By Dr. Deborah Rosati

I’ve always been a little nervous about stepping outside my comfort zone.

As someone with decades of experience in her field, I am confident within my areas of expertise—board leadership, finance, entrepreneurship, and governance. I’m good at what I do, so I tend to stick to doing what I do well.

But recently, I’ve been trying a different approach. Over the past few months, I’ve been working on stepping outside my comfort zone, choosing to embrace discomfort and growth instead.

Why? I recognized that stepping outside your own comfort zone is necessary for self-discovery. By embracing challenges and pushing your boundaries, you can unlock new opportunities and realize your full potential.

It hasn’t been easy, but I am glad I took risks and left my comfort zone. Let me share a few recent experiences with you—and three vital lessons I learned.

Seek Feedback

Last year, I was recognized for two prestigious awards: the Canadian Women Entrepreneur (CWE) Award for Gender Equality in the Workplace and my honorary doctorate from Brock University. I knew they were major milestones in my life’s work, and I wanted to elevate my LinkedIn profile to showcase my accomplishments.

The only issue? I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get my profile there. I realized that I needed to seek feedback from an experienced professional who could look at my LinkedIn profile objectively and explain what needed to change to elevate it.

Fortunately, when I put that thought out to the universe, the universe delivered exactly what I needed—or should I say who I needed. I met Andrea Lekushoff, Founder & CEO of Broad Reach Communications, while speaking at a networking virtual event with a group of women leaders. Right away, I could tell she had the critical eye I needed to take my online presence to the next level. When I engaged her to help me refine my online profile, she took the reins, expertly guiding me through her curated Elevate Your Executive Profile process.

It was a gratifying experience. I’ve always felt nervous about sounding too boastful online, but Andrea taught me that I shouldn’t be afraid to share my accomplishments. It was like she gave me permission to talk about what I’ve achieved for the first time. She encouraged me to change my LinkedIn profile to reflect the breadth of my accomplishments, updating it to read “award-winning entrepreneur and corporate director.”

Next, she drilled down and asked me how I would sum up my superpowers in three words. We came up with three interconnected ways to define my 35-year career: as a corporate governance champion, a catalyst for change and a community builder. She used those core ideas to build out my updated bio.

Throughout the process, Andrea and her team asked all the right questions, and they were efficient with my time. In the end, the bio they crafted captures my successes, experiences, and values in a succinct and powerful way.

Over the following summer, I continued to work with Andrea on three blog posts to highlight #mythree words of 2023: elevate, innovate and sustain. Throughout the process, she pushed me to go beyond the usual boardroom buzzwords, encouraging me to share stories of my childhood, my early career, and my personal aspirations. In the process, I realized that those narratives were all part of my journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

For a peek into the work we did together, read the posts on my blog:

Elevating Myself and Others in Pursuit of a Higher Purpose

Driven to Innovate: It’s in My DNA

Channeling Barbie: Fearless, Strong, and Pink

Asking for feedback didn’t come easily to me, but it was so worthwhile. Constructive feedback can provide valuable insights and perspectives to help you improve and grow. It was a big step outside of my comfort zone, but participating in Andrea’s process was an enriching and enlightening experience.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness might not be what you picture when you think about pushing yourself to the next level. But as I learned recently, staying present can be essential for stepping outside your comfort zone.

This year, I was asked to be featured on the cover of a digital magazine. My first thought when I received the invitation was why me? And my second was oh no, I don’t have to go for a photo shoot, do I?

I knew it would be an experience that fell far outside my comfort zone. Sure enough, I learned that the photo shoot would be a three-step process that included a brand/wardrobe consultation, a guided photoshoot, and a scheduled reveal. I was reluctant, to say the least.

Fortunately, Adrianne Fekete, Founder of I Am Unbreakable™ Global Media and the magazine’s creator, referred me to Agnes Kiesz, Photographer & Creative Director, PURES studios to take the photos.

