During my senior year of college, I was told time and time again by alumni that the summer after college graduation would be, among other descriptors, difficult, lonely, sad, confusing, etc. In the weeks that followed my rainy and cold commencement ceremony, a determination set in to make this summer of transition both a time of growth, but also one of joy. While I knew there would be things to process through, I also knew from past experiences that times of transition can be the most life-giving and life-growing times of life.
Out of this determination to make the best of this season of change came a personal challenge— issued by me, for me—to make the most of this summer. I decided that each time I felt resistance towards something I perceived as a challenge or felt nervous about, I would run towards it. Thus began a summer-long project of doing one “bold” thing a week, conquering a task or experience that pushed me out of comfort zone and into a place that high-school-me, or even college-me wouldn’t have ventured to.
What did doing one bold thing a week end up looking like? Sometimes it was exciting and adventurous, other times more of a subdued triumph. I went to several concerts alone, introduced myself to strangers in coffee shops, talked about poetry with a musician in the basement of a jazz club, bought my own health insurance (yes, it’s subtle yet still frightening), asked a person to drinks that I didn’t know, faced the crossroads of a difficult decision and pursued the hard path, randomly wrote and sent a letter to an Instagrammer I greatly admire, attended a design workshop with 300 strangers, and went to dinner by myself to a sit-down restaurant.
So, here’s what learned from the whole of my experience during this summer outside of my comfort zone, this summer of becoming more bold.
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All of these things required varying degrees of boldness, and I won’t pretend each time was a triumph. At times I felt awkward, or wished I could just check out and let someone else to the dirty work. But each experience, I can say in hindsight, was immeasurably valuable in its own way. As I begin to process through this summer of stepping out of my comfort zone, I am taking away the lessons I’ve learned and hope to carry them into this next chapter of life that is to come.
1. The Worst Never Happens.
Going out by myself to eat dinner alone did not mean I got mugged on the way home or experienced shame-inducing glances from fellow restaurant bystanders. I didn’t feel sad when I went to a Coldplay concert alone—I felt liberated to dance and sing as wildly and freely as I wanted. Leaving my job wasn’t a catalyst for a giant existential crisis that induced the apocalypse of my innocence. So far, I have witnessed that the worst often never happens to us when we step outside of our comfort zone. Don’t be afraid to just try it!
2. Just Own It.
In most of these “boldness experiments,” I frankly felt awkward and nervous. I wasn’t a vision of confidence and grace; I had nervous pit stains and sweaty palms. But after the first few weeks of battling through nerves, I developed a strategy: just own it. At my design networking event, this meant looking at myself in the mirror, giving myself little inspirational self-talk, and entering the physical space of the event with good posture and a smile. Even though I might not have been confident at first, this fake-it-til-you-make-it mentality translates into actually, really making it. I will often wear my favorite black jumpsuit, an outfit that always makes me feel the most hip, in instances like this. Making a conscious effort to combat nerves through external means really can work! So go ahead: wear that killer pair of heels that yes, will make you 6’2” and taller than most men, but also make you feel like Taylor Swift on the red carpet.
3. Weird Is Permitted.
When you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, weird things are bound to happen. Sometimes you’ll meet someone and unintentionally move your body in such a way that they think you’re trying to hug them which in that case, a “I-just-met-you-and-this-is-crazy-but-here’s-my-torso-so-hug-me-maybe” moment will occur. Literally I just embraced the weirdness of that situation, and moved on from it. Were there negative consequences? Maybe? That person might have been like “what the heck lawlz” but you know, sometimes these things happen and you just have to laugh, text your friends about it, and both emotionally and physically move on.
Secondly, I have also learned and am learning that being weird or doing weird things sometimes doesn’t equal social rejection. Sometimes acting differently, boldly, what some might deem “weird” means that you’re opening yourself to an unexpected possibility. And if people reject that…well, that’s their problem, not yours. You only are responsible for 50% of any interaction and relationship, and abandoning what makes you YOU for that person’s Good Housekeeping stamp of approval isn’t worth it!
4. Showing Up Matters.
After each experience, in varying degrees, I realized what value was added to my life simply because I showed up and was present at that particular event or in that moment. Going to a new coffee shop and talking to the other customers when I normally would keep to myself helped me meet the pastor of the church I’m now attending. Dropping into a jazz club allowed me to spend two hours with a musician I otherwise would never cross paths with and get a peek into what can often be a lonely life of touring. Attending a design networking event allowed me meet a new designer and his sister, both who are helpful and such kind people who I hope will be future friends. If I would have let nerves steer the ship, I wouldn’t know the people I’m getting to know, or learned more about the human experience, or be on my way to becoming part of community I otherwise wouldn’t have known about. And it’s like Brene Brown says in her fantastic book Daring Greatly: “The willingness to show up changes us, it makes us a little braver each time.”
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This summer of “boldness-experiments” has taught me so much about myself, about the city I’m living in, about the things that bring me joy. I’ve been inspired by the experiences I’ve had—experiences I would have missed out on if I would have decided to just stay within my comfort zone. Often times, the pattern of being bold meant learning how to do things alone, and do them well alone. I’m discovered a whole new way of living from what I’m used to, and I’m finding that I like it!
Next month, I’ll embark on another experience outside of my usual circle of confidence: traveling alone! I am thrilled beyond belief to get to spend the weekend in a city I’ve felt strangely drawn to for the past year or so: Nashville. And I’m excited for what awaits there—good food, donuts, coffee, musicians on the corner, and more traffic than I probably will enjoy driving in. But if this summer has taught me anything, it’s that the experiences waiting for me in Nashville will be full of surprises, of small moments made special because they so easily could not have happened if I would’ve been scared to try them. It’s like I wrote a few months ago: I don’t want my life story to be a set of blank pages about all the things I could have done, but never did.
So here we are. I can’t wait to keep on living boldly, turning this summer outside of my comfort zone into a season, and that season into a way of life for many years to come.