To the end of comfort zones
I’m writing this message to you while sitting in a hotel lobby in Warsaw, Poland. I’ve never been here before but, in case you’ve glanced at my last name, this is where my family is from. My great-grandparents left here at the turn of the 20th Century for the United States. And now, some 118 years later, I’m here.
I’m here to speak at training seminar for Polish exporters. My assignment is to talk about American consumer trends and provide some examples of products that are capitalizing on these trends. It’s a subject that I feel comfortable with, having spent the last 14 years or so writing about the American meat industry. Still, writing about it and speaking about it are two dramatically different things, and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t nervous about my presentation.
This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s met me, most likely, but I’m typically an introverted person. Crowds of people make me nervous. I’m much more comfortable typing my thoughts out on a computer or searching through online newspaper archives than I am being out in public. And yet, here I am, in a job that requires me to be public to the best of my abilities. I get through it. I can navigate a trade show, talk to strangers, strike up conversations and promote my magazine, but I’ll need a day or two to decompress at the end of it. I can conduct interviews, thanks to a natural curiosity about how things work and how businesses operate. Plus, I’m merely asking questions. It’s my interview subjects who are doing the real work!
I’ve written recently about the need to travel outside of your normal area. Recently, thanks to this trip and some other life developments, I’m seeing that you have to be willing to do more things outside your comfort zone as well. As human beings, we are not supposed to stop learning and experiencing new things. It’s a lifelong endeavor. It’s comfortable to stay in your lane, surround yourself with familiar things and familiar people, and even familiar processes. I think people are naturally risk averse, and there is risk involved in trying something new. Sometimes though, it can pay off in wonderful ways.
If you aren’t willing to consider new customers, new products or new opportunities, your business will never grow. Are you willing to risk a little failure for a large opportunity, should one present itself? Not that every risk is worth taking, but if you don’t take a chance every now and again, odds are good that one of your competitors will.
So yes, there are potential financial rewards for taking a chance, but there are spiritual rewards as well. Last night, the other members of this delegation and I wandered through Warsaw’s Old City, looking at massive, beautiful cathedrals and palaces. We learned about the destruction of the city as a result of World War II and the will of the people to build it all back. We walked past memorials erected for the country’s 100th Independence Day and marveled at the patriotism that was present. We stood in awe at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarded even in the worst conditions by two soldiers. None of those memories would have happened had I decided to stay in the comfort of my office and passed on this opportunity. I will have my chance to speak soon, and do you know what? I think I’ll be fine. Sure, I may stutter and stammer, and I may have some problems with the PowerPoint slides, but I’ll get through it. I’ll pass on the information that I’ve learned from many of you about trends, and maybe I’ll help out a processor or give him or her a new idea.
It will be fun.