Stepping out of your comfort zone? – expats do it daily!

Navigating unknown surroundings

Nana and Alex stepping outside their comfort zone, navigating an unknown forest path somewhere in Bavaria.

“What’s the fuss?”

I heard a speech the other day about “stepping outside of our comfort zone”. It is said that we need to do that in order to learn and grow. I do agree with that. It just struck me that some people do it only once in a while. Expats do it all the time, every day!

Moving to another country, entering another culture, is naturally outside our comfort zone for most of us. But it’s not just that. For example, one of my friends asked me: “Surely, once you’ve found a place to live, and found the nearest supermarket, you’re just living like everybody else, so what’s the fuss?” I see his point. To him it looks like it’s just a matter of finding your way around, getting to know where the shops are and that’s it. Yet, being an expat involves much more than that.

Every day as an expat is a series of experiences that takes us well outside our comfort zone. It’s not necessarily because we have to deal with a lot of things that other people living in the country won’t have to deal with (importing your belongings, official documents, etc.). Sometimes, expats have that additional load as well, but that’s not the point I want to make. The point is, that as an expat I will have to step outside of my comfort zone no matter what I do, because it’s all “unknown territory” to me. Not just the physical space, but the psychological space too.

Physical space – and psychological space

In the physical space, in my new surroundings, I can find my way around with the help of a good map. But the psychological space is not so easy to navigate. It involves learning the psyche of the new surroundings, its people and its culture. And learning to navigate the psychological space requires us to leave our comfort zone all the time. As an expat, we have no choice – engaging in the surroundings and their unknown psyche is the only way to learn. And that can be frightening, even intimidating.

So as expats, we are constantly faced with overcoming our fears. We may believe that we overcame it when we moved and settled in our new country. But the battle continues every day. Every day, we are stepping outside of our comfort zone, into the unknown. The beauty of it – and I truly believe this – is that we will emerge stronger and wiser from every day. Every expat day is not only an opportunity, but an obligation, to learn and to grow. I feel very grateful for having learned so much that I would never have learned, had I not repeatedly and willfully stepped outside of my own comfort zone.

How have you stepped outside your comfort zone in your expat experience? Any advice on how to overcome the fear of “stepping out”? Please share in the comments below.

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10 Responses to Stepping out of your comfort zone? – expats do it daily!

  1. C├ędric says:

    I just agree. I like the continuation you make between learn and grow. Actually even if you do not feel to fit so well in a country, you learn, and grow, sometimes against your will…

    • Thomas says:

      Right on Cedric! Being outside your comfort zone will make you grow, even if you don’t want to… good point.

  2. Robert Wyman says:

    I almost feel like I am repeating myself somehow but this makes me think of my parents when they were expats in Algeria. My mother would go through the Arab markets to collect what was needed to make meals. So much going on all around in these places, nothing familiar but altogether adequate. I suppose the stepping out was/is just her nature (a casual boldness). I have always heard from them that where ever you go people are very much the same in caring for other people. I think the way to overcome the fear is to realize what amazing things are out there to see and learn. You do have to have balance if a society you are in is going to bring major culture shock to you (Japan).

    • Thomas says:

      So true Robert. Everybody’s different – some people will just embrace it and do whatever casually (love that “casual boldness”). Others will fight and whine, but will grow nonetheless. And I agree with you: Everywhere in the world, people are human!

  3. Tanya says:

    I love the term “psychological space”. It’s so much more than getting the daily activities down (although that can be quite perplexing and stressful when the customs or even language are different).

    The most difficult adjustment for me in China was not going to the supermarket or negotiating public transport. It was working out how to substitute the internal peace I used to get from sitting in the sun outside. Even when there are lovely sunny days in Beijing, it’s difficult for me to sit outside and read and just enjoy the day. Invariably, someone (or, more likely, many someones) will stop to watch me, talk about me, or talk to me. It’s not that I dislike these conversations, but it meant that an essential part of this introvert’s de-stress routine was gone.

    • Thomas says:

      Great story Tanya! I take it that you eventually found another de-stress routine that did not involve being brought quite so far outside of your comfort zone? ;-)

  4. The Romos says:

    I don’t know if afterlife exists, or if there is reincarnation, as far as I’m concerned, this is the one shot we get in this world, so why not make the most out of it!?…Sure, a lot of people like the “comfort” of their home town and having family close, but moving out, trying different places is an experience that cannot be duplicated in any other way. Before we moved to Hawaii many of our friends in Tucson asked us why would we want to move to an island ? (DUH!)….and what if we got island fever?….or what if it wasn’t what we were looking for?…..all we had to say was, well, if we get island fever, or bored, or if it’s not what we were looking for….we’ll move someplace else!….but we rather go, try it and say we didn’t like it, than regret it in the future for not having tried……
    :o)

    • Thomas says:

      Great punch line there my friend! You understand how to get the most out of a place – and no regrets, whether you stay or move on!

  5. super nice stuff. Stepping out of the comfort zone is every day thats for sure! Like getting a flat tire on Sunday in Central America and having no spare. On a hill at noon in the sun. fun times. But hey the tow truck driver we eventually found drove us around for an hour trying to find a tire store that was open. Comfort zones are for sleeping in not living in.

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