When the shoot day arrived, I was nervous. I had done my best to prepare my mind, body, and soul for the experience, but I still didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, I had nothing to worry about. Agnes guided me through every step, helping me stay present, feel confident, and find the courage to be authentic. It was like nothing I’d ever done before!

Here’s how Agnes describes her approach on the Pure Studios website:

“I believe a photoshoot is about getting out of your head, remembering who you truly are and the artist showing you through photography everything you can still become.

I know how beautiful looks like and I know how to capture it. I want to take the best photographs you have ever seen of yourself and empower you from the inside out.

My strengths are making everyone (yes, you too!) comfortable in front of the camera, creative direction and styling.”

When I embraced her philosophy and allowed myself to be present in the moment, that’s when I was able to let go of my anxieties and step outside of my comfort zone. As a longtime yoga practitioner, I am familiar with the principles of mindfulness—focusing on the present moment and observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. But it wasn’t until the photo shoot that I realized you could use those same tools to approach an uncomfortable or intimidating situation.

By being present, not only was I able to shake off my nerves, but I was able to let my true self shine through in front of the camera.

As Agnes so eloquently explains it, “It will change the way you see yourself!”

Or, as Oscar Wilde famously said, “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”

Get Support

When was the last time you asked for help with a challenge in your life? Admittedly, it’s not something that comes easily to me. But I’ve discovered that getting support is one of the best strategies for approaching a challenge that’s outside your comfort zone.

When I was awarded an honourary doctorate by my alma mater Brock University last year, I was thrilled. And of course, I said yes when the school asked me deliver the convocation speech at an upcoming commencement ceremony. What an honour!

However, as I sat down to write my speech, I realized that I was out of my depth. I’m accustomed to giving short speeches or sitting on panels, but a convocation address is completely different. Suddenly, I was filled with uncertainty. What do I say? How do I stand? Where do I look? What should I do if I make a mistake?

In the face of so many questions, I decided to do something I don’t always think to do; I sought out support.

To help me improve my speaking technique and prepare for the address, I reached out to a speech and presentation coach, Gary Brennan of Between-the-Words. Right away, he made me feel more confident about the whole endeavour. We worked on breathing techniques and warmups so my voice would be ready, but we also focused on shaping my mindset. He helped me understand how to stay in the moment and own the stage. Importantly, he also encouraged me to not shy away from showing emotion.

On the day of my convocation speech, I still felt the nerves I expected, but I felt confident knowing that I was prepared. The toughest part of the address was speaking about my father, who passed away 14 years ago. As I felt tears well up, I remembered my training. Be in the moment. Own the stage. Don’t be afraid to show emotion. Breathe. I looked out at the audience, took a deep breath, soaked in the moment, and continued.

The rest of the speech went flawlessly, all thanks to my training. I couldn’t be more grateful for the coaching I received from Gary Brennan. He gave me the tools and techniques to take on this challenge.

Trusting the process

Looking back at each of these moments, I can’t help but notice a trend; each time, everything changed when I trusted the process.

In governance, our job is all about processes. We do our best work when we stick to the steps and trust the experts, knowing that they are great at what they do.

My trust in professionals helped me successfully step outside my comfort zone over the past many months. I trusted Andrea Lekushoff’s Elevate process to help me tell my story and share my accomplishments without fear. I trusted Agnes Kiesz to help me be present and shine in front of the camera. And I trusted Gary Brennan to equip me with the strategies I needed to deliver my first convocation address.

It was all about surrendering to the process and allowing the experts to do their work. The feeling of surrender was terrifying initially, but it was also freeing.

Remember, stepping outside your comfort zone is a journey of self-discovery and personal growth. Feeling apprehensive or uncertain is normal, but embracing challenges and pushing your boundaries can unlock new opportunities and help you realize your full potential. Embrace the discomfort—and the growth.

My advice? Surround yourself with a supportive network of individuals who encourage and challenge you. Find people who are great at what they do and place your trust in their processes. You’ll be glad you took the leap.