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Pushing Outside Our Comfort Zone: 3 Empowering Lessons

“Our lives improve only when we take chances and the first and most difficult risk we can take is to be honest with ourselves.” ~Walter Anderson

I recently returned from four weeks of traveling by myself in Europe. No, I’m not bragging, although it was pretty awesome.

What made it amazing, besides the lovely scenery, tasty food, cultural experiences, and wine, was that I had a few great opportunities to re-visit some lessons that I think many of us could resonate with.

1. It is awesome to make decisions based on what supports our goals, not our fearful feelings.

Let me explain: My main goal in traveling alone was, well, to get comfortable traveling alone!

At the start of my trip I stayed with a great friend in Germany, and the plan was to catch up with her for three days before going on to Berlin (and the rest of my trip) on my own. The day before I was to leave her, I received an email from the person I was renting the Berlin room from. They informed me they had a family emergency and the room would not be available.

At first, I wanted to take it as a sign that I shouldn’t go on to Berlin. Every part of me that was unhappy about traveling alone screamed, “Stay here, it’s easy and comfortable, don’t go…”

I spent about five minutes wondering if it was a sign not to travel on, and then I got over it. I got online and very quickly found a great Berlin apartment to rent for the amount I had been prepared to spend on only a room. Sweet!

If we look back over our lives, many of us would recognize that there are all sorts of things we would not have done if we’d listened to our feelings.

How about not applying to our dream school because we didn’t feel smart enough? Or not asking out that hot guy or gal due to fear of rejection? Or, oh man, not singing karaoke because we don’t want to be laughed at (which is actually what’s supposed to happen when we sing karaoke)?

We would have missed out on some pretty fun and fabulous experiences if we hadn’t sometimes put our feelings aside and taken a bit of a leap.

2. Hanging solo is totally freeing. 

It was nice to connect with other travelers, and even better to meet and chat with locals. I suspect the friends I made in Paris will be in my life for a long time. However, I had days where I literally had no more conversation then “cafe latte, si vous plait,” and it was great.

I had plenty of time with my thoughts; I didn’t have to deal with social niceties; and I did whatever I wanted, exactly when I wanted to do it. It was the best.

The first time I had the opportunity to commune with a fellow traveler and chose to hang alone instead was hard. Initially, it seemed much easier to spend time with someone else then to explore the city on my own.

However, once I did it, I found being alone was fine, and in fact, I preferred it.

I do think we are social animals, and we do feel comfort in groups, especially in unfamiliar surroundings. And those experiences can be really wonderful, when we connect with new people and find common ground.

However, the self-esteem I built in traveling to and around four foreign cities, finding my way, using public transportation, and hanging out in museums, at monuments, and in restaurants and cafes by myself, was invaluable to me.

I learned how self-sufficient and independent I am capable of being, and more importantly, that I am content with that state of being.

3. It’s cool to walk our own road.

When telling people about my upcoming trip, I heard a lot of “you must go to…” and “well don’t do…” comments. I also chatted with some people who seemed to enjoy debating the “traveler vs. tourist” question, which places more value on some experiences then others.

I was told that tour buses and fanny packs are for tourists, while eating from street carts and avoiding monuments are traveler behaviors.

While I am not a fan of fanny packs, I’m less of a fan of doing what other people think I should do. If I had taken any of those comments to heart, and did what I thought was expected of me, I not only would’ve missed out on some great experiences, but I also would have not been true to me.

We all want to be cool, and to be accepted, and to be well thought of. (And no one wants to be thought of as a fanny pack-wearing tourist.) However, spending time trying to fit into someone else’s version of what should be is an exercise in futility.

It is an exercise in self-trust when we are growing comfort in doing what we want to do, or what we feel is best for us, regardless of what others think. I’ll take self-trust over others’ perceptions of me any day.

I am so appreciative of the multiple opportunities I was given to push myself outside of my comfort zone.

What kinds of things do you do to push yourself outside of your box? Let me know in the comments section!

Photo by breahn

Avatar of Maria Moraca

About Maria Moraca

Maria Moraca is a conscious integrated channeler. She and Zurac (her “entity dude”) work in tandem; Maria encourages empowerment and Zurac offers insight and clarification to life path questions. Her website and blog are at mariachanneling.com.

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  • C

    I enjoyed reading the article and it is an article that I need in my current situation. Yet I am suffering the opposite. It’s true that I feel unhappy and empty because I let all my self doubts get the best of me. I was always comfortable being invisible. I’ve done things mostly by my own and my sustainment for human connection, I’ve filled up with an online network. I met a guy online who shared all my beliefs in life and the world and we were perfect for awhile…a long while for me. But he grew tired of being online and he chose the easy way out of meeting ”real” people in the ”real” world. So I guess, I am left to face all the blank spaces in my life and myself.

    The thing is…I was always comfortable being alone and now I want to reconnect with the world and people and to be able to be their friends. Develop myself and free myself from the seclusion I’ve always lived in. I do like to travel alone, It’s what I need right now. But I don’t have the money or capabilities to do so…at the moment

    I’m stuck in a place I’ve grew tired of living in a self I’m not so comfortable anymore. I know there is a way to heal myself and see things differently…that is what I want to find out how to do… sigh SOrry for the rant.

  • elyhim

    Today, I’m the fat guy at the gym. I want to change my behaviors and I’m making that happen one good choice at a time. In the new gym sign up I realized I don’t care about how I look to others, what my weight or muscle mass is. I just want to lower my heart rate. I’m ok being the fat guy at the gym. I’m doing what I want and not what society norms would prescribe for me.
    I can so relate on this topic in multiple areas of my life today and coming soon.

