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Pushing Ourselves Beyond the Boundaries of Comfort

By Shveitta Sharma
Buddhistdoor Global | 2017-10-05 |
Image courtesy of author. From wikimedia.orgImage courtesy of author. From wikimedia.org

I recently encountered the term “rust-out,” which, I was told, is the opposite of a burnout.

It's what happens when we stop challenging ourselves and opt for the path of least resistance. We simply exist, without reflecting on how we can grow. A feeling of numbness, an almost comfortable boredom, sets in as we expose ourselves to the same things, places, and people on a daily basis. Also known as our comfort zone, it feels like the perfect place to be, but eventually it takes its toll, preventing us from growing and experiencing life in its entirety.

In my opinion, rust-out is worse than burnout as it prevents us from using our full capacity and from experiencing life fully. While burnout is the result of doing too much of the same thing, rust-out occurs when we don’t do enough and stagnation sets in. While burnout erodes our energy, rust-out wears away our will and spirit.

When we feel discomfort, we often brush it aside; we bandage the issue instead of getting to the root of the matter. We prolong bad situations because we don’t want to change direction. We feel comfortable being in the same box, even if we know it is harmful for us in the long run. We prefer to stay in a safe space instead of challenging ourselves. Growth, however, happens when we push ourselves outside our comfort zone. It feels disconcerting, but that is what is needed to prevent rust-out.

A few days ago, I found myself slipping into my rather cozy comfort zone. When a friend approached me to help him anchor a music concert, thoughts arose of how much this was outside of my comfort zone. I could not be bothered. It was way too much work. Yet after a second thought, I realized it was exactly what I needed. I had to stretch myself and do things outside my safe box—I had to stretch to grow.

I regularly conduct workshops on mindfulness, happiness, work-life balance, self-motivation, and self-acceptance. I am comfortable talking about these subjects, despite experiencing the all too familiar butterflies every time I face an audience. Anchoring a music show was alien territory, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to challenge myself.

As the event drew nearer, the butterflies in my stomach multiplied and anxiety took over. Witnessing 40 musicians and vocalists practice their art to perfection made me feel very inadequate. I panicked about not being able to do justice to the performers. However, I pulled myself together, put in some rigorous practice hours and finally started feeling comfortable. We did a dress rehearsal and it all seemed to tick along very nicely.

Finally, D-day arrived and I was all primed and pumped up to wow the audience. I walked out on to stage, greeted the audience and started off with a grand flourish and then . . . I blanked out, forgot my lines and fumbled.

Somehow, I managed to get through the first set of introductions, but then I refused to go onstage, opting instead to make announcements from backstage. It took me a while to regain my composure, but eventually I felt better.

When it was my turn to go onstage and face the audience once again, I decided to be myself. I accepted and owned up to my nervousness, even inviting the audience to help me. They were a wonderful and supportive audience, and eventually we became comfortable with each other and the evening progressed well.

In my mind however, the evening was a disaster. I kept focusing on the “two bad bricks.” I failed to see the 998 good bricks and my whole attention returned to where I had stumbled. Many people came out and congratulated me on a job well done, but my mind refused to accept the congratulations as all I could see was the faux pas I had made. 


The story of the two bricks by Ajahn Brahm. From youtube.com

It was a test of practicing what I preach; I advise people on how to face their fears and insecurities and how to move forward. When I stumbled in front of 600 people, every cell in my body was crying out in shame and fear. I wanted the Earth to open up and swallow me. I had 1,200 eyes staring at me, and I was blank. The odds against me seemed insurmountable. I had to muster all the courage at my disposal to face the audience again and allow my ego to take a thrashing. I had made an utter fool of myself, but I decided to go out and face my fear. It wasnt easy, but it was the right thing to do and it worked.

I survived, and now when I look back, I think it was a wonderful lesson in self-acceptance and forgiveness. We are often harder on ourselves than others. We focus more on our shortcomings and less on our strengths; more on our failures and less on our success. We fear being judged by others, so we become our own harshest judges. We indulge in self-flagellation hoping to purge ourselves of our shortcomings. But belittling ourselves and hiding in fear and shame brings more pain than gain.

I may have become a laughing stock to some in the audience, but what matters more is how I felt about myself. I did feel awful at first, but I recovered from the shock and embarrassment, and continued with my part. I forgave myself and accepted my shortcomings.

A few days later I actually felt better for having pushed my self-created boundaries. In the past I would have surely said no to something like this for a fear of being judged, but in order to move and prevent rust-out I had to stretch my brain and stretch myself.

We all dream lofty dreams. We want to change the world for better. We want to leave our mark. We want to make a difference, but are afraid to go outside our comfort zone. We allow fear, lethargy, and stagnation to  get the better of us. Big lofty goals can be scary but taking small steps is easy. Doing something different that stretches us just a wee bit every day makes a big difference.

Although I was afraid, uncomfortable, and nervous I continued to stand on stage and did not let fear get the better of me.

Key takeaways from this experience for me are:

1. Even when one is fully prepared, things can go wrong. The key is to bounce back.
2. Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself. We are human and humans make mistakes.
3. Most of our fears arise from self-limiting beliefs and a lack of self acceptance.
4. Anxiety is the enemy of confidence and there is a fine line between the two.
5. It is natural to feel uncomfortable when you step outside your comfort zone, but every time
    you do so, it gets easier. Practice stepping out more often.
6. Accept the love and affection that comes your way, focus your attention on the people who
    love you and support you instead of on those who mock you and bring you down.
7. Focus on what went right and not on what went wrong.
8. Keep stretching and trying. Keep failing and falling. But never stop growing.

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