Happiness & growth happens on the other side of our comfort zone. Fear fills the gap between our comfort zone and growth. Taking the first step and walking through the fear is fundamental to creating happiness and the life we want.

We all have a defined comfort zone based on particular events or circumstances that have happened in our lives. Staying inside an established comfort zone can look like continuing in a job or relationship too long because the fear of changing, or moving on, can be very paralyzing. Simply put, we can get comfortable with things that are cause us anxiety, depression and sometimes misery because the alternative, which is doing something different, is, at times, just too terrifying.

In order to understand how one might take that first step into the fear, it’s important to understand how these comfort zones are developed in the first place. One’s particular comfort zone can be based on a life experience, or a series of life experiences, that occur over time. These episodes are as defining to our personality and to our sense of self as our height and color of eyes are defining to our physical characteristics.

At my very core, I was once a very shy person. There were certain circumstances, or professional obligations in my life, when I needed to be more social and demonstrative. But given a choice, I would always prefer to be the wallflower and simply observe. At one point in my life, it was very difficult for me to tell other people about myself or what I did for a living. When asked, I gave the shortest answer possible and then immediately shifted the conversation back to the other person. There is no question that I would drive my brother crazy when he called me in Kansas from his California home and asked, “How are you doing?” I, or course, said “Fine. How are you?” That was all.

When pressed for more details, I would just clam up. My shyness was caused by the fact that I didn’t like having one-on-one, non-work related conversations. Being shy and introverted was well within my comfort zone. This condition had been with me my whole life.

Keeping quiet for too long

When I started first grade, a teacher noticed that I had a speech impediment and a slight shuttering problem. Words with hard “Rs” in them like work, word, and first were very difficult for me to pronounce. The word “first” would come out as “furst,” for example. To my ears, I sounded like a baby. I remember the terror I felt in school when my teachers would call on me to read. In conversation, I knew which words to avoid, but reading out loud from a textbook gave me no place to hide. The other children in the class would giggle and turn around; their mouths open wide with amusement and piercing ridicule shot from their eyes. I quickly learned that it was safer, and much more comfortable, simply not to talk. Even though the eight years of speech therapy I received helped me tremendously, the safe bounds of my comfort zone were already well established.

Now, back to just a few years ago. Again, I was very at ease addressing a large group where one-on-one conversations are not necessarily required. But, an intimate conversation with just one person, especially a person who I didn’t know well, was like reading aloud in the first grade. I would slip back into a minor shuttering pattern. To me, it felt like if a word, or series of words, would come out of my mouth that would sound child-like. To minimize any potential embarrassment, I would say as little as I could and try to end the conversation. This was my comfort zone, it kept from establishing relationships, and it made me feel very insecure.

For me to move past this, I had to step into that area of fear. It wasn’t my speech handicap; it was the fear that I had about my speech handicap that kept me from growing. So, here’s what I did that put me in the position to take that first step:

First, I had to believe in the following statement: “You can not change or heal what you do not acknowledge.” I was sincerely tired of avoiding situations that might cause me discomfort. It was important for me to acknowledge the trigger for feeling fearful was actually created by the shame caused by my speech impediments. This shame caused me to feel not as worthy as everyone else, and unworthy as a person. By remaining shy and seemingly disconnected from others kept both the fear (the outward, or conscious, reaction to the way I talked) and the shame (the internal expression of my speech difficulties) safely inside my comfort zone. I knew all to well that I was not at peace with myself and I couldn’t take my life to the next level, through personal growth, if I didn’t venture into the areas of fear and shame. I was living my life as a passive passenger of the past. I had to make a free choice in the present and acknowledge what staying within this comfort zone was actually costing me.

Identify what you want

I simply began to identify what I wanted; I stopped giving energy to the things that I didn’t want any longer. A want is very different from a need. Typically, a need is something that you must have in order to stay alive. Oxygen, water, and food are the most fundamental of all needs. A want, on the other hand, is a condition that is not vital to one’s life per se; it’s just desired. The point here is that I didn’t need to acknowledge my fear or share, I just wanted to. This shift in position allowed me the opportunity to gradually step into the fear and begin to walk past it. If I had put pressure on myself to the point that I was telling my self that I needed to, then the expectation and potential for disappointment would have been much greater. A couple of important takeaways from these last few points: (1) To change my condition (shyness) I had to first acknowledge what it was costing me (quality relationships); then (2) I had to identify what I wanted (to feel worthy) and (3) I had to give myself grace and time to begin, and complete, the journey into the fear.

This journey through fear was indeed a gradual process. I had to make conscious choices to strike up conversations with others. I had to make myself live in the here and now and not project the cruelty of my first-grade classmates onto the poor soul standing and talking in front of me. I wanted to learn to be more comfortable in my own skin when speaking with someone. Even today, I have to make the conscious decision to engage, not to retreat. However, I have learned that walking through the fear did not kill me. The growth in confidence and happiness I have gained as been well worth it.

Author's Bio: 

Alex Blackwell is the author of The Next 45 Years - a website dedicated to sharing and creating happiness, life balance and success for the rest of our lives. To read more inspirational stories and articles, please visit: http://www.thenext45years.blogspot.com