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There are many adages that encourage us to break free from our habitual behaviour and seek out new experiences that really challenge us – feel the fear and do it anyway, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and so on.

I learnt the importance of pushing myself out of my comfort zone (kicking and screaming, if need be) from a young age. I was recovering from ME and had to reintegrate myself back into society, and not just any society…teenage society, urgh. There were a lot of scary moments – my first day back at school after a year and half long absence was a particularly daunting one. But I learnt a crucial life lesson in that period – the value of making myself scared.

Since then I’ve made scaring myself an essential part of my life. Doing things that make you feel uncomfortable draw on the resources deep inside you. You discover that you have the confidence, resilience and capability to handle anything. In other words, stepping outside your comfort zone helps you grow.

Different things scare different people.  A good test is if you feel like every cell in your body is telling you to turn and run in the opposite direction, you’re there. I’ve learnt to recognise when I’m outside my comfort zone because I get shaky hands…sometimes even shaky knees (this happened a lot when I did spoken word performances, sharing your writing with an audience is rather nerve-racking).

So if you’re feeling incredibly uncomfortable, like you might do a wee cry and goddamit just want to go home…welcome to the no-man’s land outside your comfort zone! It isn’t easy, but it’s the best place in the world to learn.

I want to share with you my most recent excursion from my comfort zone. I was extremely lucky to be able to attend an intensive five-day photography skills course at Stills gallery in Edinburgh, tutored by some very patient and very talented photographers. I love taking pictures and was so excited to learn more about photography, but I was totally unprepared for what a learning curve it would be – learning about ISO, shutter speed, aperture and everything else involved in taking a semi decent photograph.

Then came the bit that really scared me. Going up to complete strangers and asking to take their picture. It wasn’t the talking to strangers that bothered me, I’m quite comfortable talking to people I don’t know. It was the machine in my hands that I didn’t know how to use properly, and the pressure that I was heaping upon myself to take a not just good, but great photo. As well as trying not to come across as some pervy weirdo to the person whose picture I was taking.

I wandered the streets of Edinburgh, aware of the deadline set for the environmental portrait brief (a picture of someone in their usual environment, most commonly at work), looking at the unfamiliar faces and wondering who would be kind to me yet also an interesting subject for the picture. One thing I know, is the longer you leave something the worse it gets. Like damp. Or athletes foot.

My fear was rising to an alarming level, so after a few minutes surreptitiously lurking in the shadows of a skateboarding shop, I marched myself to the front desk and did my best impression of someone who wasn’t-nervous-at-all-and-was-actually-totally-down-with-the-kids-yo. And it worked. I got a photo, it wasn’t perfect, the focus was all wrong, but I had approached a stranger and taken their photo.

skateboarding shop edinburgh

Nothing is ever as scary as the first time you do it. It’s the fear of the unknown that keeps us under our safety blankets, but once you’ve experienced something new you get to know what you’re working with.

After that I began to have more confidence with the camera. Leaving your comfort zone is the best way to give your confidence a boost. As the course drew to a close, I was exhausted but felt a true sense of achievement. Here are some snaps from the latter end of the week, you can probably tell how much more at ease I felt by then…

cockburn street shop Edinburgh

sex shop on cockburn street edinburgh

old town Edinburgh

old town close Edinburgh

Cockburn Street and the narrow closes of Edinburgh’s Old Town are such brilliant places to take pictures!

Feeling inspired? Here are some things you could try to go outside your comfort zone;

  • Solo travel
  • Improvised comedy
  • Running a 5k
  • Treetop adventure course

I’ve tried all of these and must say the one I would never do again is the treetop adventure course. I hated every minute of it – and got told off for swearing so loudly and frequently – but I’m so proud of myself for giving it a go, at least now I know it’s not for me!

I’d love to hear what you’ve done, or plan to do, outside your comfort zone, so please do share in the comments below…