zone.
I first became conscious of this concept when I was around 18. I was curious and fascinated by people with a natural confident attitude and was wondering how they could do that. I’ve always been the shy type, and sharing what I was thinking at a given moment was not really an easy thing for me.
I would envy people speaking above a crowd, or volunteering for something in high school and later in university. How could they do that? Where did their confidence come from?
I had just started my law studies back then, and I got closer to this older friend of mine, who was already an accomplished lawyer. He was helping me revise for exams, and giving me tips on how to approach certain subjects.
He stroke me as a very confident person, so in a time when I was questioning myself and negotiating the boundaries of my comfort zone, our talks really helped to pin down what confidence meant – and still means – to me.
While revising together, one day, I abruptly stopped reading, looked up, and asked him “how can you be so casually confident? Always at the centre of attention? Don’t you feel uncomfortable?”
My friend closed the Civil Code book he was holding and placed it on the table next to him. He stretched on the chair and said: “do you need a break?” He was smiling.
We talked for a bit after that. He said that confidence is something you build in time, something that comes from achieving personal goals and going beyond your limits. He mentioned that he always was an outgoing person, but when he was in his 20s (he was in his late 30s by then) he was not near as confident as he was now.
That conversation got me thinking. Not that I had never thought of those things, but coming from someone I respected and admired had a certain impact on my views. I went home that day and sitting at my pc screen I started researching online “how to improve your confidence” and “how to go beyond your limits”.
As you might imagine, I found a lot of very unhelpful and redundant to-do lists. Some of them were more interesting than others, but none of them was really telling me what was the right way for me to do it.
However, what I found during my research was a particularly interesting book: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Experts have defined Emotional Intelligence as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others”. In other words, through empathy and trying to connect with others, you should be able to unlock your full potential and consequently be confident enough to step out – if not live constantly out – your comfort zone.
The book was interesting because it gave different examples of how people managed to improve themselves and reach success – in whichever form – by interacting with others and taking risks. More than an actual to-do list I think what I needed was to read about people who had made it, and the book was just full of them.
It was during and after reading that book that I started trying in a conscious way to get out of my comfort zone.
By that time I had left Palermo to start a new life in London. The huge and vibrant city was the perfect arena to test myself in a variety of ways, and it wasn’t long before I had to put myself on the line to find a job and a house.
The way I perceived this new challenge was rather simple. I had to succeed. I had a limited amount of money and I needed to find a job and a place to stay, otherwise I had to go back.
I started talking to everyone. In coffee shops, jobs centres, supermarkets. I talked and talked until I had memorised the best way of asking how to look for a job or if someone had a room available somewhere.
I saw rooms worthy of a king, which I could never afford, and holes so dark and cold I wondered how people could live there in the first place.
One day, I found myself in a particularly difficult position. I was running out of money, and I had found a temporary job, but still no house. Looking for it, I met was a couple who were offering a room at a decent price in Stanmore, and I thought I had finally got lucky. Unfortunately, the two women were living with a former fighting-dog they had rescued. The Pitbull was understandably extremely very towards strangers and was only at ease around the couple who had saved and adopted him. To stay in the room, they said, I had to ‘tame’ the dog. More correctly, I had to subdue him, so that he wouldn’t be a threat to me later on.
I was scared, and most certainly not in my comfort zone. Of course, the dog would be muzzled, but he was still dangerous. I eventually accepted the challenge, both because I wanted to prove myself and because I thought I had no choice to move forward.
The moment they unleashed the dog in the room, he jumped on to me almost immediately. He aimed at my throat but being muzzled he couldn’t bite me, so I threw him on the floor, and this went on for a bit. Eventually, it became clear there was no way he would acknowledge me as part of the family, so I thanked the couple and left the house.
I was quite shaken by the experience, and for a while, I thought about it as a failure. I spent a couple of days thinking that I wouldn’t be able to find a place to stay and go back to Italy, but almost when all hope seemed to be lost, I decided that I wouldn’t give up yet. I would try again to step out of my comfort zone.
I took my phone and looked at the contact list. I ran through every possible contact I had gathered in the few weeks in London and not only, and I sent out several messages to everyone with the same text “hey, it’s Alessandro here. Do you know of any room available anywhere?”.
A lot of negative replies arrived pretty quickly. Most of them saying “not at the moment mate, but we’ll keep you posted”. Eventually, I managed to get hold of a distant cousin I hadn’t spoken to in a while. He had a friend 20 years ago who knew someone whose husband had lived in London.
It was a very long shot, but I decided to try nevertheless, and I met with the woman my cousin had mentioned. Crazy as it may sound, she was still in contact with her friend, and her husband had kept in touch with the landlord of the house, 20 years later. I went to meet him, and shortly after I moved into Harry’s house.
After those events, anything that happened to me started building up on that. The thrusting energy that led me to start a new life in London had acquired new momentum, and I can honestly say it has only grown stronger day by day, year after year, until now. Many times in these years I jumped outside of my comfort zone. While applying for new jobs, when travelling and in personal relationships, and each time this has added more value to my life.
For how hard, embarrassing or proving it might feel at first, every time you break free of your mental restrains you learn something you. You evolve into a better version of yourself, and this is an invaluable lesson that I’ve learned and that will guide my future decisions, hopefully, for the rest of my life.