The 20 Lessons I Learned After Consistently Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

This is a pretty special article for me to write, because it was 20 years ago that I moved from Brazil to Canada on a high school exchange program. When I look back at all of those years, I can say, with certainty, that they have been extremely fulfilling. 

I have made lifelong friends wherever I have lived. And I continue to nurture those relationships. I have taken on new challenges and opportunities. And I continue to do so today.

Related Article: Why You Should Go On An Exchange

It has also been a little over 2 years since I said goodbye to Corporate America and jumped head-on into a new challenge.

The first 12 months of my business were the hardest. I said goodbye to my biweekly paycheque - yes, I still write in Canadian 🙂 -, scaled down my take-outs and decided to, you know, become an entrepreneur 🙂

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did" - Mark Twain

I basically lit a fire under my own butt in order to get moving on this deal. But then again, if you know me, you wouldn’t be surprised that it’s how I roll.

I still hadn’t quite unpacked from my last move and I was juggling a new business, a new relationship and a new city. At times, it felt like I was drinking out of a fire hose.

I tackled building my own website, which meant learning everything from website hosting, SSL certificate, good plugins, bad plugins, broken links, google analytics and the list goes on, while trying to figure out how to transform what I knew into a product/service that is needed.

So, here you go. A summary of lessons that might help you in your own journey:

1)   Have a “No Stone Unturned”, a “No What if” attitude.

I knew going into this that I did not want to look back on my life and say “What if I had tried?” 

"Regardless of how much courage it can take to live true to your own path, it will never be as painful as lying on your deathbed with the regret of not having tried." - Bronnie Ware

Having a “No Stone Unturned, a “No What if” attitude doesn’t mean leaving a path of destruction and being relentless on your goals no matter what. It means listening to your heart and gut. It means being true to yourself.

I find that I actually look for people with that same philosophy. I no longer hire, partner with (or even date) basic. I want people with a diverse background, that are fast learners and are up for the challenge.

They are brave. They don’t complain. They find solutions. They have consistently gotten out of their comfort zone.

I also know what core traits are important, and I am not compromising on them. I have a zero-tolerance policy for inauthenticity. You can try to fool yourself and others, but it will eventually catch up to you, and that's when you, my friend, leave a path of destruction. No more.

By the same token, after I have made my intentions clear and I 'hear' a no (either through words or actions), I don’t think that people are lying to me or that they will change their minds. I walk away. I don’t waste my time.

They may very well change their minds in the future but since I live in the present and the future does not exist, I am not waiting around for them to change. Neither should you.

Related: Be thankful for the No's that you receive.

2)   Worry less. Do more. Action breeds Action

My brain felt scattered for the better part of 6 months. I would overthink things left, right and center, and then eventually clarity would come and I would act.

For an over-thinker to hear “Worry Less. Do More” without some kind of actionable solution is like a 2 year-old hearing “stop crying and overreacting” after he just spilled his entire package of skittles on the floor. Not really all that helpful.

So, break your goals down into smaller tasks. Action breeds action. If you accomplish something small today, you can push yourself a little further and accomplish something even bigger tomorrow.

I have noticed that if I don’t do anything and sit there basking in my self-pity of not having done what I needed to do because I am just thinking about how big that goal is, it will eventually spiral out of control. 

3) Cheer people on and go back to the encouraging messages that you once received

I love cheering people on on their new journey. That’s what I do. A close friend of mine started her own business in the last year and I am cheering her on. You are brave, I tell her.

I send words of affirmation. I love it. It makes me feel good and when I feel good, I am doing great things.

When I first updated my LinkedIn profile with my new title, I received so many messages from people congratulating me. I saved them all.

I go back to them in the most random times, and they make me smile. And then, just like that, I feel empowered to do that one thing that perhaps I didn’t want to do that day.

All of the sudden my mindset shifts from “I have to do this” to “I get to do this”.

4) Find your tribe

Your tribe is anyone that recharges your batteries. They don’t drain your energy, because you don’t have time for that. Stay away from negative and jealous people.

Your tribe could be friends that are genuinely happy for your new journey. The ones that can cheer you up when you are feeling defeated and say “Hey, why don’t you take a break? Let’s go for brunch tomorrow”.

Other times, it can be a group of people who are also starting their own business. Find a meet up group in your local city for young entrepreneurs. Talk to new people. Ask them questions. They might be able to help you and know someone who does. Exchange contact information.

In the course of this journey, I realized how much of an extrovert I am and how much I miss having co-workers.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my quiet and down time, but I need to recharge my batteries by hanging out with people, doing fun and different activities.