    Sometimes the harder road leaves the deepest tracks.

  • Mariachanneling

    Glad this was relatable, thanks for commenting!

  • Mariachanneling

    Glad you got the rant out :-) We all have our goals, that’s for sure. Comfort in connecting with others can be a big one. I wish you ease on your journey, and clarity in knowing what you want for you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/PoeticCeridwen Kathleen Smith

    I’ve been accepted to a university that I’m supposed to start soon. The thing is that I’m happy doing simple things in my life. I’m debating the stepping outside my comfort zone or doing what I am currently happy doing. Whatever I choose must be my own choice and I’ve had plenty of input. For me it is a lot of journaling and then assuming I take a step outside my comfort zone, I will just have to put my fears aside and stick my nose out. I tell myself this is a learning experience and I seem to be ok with that.

  • Reeseann

    This is so perfect for me right now. After being married for 13 years I’m struggling with being alone, expecially on the weekends when he has custody. I usually always enjoy the time I do have alone, but the time leading up to the time I have alone fills me with anxiety. I don’t quite understand it all. I’m hoping to reconnect with myself and be more comfortable with myself. Thanks for the great read and inspiration. I do love to travel and I’d love to even try it alone one day!

  • Mariachanneling

    Isn’t it funny how our perception of an event is usually not nearly as bad as the event itself? I notice this as well sometimes… great awareness! Thanks for commenting!

  • Mariachanneling

    Good luck in your journey! Thanks for connecting :-)

  • Kate

    Just read your comment and thought YES! I go to a gym and find it daunting – I’m a woman amongst body builders and an older woman at that. Recently there arrived a fat guy there and he works out and chats to people. I admire him because he doesn’t creep around like I do, he just gets on with it, is friendly (unlike most of the other men) and does his thing. In most of my life I have felt like ‘the fat guy at the gym’ and now I have that phrase – I will stop fighting it and just be myself. Thanks!

  • http://www.facebook.com/denise.l.dumesnil Denise Leonards

    I was struck by the line, “trying to fit into someone else’s version of what should be is an exercise in futility.” I ended a 23 yr marriage, then went into an on-again, off-again relationship with someone I truly loved but it was just not sustainable. Now, for the first time in my life, I am alone and finally doing fabulously – no longer the damsel waiting for her knight in shining armor. (This did take a while… by the way.)

    I celebrated my 51st birthday by buying and learning to ride a motorcycle. The freedom and joy it gives me when I travel the back roads and immerse myself in nature is like nothing I have known before. Had I listened to all the people saying “You can’t do that!” I would have missed out on so much!! Also, I imagined myself riding with other folks but have come to realize that I, too, am quite happy traveling by myself. With great courage comes great joy.

    I even asked the “hot guy” out… and he said yes!! :)

  • Tammy Dewar

    Love the blog and related to it as I once took a solo motorcycle trip through the western US and Canada. My latest to get out of my comfort zone is a 30 day visual blog challenge – and what’s important to know is I’m not an artist of any sort!

  • Renee

    Thanks for sharing! I actually went travelling alone when I was about 20. I got a lot of ‘you should/shouldn’t s’ before I went, too. I’d like to go away again but not alone this time. I think that everyone should do it once, but be aware of why.

    Funny that I never considered this an act of bravery. I guess I’ve always enjoyed exploring and finding my own way in foreign places. I have more of a hard time challenging myself while within my comfort zone! Sometimes that even includes making a simple phone call.

  • Stephanie J Smith

    This is perfect and every word really spoke out to me. The past few years I’ve been reliant on other people to always be there, being in a large friend group and all. But only the past year have I really started becoming more and more alone. This has brought on anxiety. However, when I do (whether it’s just going to the gym or going to do some shopping) I enjoy it a lot more. Hell I’ve even been to a few events on my own and had a way better time than I anticipated and actually met some amazing people!
    I want to travel abroad this year at least once. Whether it will be on my own or with friends I do not know ( due to their lack of funds, which is fine by me ). But either way it will happen. Thank you for the boost!

  • Rui

    I want to be self-employed, to have the courage to set up my day.
    The courage to stand up and say, “No I don´t want to do that, and I won’t do that”, without being angry, upset, just mindful of what is that I really want to do.
    Stop being fearful of the bad reactions people have towards me.

  • Mariachanneling

    glad the article spoke to you, thanks for commenting Stephanie!

  • Mariachanneling

    Thanks for your comment Renee :-)

  • Mariachanneling

    Motorcycles are definitely out of my comfort zone! Thanks for connecting here!

  • Mariachanneling

    Congrats! Woo hoo!

  • florabrown

    Maria,

    Thanks so much for your words of encouragement. I found them at just the right time. .

    I’ve travelled alone a bit, but not as much as I want. Trying to line up friends or relatives who are interested, ready and able to go to places I want to go is exhausting.

    So far I haven’t been brave enough to take off to a country without a plan, but I did enjoy 6 unplanned days in a non-touristy part of Rome between a tour and a retreat. I was quite happy spending hours alone enjoying the sites while sipping “real” coffee, chatting on occasion with table companions, and walking to see and photograph amazing sites.

    You’ve encouraged me to continue travelling my own road in my own way, whether that’s planned tours or spontaneous ones I discover. I still have 3 continents and many cities to visit, so instead of going outside my comfort zone, I’m going to expand it.