One of my girlfriends is learning to teach virtually. She has taught face-to-face classes for her entire career, so this is no small task. The technology is daunting and feels really clunky. “I keep messing up,” she said with frustration. The content and activities have to be reworked to be delivered onscreen. And she has to teach the participants a new way of learning as well. She is way out of her comfort zone.
My team is completely virtual now. We’ve been a virtual team forever, but we are now virtual at a whole new level. I’m sitting on a cushion on my dining room chair trying to figure out how to keep my back from hurting. Several of my team members have little kids at home, and they are learning to juggle childcare duties with the needs of their work-at-home spouse on top of the work they need to do for their job. We are learning how to work together with no home base and with dozens of daily distractions. Some days we laugh through it. Other days people are oddly silent. There are times I need to ping someone to make sure they are okay. But we are making it work – clunky as it is.
On top of this is a world careening out of control. It’s hard to watch and it’s hard to take my eyes off it. Literally everybody on this planet is outside their comfort zone in at least one area of their lives. And this pandemic has been a wildly different experience for different groups of people. You have one experience if you are a suddenly remote worker holed up in your house and yet another experience if you are essential and need to get out. Families who get sick with Covid-19 have an even more harrowing experience. It’s hard to know what to think about this time, and yet it has provided a great deal of time for reflection.
We learn when we move beyond our comfort zone. There is nothing to learn within the confines of safety and what we know. It’s that leap of faith that takes us over the safety rails and into the unknown that is the catalyst for learning. Our first tendency might be to jump back in our comfort zones, but right now we don’t have that choice. We have to learn a new way, and we have to get comfortable enough with that new way of being to make a life of it for at least the short-term.
I’m hopeful that we all learn so much individually from being outside our comfort zones that it literally leapfrogs our collective consciousness lightyears ahead. We need that forward movement. The best times for my own personal growth have been at those times when my world was completely in ruins at my feet. There’s something about total destruction that frees us up to think differently. Change that is just a reaction to something else is not true change. We need something more than opposition. We need complete and radical change.
Today my Michigan team and I met up for ice cream. It was the first time that we had seen each other in person since February. So much has changed since then. Our company won’t be going back onsite for months if all goes according to plan. I have an end date for my employment that is quickly approaching, so my team will move on without me. They will have a new boss and a new structure. They will lose a number of colleagues and will have to figure it out without them. I will have a new life, and I know nothing of what that will look like.
As I walked away from our gathering, my parting gift in hand, I remembered the day I was given that team. I was afraid then. Could I do what I wanted to do? Would we like each other? Would we create great things or spin our wheels? We all walked boldly into the unknown then, and we’ll do it now. That team and our mission has become my comfort zone over the past year or two. And I’m taking leave of my comfort zone again. In a year, what is unknown today will be my comfort zone. I suspect I will learn a lot, cry a bit, laugh until tears stream down my face and meet a number of new people. With any luck, I will look back on this time with fondness. This is the doorway to my next adventure.