5) Create deadlines for your tasks

You have to create deadlines for the tasks that you will be accomplishing. You might think that you will be able to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time in the beginning of your business, but you won’t and that’s ok.

Even if in the beginning you set unrealistic deadlines, you can adjust them as you move along, but don’t fall into a trap of removing deadlines. They are important to get things done.

6) Outsource what you are not good at

I don’t do design well and I also don’t have time to learn how to use photoshop and Adobe illustrator. So, I hired someone to design my logo and brand package.

Of course that doesn’t mean you don’t have to challenge yourself once in a while. Just recognize what will take you a really long time to accomplish and perhaps not bring the return that you want versus letting others complete it.

For example, I could have outsourced my website creation but I didn’t. I knew I wanted to learn how to build it myself because when it was time to pass on the baton I would at least have the knowledge and be able to explain to the developer what it was that I needed.

Now that it has been built, I can pass the work to someone else and focus on the things that I am good at.

7) Be kind to yourself

I cannot repeat this enough. You need to come first and take care of yourself. This means that you need to fuel your body and mind.

If you need to take a day or two off or however many, it’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up for it. You can go back to it when you have more clarity about the next phase.

For me, I find peace playing guitar, listening to music and talking to friends/family. That’s my thing. If I feel like spending my time doing that, then I go ahead and I do that.

Find things that recharge you: good friends, a good workout, a good movie, a good book, a fun concert. Whatever.

8) Find your ride or die.

I have said this before. When you are young, you don’t really know what qualities a partner (business or otherwise) is supposed to have.

Several qualities that I do not compromise on are their ability to be supportive, encouraging and understanding (there are other qualities too, but I will leave that for another time). I tend to find those qualities in people that have repeatedly gotten out of their comfort zone to rise above it all.

So, hopefully, you have chosen a partner that is a total ride or die. If not, you might be in for some disappointments and hardship.

Related: 7 Lessons to Practice if You Want to Successfully Transition from Academia to Industry

And remember to be loyal back. Your partner supports you now. You support your partner when their time comes. Equal!

Nothing adds more weight to your life and sucks the energy out of you than to be in relationships (romantic and friendships) that are selfish.

9) Save your energy for the things that matter

You have stuff to do. Important stuff. So, if you are spending time with people or situations that add drama to your life, you have gotten to cut that stuff loose. Let it go.

Unfollow drama from social media. Don’t get into useless arguments that accomplish nothing. You don’t have time for that.

Spend time attending good and important events for yourself and your business. Save your energy for the things that matter!

10) "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time" – Maya Angelou

Oh boy…ain’t that the truth?  This is a quote I apply in my personal and professional relationships.

If someone was threatening someone else with lawsuits and applying unfair practices in their business, and now they are contacting you to help them, walk away.

You don’t need to test the waters to know what’s coming next. A lot of headaches!!

If I hear a threat, even an idle threat of any kind, my response is “Hey, thanks a lot for the opportunity, but I have a lot going on now. I will be unable to help you. Good Luck”

Walk away. Fast.

11) “If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you have launched it too late” – Reid Hoffman

When I first launched my website in December of 2016, I had been obsessing over the tiniest things. Header size, font type….and the list goes on.

I kept telling myself “It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for now”. So, I hit the live button and was like ‘It’s out there now’.

Scared was an understatement. I kept thinking that people would notice mistakes and all, and to be honest, shitty people will, because that’s what they do best. You rise above all of that, fix any ‘mistakes’ you may have made, do better, and life goes on.

The point here is that you have to throw it out there and believe that the product is the best product for today. It doesn’t need all of the features. You can fix it with the feedback that you receive.

12) If you can’t work on a project, be honest about it.

If you can’t work on the project – either because you don’t have time to devote to it or you don’t have the proper tools – be honest.

A lot of people will say fake it until you make it, but that shouldn’t apply to projects that you know you can’t complete properly.

Let your customers know what will take. Don’t just say yes and halfway through you have to explain what went wrong.

You let them know ahead of time what the challenges are and don’t lower your prices just because. Remember: “Know your worth”.

13) Know your worth

It’s easy to have imposter syndrome. To think that perhaps you don’t know as much as you think you do. Think again.

I have seen some pretty mediocre people become successful, because they have marketed themselves well, so why should you – who has built a life of technical and industry expertise  – charge less?

If you have gotten this far and have built trusting relationships with customers in your industry, there is no reason to think that you can’t do this. You can. You know more than you think.

14) Commit in small steps

This is a huge one. You wouldn’t get married to someone you just met, so don’t agree to work on a 12 month project right away, if you haven’t done that kind of work before or you don’t know the people involved.

