If you’re familiar with the MBTI personality assessment, you’ll know there are certain things that ENTJ’s just aren’t that into. Like emotions. (If those letters mean nothing to you, check out 16personalities.com.)
So, “hugging the kids,” one of my first assignments at a therapeutic boarding school I worked at post-college, was out of my comfort zone. So was bi-weekly group therapy, weekend immersion therapy, and outdoor therapy.
How did I end up here, at the edge of my comfort zone? It started in my junior year of college. I had chosen not to reapply to be a Resident Assistant because it was so much work, but on a visit to a friend who was also wrapping up her first year as an RA in another hall I saw her hug a resident. HUG A RESIDENT. They were buddies. Everyone in her section watched movies together. Over in La Maison Francaise, the French-speaking house I directed, we got stuff done. Lot’s of stuff, like hosting a crepe party for 1200 students and quizzing each other on vocab.
Seeing my friend's different style, I recognized that there was something I needed to learn. I couldn’t quite put a finger on what, but I marched over to the Residence Life office, convinced them to take my late reapplication, and determined to figure it out. In training one month later, there it was. A fateful comment on my MBTI results under the “Blind spots to be aware of” category: “You prioritize getting tasks done over the people who are doing them.”
This insight sunk deep, because with a sinking heart I could see it was true. If something wasn’t a check box on my to-do list, it wasn’t important.
The beautiful thing about the MBTI (And many assessments, as much as some guru’s say otherwise!) is that it doesn’t measure a fixed trait that can’t be moved. We’re humans, we make choices. There are things we do by default because we haven't really thought about them, but as soon as they come into our awareness through the help of feedback or an assessment we get to make a choice.
Suddenly we have options. We can keep doing what’s comfortable, or challenge ourselves to do something else.
I chose to get out of my comfort zone. I changed my class schedule to afternoon-only classes, so I could hang out into the wee hours of the morning with my freshmen residents. We played volleyball, hosted a concert, and “hung out” without an agenda. (Yes, “hang out” was always in quotes in my journal, illustrating how distinct this concept was from the rest of my highly organized, checkbox-driven life.)
In a crazy way, this step led me to a trek up to Everest base camp, another attempt to get out of the comfort zone. That step led me to LIOS, a leadership development program where we learned to tune in to our own emotional centers, suggested to me by the guide on the Everest trek. LIOS led to working at the therapeutic boarding school.
Most great things happen at the edge of your comfort zone. This is where new opportunities, ideas, and challenges live. What can you do today to go there?