Yesterday I supported Karen Skidmore at her  Playing Your Bigger Game event which was brilliant: great vibe, wonderful people, awesome content.

There was one conversation that really struck me and relates to a big topic – something I’ve been mulling over and reflecting on for weeks.   The topic is fear, feeling safe and comfort zones.

I guess technically that’s 3 topics but they’re all integrated so I put them under one umbrella.

Someone I spoke to was wondering whether to work with Karen – who made her feel safe – or someone else who had a very different energy who she thought might challenge her more.

I’ve debated with people before over the concept of comfort zones – me saying that you can grow and evolve so much more when you feel safe and supported and others saying that you need to get out of your comfort zone to experience any growth.

The latter is the general consensus within the personal development world: feel the fear and do it anyway, yet my experience has been very different.

When I look back at my life it’s safe to say I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone many times:   living in South America for 2 years (one year travelling alone), swimming the Solent and Loch Ness, investing in a marketing consultancy business right at the beginning of the information age, travelling all over the world….

I’ve lost count of the amount of times people have said to me “you’re so brave”. I would look back at them slightly incredulously wondering why they thought that – I simply did things I thought were fun.

For example, swimming the Solent (from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight) came about because I received a leaflet about it – with a photo of someone swimming in a beautiful blue sea and I thought “ooh that looks fun”.  I didn’t think my swimming was good enough but I made the call to find out more and discovered the only requirements were that you had to be able to swim a mile in 45/50 minutes and raise £750.

“I can do that” I thought.

Raising money no sweat and as I’d just swam 22 miles in 12 weeks I could already swim a mile in 50 minutes.  With training I could easily surpass that.

I signed up.  A challenge, but totally within my comfort zone – something that sounded exciting, fun.

It was the same with my business.

I came across an opportunity to invest in a marketing consultancy business.   They provided training coaching and support for a year, a system to sell and it came with a guarantee.  I paid the £15,000 + VAT and signed up.  My friends thought I was nuts – they wouldn’t take the risk – but to me it was exciting – an adventure.  Just thinking back to that time makes my eyes shine.

I wasn’t doing anything scary – I wasn’t going outside my comfort zone – I was going on an adventure.

Of course after I signed up the challenges started.  With the swim, I hated asking people to sponsor me, so instead I was planning to offer a half day VIP session with me and the money from that would cover the sponsorship.  Then a friend told me I was nuts and I should just ask people to sponsor me – she said she’d match every £1 I raised.  Wow I thought!  With that support it became easy to ask people to sponsor me because I could say every £1 is worth £2.

We had to attend a training session in Dover, I’d never swum properly in the sea before and I’d never swum in a wetsuit.  It was awful – I couldn’t breathe, I swam a few strokes and had to stop.  I thought I was going to have to pull out of the swim completely because I wasn’t able to do it.

During that training I was definitely out of my comfort zone.  Thankfully I had some great guys swimming with me (for safety with had to swim with 1 or 2 others) – who encouraged me and told me I was doing great and I could do it.  Not sure how much I actually swam – I felt like I was treading water most of the time – but I stayed in the water for 2 hours.  When I came out everyone congratulated me and said “you did it” – I looked at them and said “hardly, I was reading water most of the time”.  And then someone said – “you swam more than you think”.

And it was true – I had.  Although I was terrified I had support from people who had a lot more experience than me.  They stayed by my side and encouraged me all the way.  It made all the difference.

I got back in the water that afternoon, then again the following morning and my experience of these swims was very different.  I had more confidence and I successfully swam the Solent later that year.  I learnt a LOT in the process.

During the process itself I was definitely scared, but not when I signed up.  When I signed up it was exciting.

The same with my business – I’ve had sooooooooo many challenges in my 15 years of business.  Times when it’s been too hard, I’ve wanted to give up.  But that initial leap was exciting.

And I think this is the key distinction between the way I think about comfort zones and what is being taught by many gurus.

When we’re excited and we think “I can do that” we jump right in.  We know it’s not going to be easy – that there will be challenges along the way – but the overarching feeling when we set out is one of excitement, possibility, joy.  We do the scary things along the way because we know that’s going to provide the growth that will enable us to reach our big vision.

However I believe we have to have that safety net when we leap.   Entrepreneurs who take great leaps of faith have something to fall back on if it goes belly-up.  They may come from a wealthy family who will support them if it all goes horribly wrong, they might have savings in the bank.

When you know you have a safety net it’s easy to leap.  You can take bigger risks, accept greater challenges.

You wouldn’t go on a trapeze for the first time without a net underneath – that could mean instant death.  You’d only take the net away once you’ve trained hard and trust yourself not to fall.

Whenever I’ve signed up to a coaching programme I’ve ALWAYS been exited.  I’ve always had faith in myself that I can do this.  I believed in the mentor and their faith in me – and I trusted myself.  That has always been my safety net- my belief that I could do it.

When I started out in business – I had an additional safety net – a guarantee.

I believe we can fly further and achieve way more when we have a safety net and we’re in an environment and surrounded by people who make us feel safe and have got our back.

How about you?