If there is a project that someone wants you to work on, ‘take the project out on a date’ first. Don’t make any promises. Find out what is needed from you first and what they want delivered.

15) Ask deep questions and start listening.

You better ask questions and lots of it.

If you don’t ask deep questions you are unlikely to know whether a project is really as easy as the customer is letting you think it is.

If the answer to “What is the current process today?” comes back “Well, that’s what we would like for you to work on”, that means there is no process and you are starting from scratch. Charge appropriately.

Ask direct questions. It will take some time to paint the right picture of what’s really going on, but that’s ok. Start listening.

Drop projects early if it’s just not sounding right. It’s ok.

16) Carefully assess partnerships

It’s an interesting thing that happens when you put yourself out there. Many people hear about you and your work and want to partner with you. It’s flattering. I will admit. But assess it correctly.

Don’t jump into “partnerships” right away. If they are asking for your help, it’s because they need you, so if they are not prepared to give you a cut, it’s a no.

If there isn’t anything in it for you, walk away. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

17) Manage your cash flow

There was a lot of money going out in my first 12 months. A bit scary. Between regular expenses plus business expenses and no product out yet, it was looking like I was going to be defeated.

It will be scary for a while, but have faith that it will turn out ok. I wasn’t just telling myself that and sitting on my hands. I actually did stuff to get to my end goal.

If I could go back in time, I would not have spent money on some of the equipment that I bought. I didn’t need a super fancy camera with a tripod, along with different microphones.

I would have used that money to attend more conferences where the people in my industry were.

18) Charge appropriately

If you have been doing what you are doing for years and you are good at it, charge appropriately. If you are going to save your clients a ton of money or help generate revenue, remind them of it.

I must confess. I did have a slight advantage here because I had worked in Business Development, as well as in Sales & Marketing, so I knew what the products/services were worth and cost.

If you are still unsure of what to charge, look around in your industry and seek mentorship. If you have not committed to a long term project and locked in the price, you can revisit that. Put that in the contract.

19) Focus

Over the last 2 years, I feel like I have had 17 different businesses. All in my head, of course. I wandered off into “maybe I can also do this thing, because, you know, it’s cool and it could bring revenue”.

I had a major case of shiny object syndrome. Everything was a possibility. Totally abstract ideas. It’s ok to dream, but don’t bask in those dreams for very long. If it’s not the core of your business, then don’t stray away.

Your brain will feel scattered sometimes. It’s part of the process, but don’t go chasing crazy waterfalls.

It will take some time to get your business mission and message figured out. That’s ok. Account for that time before you jump into your new journey.

20) Learn to let go

I could write a whole book on this topic. Things, people and feelings come and go.

If just last month, you were rocking on productivity, delivered several proposals, and this month you are in a slump, guess what? ‘that shall pass'.

Years ago I heard a Buddhist monk deliver a speech that said something along the lines of “Are you feeling sad today? Don’t worry, that shall pass. Are you feeling good today? Great, but that too shall pass.

The point is that you need to just keep going and believe in what you are building. There is no such thing as failure. Just opportunities for improvement.

In order to do things that you are uncomfortable doing, you will have to let go of the fear of what other people will think or say. Fear is paralyzing. We worry more about what other people will think and if they will criticize us.

Let that fear go and don’t focus on those critics. Focus on the people who are happy for you and the problems that you are helping to tackle. That’s what’s important. Not their petty and backhanded comments.

If after launching your product or service, you are not getting the traction that you want, listen to the feedback and improve it.

How will you measure your life?

And just like that, I am wrapping up this article.

Some of the 20 lessons that have hit me right in the face over the last 20 years. With some of them continuing to remind me that all of this is temporary and that “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” – Some wise person

So, let me ask you this….How will you measure your life?

For me, I want my life to be measured by the quality of my relationships and by how brave I was.

Brave to say the truth, brave to start all over again, brave to move somewhere, brave to end relationships that I know are not it, brave to walk away from situations or things that don’t inspire me.

Dare to be brave. Every day. As they say: Everything you have ever wanted is just on the other side of fear.

Everything you have ever wanted is just on the other side of fear.

If you have always wanted to start your own company, to switch jobs or careers, to move near the beach, go on an exchange, to start graduate school somewhere else, then you go ahead and set steps to do that.

You are the master of your own destiny. So, go out there and make it happen.

About the Author Elisa Marques

An advocate for lifelong learning. A self-admitted textbook collector. I have been traveling around the globe since the tender age of 16 and have lived in 3 different countries. Some say that the 90's cartoon character "Carmen SanDiego" was loosely based on me, but who knows. I am a nerd at heart with a huge passion for science, marketing and teaching.

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