Living on the edge - “Outside your comfort zone.” This appears to be one of the buzzwords floating around the business world these days. What does it mean to you? For me, I think of specific events in my life that have pushed my limits. Naturally, several of those came from my time in the military. Being in situations that have higher-than-average risk is always outside the realm of “comfort.” One that comes to mind, however, was an evening in Lucerne, Switzerland.
I found myself in Lucerne when I was deployed to Sicily during the Kosovo conflict and able to take a few days off. I had flown my son over, he was 14 at the time, and we went on a trip on the euro rail to visit friends in Germany. On our itinerary was a stop in Lucerne.
Upon our arrival, we checked into our hotel and asked the front desk what evening activities were available. She quickly suggested the sunset cruise on a large boat that toured Lake Lucerne. It had entertainment, cheese fondue and assorted snacks and promised to be a great evening. For those that don’t know, Lucerne is nestled in the heart of the Alps and the lake sits in a crater surrounded by mountain peaks. It looked lovely and we immediately asked if she would kindly make us a reservation. She did and we headed off for an afternoon of touring this gorgeous Swiss City. We looked at watches and knives (of course), learned about the “Lion of Lucerne” a moving tribute to the Swiss Guard who were killed during the French Revolution, and enjoyed a delicious meal. When it was time to get to the sunset cruise we eagerly boarded the boat at the lake’s shore.
As you would expect, we were met at the top of the gangplank by a maitre’d. I introduced myself and said we had a reservation for two under the name Cunningham. She looked at my son, looked back at me and said, “Oh, you are the two.” As her English did not seem very strong, I declined to ask exactly what that meant, but instead followed her politely to our table. We were alone. They served the bread and put the fondue pot on the table. We sat quietly and waited. I recall seeing a “Max Capacity - 200 placard” and thought we were in for a very quiet evening on a very large ship.
About 5 minutes before we were scheduled to leave the dock, it happened. The buses rolled up. Five buses to be exact, and the other 198 people got on board. My son and I were the only two passengers on the boat who were not part of the Asian Business Association Annual Dinner. This was outside my comfort zone. When you find yourself outside your comfort zone you really have two options, adapt or freak out. Wanting to be a role model, and ensure a good trip, I decided to adapt.
An hour later, we were doing the chicken dance with the entire group, playing the “Alphorn” with the assistance of the nice man in the lederhosen and we had collectively eaten every ounce of cheese on the boat. It was an amazing evening and one my son and I will fondly recall forever.
I told you that story to tell you this one. Next week I will be out of the office for three days. I am lucky enough to have been accepted into this year’s Leadership Maine course and our opening retreat is taking place on Hurricane Island, run by Outward Bound. This kind of experience is designed to nudge you outside your comfort zone, but reward you for your efforts by building new relationships and learning a thing or two about yourself, essentially expanding your comfort zone. In all honesty, a part of me has some hesitation and apprehension in advance of the retreat but, overall, I welcome the challenge and look forward to the ability to learn.
So what are you doing to challenge yourself? Have you considered taking on a new hobby, attending an after-hours where you don’t know anyone or maybe seizing an opportunity like our Kennebec Leadership Institute? If not, you should! Take a risk, meet some new folks, and learn about yourself. Step outside your comfort zone, just for a minute, it will be worth it. After all, if I can do the chicken dance on a Swiss boat with my teenage son and the Asian Business Association, you can do anything.