By Julie Grauel
Imagine being in a foreign country. You don’t know where you are, you don’t speak the language, and you’re not sure what you’re going to do. The only sure thing is that you’re staying there for one year. This was me more than 10 years ago. I was staying at the Hotel Duum, in the outer suburbs of Prague, where no tourist ever sets foot. I decided some months earlier to go abroad to teach English, and I settled on the Czech Republic because it seemed exotic and interesting. As I looked at the grey hotel and surrounding 1970s concrete apartment blocks, exotic and interesting were not the words that sprang to mind. It was more like “Crap, what am I doing here?” So how did I get so far out of my comfort zone?
My background was in finance, and I had spent the past five years working for a large organization. I started as an assistant accountant and worked my way up a few rungs in the ladder. Unfortunately, each promotion and new role didn’t make my career any more enjoyable. In fact, I was becoming increasingly frustrated and unhappy. The only things that made the job bearable were my colleagues and the paycheck. I started to question if the pay was worth sitting at my desk every day, while longing to find something more meaningful. The trouble was I had no idea what this might be. So I stayed put.
I was also, at the time, in a long-distance relationship. My college boyfriend had graduated a few years prior and worked in Asia. We saw each other every few months, but we had not discussed any long-term plans. Our assumption was that we would probably end up together—but when and where were unclear. I did not see myself moving to Asia and, in truth, the thought of marrying into his family seemed rather unappealing. So I did nothing.
The longer I did nothing though, the worse things got. It’s easy to stay put when life is ok. You get comfortable and there is no pressure to change anything. You’re not happy, but you also wouldn’t describe yourself as unhappy. A lot of people go through life like this: on autopilot. I did too. However, I started to dread going to work every day. The thought of being in the office for eight or nine hours filled me with despair. I would daydream at work that I was living somewhere else, doing something different, anything except what I was currently doing.
It was around then that a good friend of mine met the love of her life and within the space of a few months was making plans to move to Europe. This shook me up a bit and gave me a wake up call about my own life. I saw how happy and excited she was, and I wanted some of what she was having. I also knew it wasn’t going to happen if I stuck to my current path. I thought about what it was I wanted in my life. I realized I wanted to travel, to try different things, and have new experiences. I realized that I didn’t want to look back at my life with regret and rue the things I didn’t get to try. It was then that I decided I had to do something to get myself out of my rut.
It occurred to me that I could teach English abroad. So I enrolled in a TEFL certification course at night school and loved it. Teaching the students gave me a real buzz and, while it was tough to work and study at the same time, focusing on the longer-term goal helped keep me motivated. After graduation I started applying to various language schools in Europe and was excited to receive a job offer from a school in the Czech Republic. I had always wanted to visit Prague and, although the job was actually located in a small town about 50 kilometres away, this was the perfect opportunity. During this process, it became clear to me that having a long distance relationship while I was in Europe wasn’t going to work.
I handed in my notice, went to see my boyfriend to give him the bad news, and flew out to my new life in Europe.
That’s how I ended up standing in front of an ugly concrete block in a foreign country. Living abroad meant having to make new friends and meeting people that I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to meet before. It also meant learning some of the local language and culture and getting used to the fact that things worked differently than at home. It made me appreciate the little things I previously took for granted; for example, TV in English.
Pushing myself out of my comfort zone has taught me a lot about myself and helped me see the qualities I have. I realize that I can get through any situation in life, and that often the fears and doubts we have are things we have built up in our own minds. My life is enriched as I have been able to experience so many new things, in the Czech Republic and later when I moved on.
There are many things you can do to get out of your comfort zone that are less drastic than moving abroad. It can be trying new food, cycling to work instead of driving, going to an event alone or learning a new skill. The possibilities are endless and the opportunity for growth infinite.
Personally, getting out of my comfort zone has led to a totally different life.
It is a life where I have been able to travel, live abroad and experience new things. It’s what I used to daydream about, way back when. Funny, how that’s worked out.
What are you going to do to step out of your comfort zone?
Julie Grauel helps people who don’t know who they are and how they make a difference to the world, find and express their true self. She understands what it’s like to want to find the answers and not know how, having been through it herself. Julie is passionate about helping people live authentically. Julie has over 20 years of corporate experience, having originally trained as a CPA. She has lived in 4 different countries and is based in Switzerland. She enjoys trying new things, yoga, mantra concerts, walking in nature and gardening. Visit www.expressyourtrueself.com
This article is a chapter from the book Transform Your Life! written by 60 real-life heroes and experts and available at Amazon.com, BN.com, www.Transformation-Publishing.com and all ebook formats.