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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

3 Best Lessons I Learned From Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone at Work (and Falling on My Face)

A few months ago, my company announced that it’d be participating in a recreational softball league. At first, I was content to ignore that news. While I’d played baseball for a couple of years in high school, I wasn’t very good. And more importantly, while I wasn’t brand new at my job, I still wasn’t the most recognized person at the company—so the whole proposition seemed incredibly scary. But, ultimately, I decided it was a good way to stay active after work and signed up.

We wrapped up our season this week, and two things came of it. First, we lost. A lot. Secondly, I learned a lot about the value of leaving your comfort zone at work—here are a few of those lessons.

1. Your Colleagues Want to Get to Know You, Too

When I joined the softball team, I quickly realized I was the one of the only people in my department on the roster. And for a day or two, I completely regretted it. I can be outgoing when I want to be, but still need the support of someone I know to settle into new groups.

So, the thought of playing a sport that I’m not very good at, in front of a bunch of people I do not know, kept me up at night. But then, a funny thing happened: I realized that even though we work in different departments and knew nothing about each other before joining this team, everyone was pretty open to getting to know me. Not only was this a huge relief, but it was also a good reminder that most people you’ll work with want to get along with their co-workers just as much as you do. So you really don’t have much to lose by putting yourself out there.

This doesn’t just apply to company clubs and teams, but also to seeing unfamiliar faces in the kitchen or at a large meeting. Put yourself out there and say “hi,” (that’s it!), odds are high the other person will be happy you did it first.

2. You Will Not Lose Respect in the Office if You (Literally) Fall on Your Face

Those of you who follow me on Twitter might already know this, but in the second-to-last game of the season, I fell on my face as I tried to run to first base. My reward was a bruised hip and a painful case of turf-burn. But as I fell to the ground, I worried that my teammates (and remember, my esteemed colleagues) wouldn’t let me live it down for as long as I worked for the company.

And sure, they laughed. But they did so in a way that made me feel OK about the whole thing. One teammate said, “Well, that just about sums up our season. Want a beer?” Another came up to me and said, “I did the same thing last week when you were out of town.” Back in the office, a few of them asked how I was recovering, but otherwise, I never experienced any backlash or embarrassment about it. In fact, a few people commended me for giving it my all. So, while I left with a few scars, I did not lose any respect from the people I work with.

It’s a good reminder that you’re allowed to fail in front of your co-workers. You’re allowed to screw-up and embarass yourself without losing all your credibility (assuming it’s an honest mistake). The key is that you get right back up, admit to what happened—which wasn’t hard in my case—and move forward.

3. You’ll be More Resilient When Things Don’t Go Your Way at Work

I can’t emphasize this enough: I am not very good at softball, at all. All of the clichés about how the ball doesn’t always bounce your way apply to me. In fact, three weeks before I was scheduled to run a half-marathon, a hard ground ball hit me on the kneecap and caused me to fall to the ground in a crumped heap. One million different thoughts ran through my head. For starters, I was embarrassed. Then came a strong dose of inadequacy. And then came the fear that if I was actually hurt, I wouldn’t be able to run the half marathon I had been training for.

Fortunately, it was just a bruise and I was able to walk it off, but it did lead to an epiphany—I realized I’d been feeling similar insecurity about a project I just couldn’t figure out at th office. Embarrassment, inadequacy, fear that I might ultimately be told to go home and never come back.

But the night before, I was able to pick myself up and finish the game, even after getting popped on the knee. And I realized that in an incredibly corny coincidence, the same should be true about that task I just couldn’t figure out. What’s more, it occurred to me there was one common thread between the two situations: I needed to suck up my pride, dust myself off, and ask for some help to finish the job.

If you had told me three months ago that I’d be comparing sports to my work, I would have told you to go home and never call me again. But here I am, doing just that, because there were a lot of valuable lessons learned from joining the softball team at work. Maybe softball’s not your thing, and maybe your company doesn’t even have a team. But, at the end of the day, there’s a whole lot to gain from stepping out and leaving your comfort zone.

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