Since I was a kid, I was a stereotypical introvert. I had a few close friends, didn’t talk much, preferred solitary activities, and was easily embarrassed. I hated the idea of public speaking. I still remember crying the night before a book report presentation in 6th grade. I remember playing basketball as a kid, and when my teammate passed me the ball, I didn’t see it coming so I ducked under the pass (hilarious now to look back on!). I was not socially or sports-savvy, and as a kid, that’s most of what you can have going for you.
In high school, my first two years consisted of me with my typical, restrained attitude. I didn’t venture anywhere with the slightest chance of leaving me embarrassed, which meant low social interaction and low variety in my interests. Sports were avoided – too much risk of embarrassment. I was in rough shape socially (as were my grades).
“What the **** am I doing?”
In the summer before starting my junior year of high school, I asked myself, “what the **** am I doing?”. I didn’t like holding myself back and the under-achievement I was experiencing. I didn’t hate who I was, but I absolutely did not like it. I decided I wanted a change in my life. A major change.
Transformational Moments Aren’t Always Monumental
People speak of transformational moments as monumental and tragic times in one’s life when they feel a new perspective rush in on them and then they decide to change. In some sense, these times of tragedy get glorified. I never had this (fortunately). I simply had thousands of moments throughout my life to this point I wasn’t satisfied with. But, I wanted to change, and so I could without a single momentous moment driving it.
Change Starts With Wanting Change
In my last two years of high school, I started to make some immediate changes. I began talking with new and different people — anyone that I could muster up the strength to speak to. I searched for an extracurricular activity. Everything was incremental at this point, so sports were too much of a jump out of my comfort zone. With few options with small barriers to entry, I ended up in math club. That ended after my first meeting. It was a rough start with an unclear path to my change, but I was trying.
Learning to Expand Horizons
In this time, I spent a lot of time studying the “pick-up game”. Think back to that guy “Mystery” who was on TV, wearing goggles, eyeliner, and a fuzzy top-hat, teaching guys how to pick up women. It taught me about how to interact socially, how to be someone people want to have around, and the art and power of breaking comfort zones. Most importantly, through this studying I discovered my love for learning and personal growth.
Then, “Spirit Week” came back around. This was a week of creativity in high school, playing dress-up to go with different themes. Days were things like Superhero Day, Greek Day, School Colors Day, Crazy Hair Day, 50’s Day, and so on. This was my moment.
A Chance to Jump Out of My Comfort Zone
Whatever I thought would be the standard of each day, I tried to top. If everyone else put in 90% effort, I put in 110%. It was my chance for it to be acceptable for me to step out of the norm significantly. I felt it provided me with a strange balance of accepted extroversion I never had or dared to act on before. And so, my final two years of Spirit Week were strong, to say the least. Specifically, two days were important.
On “Superhero Day” I arrived dressed as Jesus Christ. I had the white robe with the red accent cloth over it, the long hair, the crown of thorns on my head. A teacher told me for the past 25 years she had been there, she has never seen someone walk in as Jesus. People noticed, and I don’t think it was just the costume, but who was wearing it.
Then, of course, “Opposite Day”. I’m not sure any other guys took it as far as I did. A pink blouse, black skirt, pantyhose with my leg hairs sticking out of them, size 13 red slip-ons, rainbow bracelet, a handbag, and a blonde wig with a ribbon in it. I was a hideous woman, and stood out in every class and hallway. It was perfect.
Let me clarify, it wasn’t the attention I wanted. It was that chance to not just make a baby-step, but to take a leap from my comfort zone. There I was, crying before a book report in 6th grade, closed off to others as a sophomore, and now walking around the school in drag, shocking everyone, and comfortable with it (don’t read into that too much!).
Environment As A Barrier
I did figure one thing out at this time. I could only change so much when in the same environment. After those few days of stepping out of your comfort zone in a safer time (Spirit Week), you have to sustain it to sustain change. Most of my peers in high school followed me there from as far back as kindergarten. Whether classmates from the past two years or the past ten, there was an expected precedent to be quiet and reserved. My progress felt limited.
College: The Next Enabler
College left me with feelings of excitement and anxiety. I decided to study business, but that wasn’t my main goal. I wanted to transform who I was further. By this time, I had read several books from my studying of “the pick-up game”, human psychology, and self-improvement. Pick-up wasn’t about getting a girl in bed with you (although that’s what drives the marketing of course), it was about being someone who is socially adept and self-aware. I studied how my mindset worked against me in many situations and how to interact with others, male or female. In high school, I could barely use what I learned because I never felt I could apply it. Now, college changed that.
My first chance was orientation. We broke into groups of about twenty-five and spent the day going on campus tours, playing icebreakers, and learning about our campus. In any of these situations I had a chance to, I spoke up to make a joke and try to make the crowd laugh. When everyone is as nervous as a bunch of soon-to-be college freshmen meeting for the first time at orientation, making them laugh was easy. It was the perfect time for me to build my persona in others’ eyes, but also build my confidence that I could be this change I want to be.
Push Yourself Into Being Uncomfortable
Finally, when college began, I went all-out on breaking through my comfort zones. I lead a life to this point being scared to death of the dance floor — so I took up Ballroom and Latin dancing. Parties scared me — so I started my 18 month nightlife career that boosted my presence among my college. Sports were never my thing — so I found one that worked for me that I ended up loving, Mixed Martial Arts.
I went from the kid who would cry if he had to stand in front of a crowd, to the one vying to find a new crowd to jump into so I could push myself. From avoiding dance floors, to joining a group of twenty dancers and convincing them to let me stay for the intermediate and advanced lessons as well. From never going to parties because I wouldn’t fit in or know how to enjoy it, to being the one throwing the parties. From ducking under the basketball passed to me, to taking up the fine art of fighting. From the disenchanted student, to the avid learner.
Today, my life consists of lifelong learning, personal growth, and entrepreneurship. I have a simple overriding goal: to be happy. Each day I experiment, explore, and adventure. I’ve become comfortable being uncomfortable – arguably my strongest trait. If I never pushed myself to change, none of this would be happening.
Change is possible. It doesn’t take an unprecedented incident to occur. It takes the want to change, the willpower and endurance to stick with it. The ability to force yourself out of your comfort zones is a powerful thing.