Surge Forward: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Introverted? Shy at conferences? Hesitant to share ideas in meetings? You're not alone. Here's how one top creative professional tackled his fears and boldly set sail into uncharted waters.

I remember my first day of kindergarten like it was yesterday. As my parents and I slowly walked towards Mrs. Hamm's class, I was clutching my dad's hand with a Kung Fu Grip so tight only G.I. Joe ­– who I was choking in my other hand ­– could admire behind his chiseled, expressionless face. Every day prior to that inevitable first day was spent daydreaming and embarking on solitary adventures under the watchful eyes of my best friend, Miss Watson.

Miss Watson was a thickly accented Jamaican woman who loved wearing billowy cotton dresses, wide-brimmed straw hats, and was hired to care for me while I focused on the itinerary of my imaginary excursions. All I needed was Miss Watson, G.I. Joe and the pretend world created just for my personal enjoyment ­– it was all good in my hood. And then suddenly the door to Mrs. Hamm's kindergarten class swung open and I was simultaneously terrified, confused and delighted by all the youthful energy inside the room. It was the first time I had to decide whether to retreat or surge forward.

Fast-forward several decades and I'm sitting in the refuge of my hotel room, much wiser and eager to learn, reviewing sessions of a major design conference commencing the next day.

Year after year I would attend various conferences and soak up the content, but I failed to connect with the community of creative and energetic professionals alongside me. I opted instead to retreat to my hotel room working remotely, answering emails, ordering room service, and calling old friends to catch up.

To be clear, I'm not antisocial. I do enjoy good, lively conversations. I just felt drained by all the kinetic energy. "Busy" was the mask I wore to cover the real truth: I'm an introvert.

Retreating was my routine and I never once thought to step outside my comfort zone – until two years ago. I realized that retreating hindered my professional growth as well as the trajectory of my career. My circle of influence was incredibly small and I wanted to create new, genuine connections that extended beyond the borders of my state. I concluded that if I was going to attend conferences or do anything to improve myself professionally, I must surge forward into uncharted waters, sharing the career knowledge I'd been bottling up for decades.

If I hadn't made the decision to pivot and take that first step, I would have never met some of the most amazing, generous people working in the advertising and design industry today. People whose leadership, phenomenal advice and support have helped me discover, cultivate and share talents I never knew existed. That's what surging forward did for me.

I recently read an interesting statistic that one-third to half of the people living in the United States are introverted. I would bet there is a higher percentage among creative practitioners who identify with the characteristics of someone more introspective in nature. With the business landscape evolving and strategic design thinking becoming a valued factor in the successful execution of many corporate initiatives, creative professionals are being invited to take a seat at the corporate table and asked to speak about the impact creativity can have on various business strategies.

Whether you're an introvert, ambivert or extrovert, the next time you find yourself standing in the threshold of a big industry event combusting with energy, a local professional association meeting or even one of your own company's stodgy conference rooms, surge forward and step way outside your comfort zone. It may be terrifying at first and a little confusing too, but you may be delighted and surprised by all the new discoveries.

Ed_RobertsEd Roberts is a writer, speaker and the creative director of a high-performing in-house team comprised of strategically focused creative superheroes. Roberts has interviewed some of the brightest and most forward-thinking leaders in advertising and design. Follow him on Twitter (@InHouseObs) for more creative insights.