Leaders are often told that we need to operate “out of our comfort zone” in order to achieve continued success, and I recently had the opportunity to literally get way out of my comfort zone. I thought I’d share some thoughts from that experience in case you’re wondering if leaving your zone is really worth it.
To set the stage, I’m a “car camper” and a “crag climber” – according to one of my friends in the outdoor industry. I know this about myself, so I knew that a three-day excursion with the Colorado Outward Bound School would push me outside of my comfort zone. Camping without campfires, s’mores and boxed wine?? That’s really pushing it for me.
On this particular women’s invitational, we hiked in three miles to our self-proclaimed campsite at approximately 11,500 feet, carrying all of the food, shelter and supplies we’d need in our large backpacks. We slept on the ground under tarps – not tents. We (AKA our awesome instructors) cooked on liquid fuel stoves – not campfires. We got water from the stream – not from a two-gallon jug from the grocery store. And I’ll leave the “ladies room” scenario up to your imagination.
Our goal was to summit La Plata Peak, the fifth highest peak in Colorado. The route we chose is a moderately difficult task in good weather, but not an extreme challenge by any means. Good weather, however, was not in the cards. In fact, it rained the entire weekend – until, of course, we hiked out under glorious sunshine. As we ascended 2,700 feet from our campsite to the summit of La Plata, we experienced mist, fog, rain, snow, rime ice and some serous wind. A group of 30 hikers raising money for multiple sclerosis turned around in front of us at the first false summit. Not us. We lost the trail several times. We danced around to warm up our frozen extremities. And when we got to the summit, we smiled, took the obligatory photo, ate some cheese right off the block (no time or energy left to get the knife and cutting board out), and mustered up the determination to get back down to the campsite over the scree and boulder fields we’d climbed up.
Sound miserable? Unless you’re wired very differently than me, it was. But to answer the question at the beginning of this post, it was worth it. When we all reflected on the experience the next day (Outward Bound-style), one comment struck me even more than the others. “The experience was tough and uncomfortable and there were unexpected obstacles, but we wouldn’t have achieved our goal if we hadn’t worked our way through those things.“
That message is the one I’ll take away from this experience. When striving to reach a goal – whether it’s implementing something new or changing the way we’ve always done things or any number of other opportunities that lie ahead – I’ll remember that it is very likely to be difficult and uncomfortable and way out of my comfort zone;