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The misconception of comfort zones

Each year we invite IB alumni to share their experiences, interests and advice with our global community in the graduate voices series. We welcome Diploma Programme (DP) graduate from St. Christopher’s School in  Bahrain, Eman Elraie, as she reflects on how she turned fears into strengths by stepping out of her comfort zone.

A waiting crowd in front of a microphone and podium

By Eman Elraie

“Turned out, my comfort zone was not protecting me from misery and embarrassment, but it was hindering my potential.”

To many, their comfort zone is considered to be their safe haven. It can be a state of mind or it can be a physical place where they get to be carefree. What is your “comfort zone”? Is it fulfilling its purpose? Do you feel calm and comforted while you are there? The probable answer would be a strong firm “yes”. However, what happens next? What happens when you come out of your comforting bubble and return to reality and find all your worries awaiting you?

I, myself, found solace in a quiet corner of the library and peace of mind further away from a presentation stage. To me, my comfort zone was quietness and stillness. But it wasn’t comforting for long; my safe haven, turned out to be flawed and filled with holes. Staying hidden away took years of my “what could have been”.

During my two years of the Diploma Program (DP), I suffered from a severe case of glossophobia (fear of public speaking). I dreaded presentations and would be physically and mentally incapacitated when I knew there was a presentation coming up. My whole being shied away from the stage and being under the spotlight. I betrayed myself every single time I had a presentation. Until something glorious happened. Unlike what I had thought, my comfort zone was hindering my abilities. Although, it allowed me quietness, what I needed was help.

Overcoming my fear

Don’t allow fear to keep you down—or rather out.”

I don’t know how it happened, but on the last week of school, I was to give a presentation during my psychology HL class. We were doing abnormal psychology and my topic was the Rosenhan study Being Sane in Insane Places. Of course, with the IBDP exams around the corner, classrooms were relatively empty. On the day of my presentation, something was different about me; I was really prepared. I wasn’t ready to present, but I knew the material inside out.

As I was gathering my notes, it hit me. I realised in a split second that I didn’t need them. My notes normally acted as a barrier between me and my very attentive audience, but I realised that I was prepared; I had the knowledge. I let go of my notes and walked to the front of the class. I set up my fancy Prezi and went on. And it was magical. A glorious sensation washed over me. I wasn’t just reciting a few lines that I had memorised; I was teaching; I was telling a story. I gained confidence. I was happy. For as long as I could remember, I was barely able to manage to stare at a friendly face when I presented and would speak quickly just to end it. But at that presentation, I was truly living the moment. And most importantly, I was having fun.

Since then, I have turned into a different person—at least that’s what it seems to people. Now, I am considered to be a confident, outgoing person. Turned out, my comfort zone was not protecting me from misery and embarrassment, but it was hindering my potential. Since that divine 10-minute presentation, I have found my voice. I trusted myself and took to the stage at a Toastmasters open house event, applied to the position of an MC (master of ceremony), hosted an opening ceremony of the Business Incubation Center at my university and even started doing voluntary teaching there too.

Self-actualisation

Take an initiative and try to do that thing that you were avoiding.”

I don’t condemn my comfort zone for my failure to actualise my potential. I only changed my attitude towards it by believing in vulnerability. Professor Brene Brown phrased it correctly: “[it is] our fear that we’re not worthy”. So, did Nike with their slogan: “Just do it”. Don’t allow fear to keep you down—or rather out. Of course, all this is easier said than done and we think that it is more bearable to wait for that moment to get lucky. You might think that’s what happened to me; I just got lucky. You are right, unless you think of luck as Dr Randy Pausch puts it, that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” I was ready, I knew the material and I was mentally prepared to present it. My golden opportunity was the semi-empty classroom with fewer pairs of eyes staring at me. But it is not only that moment of change that matters. In fact, it could be considered as almost negligible in contrast to what happens next. All those small victories, taking chances on yourself and getting yourself ready; that is the real victory.

Our comfort zones are what they are intended to be; they are comforting, but that is all that they can offer. Take an initiative to do that thing that you were avoiding. I would have never dreamed of turning the challenge of public speaking to into my comfort zone. Try improving and developing new skills; you will not get it right the first time, but you will realise something that is worth more than the embarrassment. You’ll realise that the fear that is holding you back, is not as bad as you think. By expanding your comfort zone to include being a risk-taker maybe your salvation to reach and explore your true potential. No matter how or where we are in life, we should never live in it as pawns, dispensable, merely part of the masses. Instead, we should take control and be “the master[s] of our fate”, the main characters of our stories. No words may be powerful enough to make us stand up to face our fears, but our actions, no matter how small, can lead to ever-rising, ever-lasting change.

Eman

Eman Elraie is a graduate of St. Christopher’s School in Bahrain. She is currently an undergraduate at the University of Bahrain, majoring in the English Language and Literature and minoring in French. She published short stories and poems through a grant from the United States Embassy in Bahrain. Whenever, wherever, you are most likely to find her daydreaming, headphones on with a good book. You can connect with her on LinkedIn here.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at alumni.relations@ibo.org. We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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