Challenge Yourself with Purpose
Revvin' up your engine,
Listen to her howlin' roar,
Metal under tension,
Beggin' you to touch and go
Highway to the Danger Zone! Ride into the Danger Zone!
I’m sure those words are familiar to you whether you grew up listening to it on the radio, discovered it through the movie “Top Gun”, or caught its pop culture revival through references in shows like “Archer” or memes on your social media. It is a fun song with a heart pumping guitar riff, some rousing lyrics, and an epic hook to be belted out at maximum volume.
Kenny Loggins "Danger Zone" song may not be directly about personal growth, but it speaks to me that way. I see life being lived in three types of zones.
First, you have your Comfort Zone were you feel all cushy and safe. There is no risk of harm or difficulty in your comfort zone. It feels like your bed when you first wake up in the morning. You are well rested… well, maybe you are at least attempting to rest – but more importantly, you feel the warmth of safety in that bed under your blanket. As soon as you expose a body part to the cool air of the room and it raises your hairs to attention, you have left the comfort zone.
Second is the Danger Zone.
It is the complete opposite of the comfort zone. You are literally in danger of bodily harm. It doesn’t matter the circumstances, because the feeling of dread is similar. It feels like you were flung off a cliff and just now realizing you are plummeting to your doom. It feels like that moment right after your significant other steps on the gas pedal and you are hopelessly strapped into the passenger seat!
Thrill seekers love that feeling because of the adrenalin rush, but I can understand that it is not for everyone or every situation. I love it on a roller coaster. I never want to feel it at the Grand Canyon.
So we have the Comfort Zone and the Danger Zone. Then, in between those two zones, is the most important one: the Challenge Zone.
We all know the Challenge Zone well. It is when we can feel the hairs on our neck stand up. We get a bit nervous, or maybe a lot nervous. The butterflies are dancing in our bellies. And we get a little excited for what is to come.
The Challenge Zone is where you grow. It is when we challenge ourselves that we find improvement. Challenges present learning opportunities through failure. Challenges advance us to the next level when we reach success.
But you won’t get out of that comfort zone just for growth or that excitement. The causes behind the nerves and butterflies are intimidating obstacles. There has to be a powerful purpose behind that challenge.
Personally, I dreaded public speaking in my career (as noted in my previous blog post). Phone calls, meetings, interviews… it didn’t matter, I wanted nothing to do with it. Email became my comfort zone. I could get it all the same tasks done in the convenience and comfort of my cubicle, on my own schedule, with every sentence perfectly manicured, and not having to worry about being clever or competent in front of co-workers.
Email is a helpful communication tool, but it can very easily be a one-way conversation. Your career can be put in neutral if you become easy to ignore. You lose your ability to sell your ideas and results. When you use your voice to communicate, you make an emotional impact while your audience can’t simply leave your message unread.
As I outlined in last week’s post, I joined Toastmasters to get over my fear of public speaking. It took challenge after challenge to make the progress I needed, but I overcame that fear and kept on driving.
Entering the challenge zone to get over my fear of public speaking completely changed my career path towards team leadership and program management, which was somewhere I always saw myself. I enjoy my engineering and technical work, but I can’t pursue the projects and work I desire as a follower. I can’t ensure my product lands in the right hands as a passenger. I need to be in the driver’s seat to ensure my work helps others.
Famous Victorian-era English novelist, poet, and journalist Mary Ann Evans, known by her pen name George Eliot, is attributed with saying, “It is never too late to become what you might have been.”
On the other side of 40, I take that quote to heart more each day as I keep working who I want to be and discovering underneath who I really am. Challenging myself I have found what I am truly passionate about. I have discovered things which I can live without. I have pushed myself harder towards goals which mean the world to me: Distinguished Toastmaster, Karate Black Belt, Test Lead for my work program, this website… a strong, loving, and caring family.
It’s a challenge, but it is worth it.
What is your purpose? What is it that you want to accomplish today… tomorrow… in a year… in five years? It starts with a step into the Challenge Zone. It may not be dangerous or life threatening, but there is risk and failure. If you learn from the experience and follow it up with practice, preparation, and most importantly, purpose, then reward and success will be waiting on the other side of your challenge zone.
Just listen to Kenny Loggins: