Jumping Outside of my Comfort Zone

By Justin Wilson, NIU GILD Intern 2018

For me, comfort is found in my hammock in my backyard listening to the wind blow and the birds chirp. Comfort is defined very differently by everyone— it isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Last summer, if you had told me that I would be in Mexico right now for a month interning and learning more about the social space, responsible tourism, and global nonprofits, I would have thought that you were lying to me. However, as I sit here and write this blog, I am looking at the Bahía de Banderas and feeling the breeze rush into the office window.

Several months ago, I stumbled across a TED Talk by Adam Braun, the Founder and CEO of Pencils of Promise, called The Five Phrases That Can Change Your Life. He talks about how his Semester at Sea’s ship hit a 60 foot rogue wave which knocked out the navigation and power causing a Mayday. After realizing what was happening, he focused on the why of the situation. Why was he there, why was he on the boat, why is this happening, why? He continuously reflected on this and realized that there was something left on this earth that he had to do. This sudden realization of his life helped Braun realize his purpose and directed his path to start the nonprofit focused on global education, Pencils of Promise. The different mantras that Braun talked about in this TED talk really stuck out at me, especially the first one: get out of your comfort zone.

Braun goes on to tell the audience to “get out of your comfort zone while you can and immerse yourself in something radically new that challenges everything that you ever believed before” (Braun 2013). So that’s what I did.

The view of Bahía de Banderas from the Human Connections office

I applied, interviewed, was accepted to the NIU Global Internship and Leadership Development Program hosted by Human Connections, in Bucerías, Nayarit, México. I decided to challenge my assumptions and what I have heard about Mexico and immerse myself into this new and nerve-racking experience.

Some people might think that interning abroad for a month in Mexico isn’t really getting outside of one’s comfort zone but what really made me uncomfortable about this trip was the fact that I only had a few years of high school Spanish under my belt and I didn’t remember much of it. I thought of all the different situations that I could fall in, where I would be stuck because I didn’t know the language. Luckily, the program that I was applying for was in English, so I decided to jump in and put myself in an uncomfortable position which I hoped would help me grow and develop both personally and professionally.

Yadira, Segis, and Xochitl, are local entrepreneurs that we worked with on one of our projects

Since I arrived in Mexico, I have remembered and learned many different words and phrases that help me communicate with the locals and with other guests. I can successfully order lunch, ask for the check, ask the price of an item, and much more.

Jumping outside of my comfort zone doesn’t end with just the language. It is a question that I continue asking myself. On one of our Cultural Day Tours, we visited Rolando, a weaver from Oaxaca. He went around the room with a bowl of crickets and asked if any of us wanted to try the traditional snack. At first, I was thinking, why would I eat a cricket? But I realized that in that moment, I was conforming to my comfort zone. I then decided to take a cricket by the leg and eat it.

Me and one of the guides zipping on the highest line at Playa Grande Ecopark in Puerto Vallarta

Our group went to Playa Grande Ecopark where we did a zip-line tour in the mountains of Puerto Vallarta. I’ve been on several zip-lines before, so I wasn’t nervous at all going on the tour. I’m not nervous about heights either; I grew up climbing trees and jumping off. Early in the tour, some of the other interns asked if they could go upside down and the tour guides told us that we would need to go with a guide to ensure proper safety. I wasn’t too sure that going upside down and letting go was for me. I found comfort in holding on to the trolley while zooming through the fresh air. After several breathtaking ziplines and some beautiful hikes, we finally reached the peak of the mountain and now had to zip over to the other mountain. I knew that this was the time to push myself to go upside down. If I wanted to overcome the fear of going upside down and push myself outside my comfort zone, this was the time. So I cautiously walk up to the guide and ask if I could go with another guide on this line. A minute later, I was zipping from one mountain peak to another, upside down without holding onto anything. It was exhilarating.

Stepping outside your comfort zone is critical for growth. If I didn’t decide to apply for an internship with Human Connections, I wouldn’t have had the chance to re-learn some Spanish, and learn more about the social space, responsible tourism, and global nonprofits. If I didn’t try the cricket, I might not have known that they aren’t half bad. If I didn’t let go of the trolley and go upside down on the highest zipline, I wouldn’t have known the thrill of flying in the air from one mountain peak to another. All of these positive experiences wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken a leap of faith.

Push yourself to seek discomfort and challenge your assumptions and you’ll see a positive change. You’ll grow from the experience and your comfort zone will slowly increase. The nerves you have now will soon be within your comfort zone. And then it’s time to take that next step, zip-line trick or trip.