Beginning any new experience can be intimidating. Be it a new school, internship, job, volunteer position, or even leisure activity, taking on unfamiliar tasks in a foreign setting alongside people you don’t know and don’t know you can feel paralyzing. Am I going to fit in? Will people think I’m competent? Can I do what is expected of me? While the answers to those questions are likely a resounding “Yes!”, these anxiety-provoking new experiences are some of the most valuable learning opportunities we can ever have.
When we find ourselves in situations for which we don’t have a frame of reference regarding how to act, what is expected of us, how people treat one another––when we generally don’t know the status quo and culture of a place––we are forced to be present to what is going on around us on a moment-by-moment basis. We must listen carefully, attend to the body language and tone of others, and speak and act intentionally in order to avoid social blunders and misunderstandings. This combination of alertness and vulnerability provide a rare chance to observe our thoughts and actions with curiosity; we are able to ask ourselves questions like, “How should I respond to that statement?” or “Why did I say what I just said?” with a frequency we don’t normally experience when we are within our comfort zones. With careful consideration both in these immediate experiences, and in reflection afterward, we are able to gain valuable insight into ourselves and our patterns of behavior.
It is the very act of stepping outside of these comfort zones that gives us room to stretch and try on new ways of interacting with people around us. If we’re open enough and non-judgmental toward ourselves and others, unfamiliar experiences allow us to choose more consciously and mindfully how we engage with the world moving forward.
tags: work learning self-exploration