What is your comfort zone? According to Alan Henry, Editor-in-Chief at Lifehacker.com ‘Simply, your comfort zone is a behavioural space where your activities and behaviours fit a routine and pattern that minimises stress and risk. It provides a state of mental security. You benefit in obvious ways: regular happiness, low anxiety, and reduced stress.’
If you were to attend a conference or talk, where is your comfort zone?
I attended the SCBWI Conference this weekend and mine is sat amongst the audience, soaking up the speaker’s wise words, taking down any relevant points in my current notebook of choice. Even if it comes to offering up ideas of my own, I will sit back and let others (obviously more intelligent and possessed of a far superior imagination than mine) offer up theirs. At school that zone was sat head down avoiding the teacher’s gaze for fear of being asked a question. As for doing a presentation in front of the class, with everyone’s eyes pinned on me listening to the garbled mess that came out of my mouth, that was my worst nightmare.
But… this weekend I took a giant step outside of that zone.
Maybe it’s something to do with age; as you get older you care less about what people think, you spend more time pleasing yourself instead of others. So, I took a step, moved out of the audience and up onto the stage to pitch my novel to about 200 conference delegates and a panel of literary agents.
My heart pounded, my head whirled and my mouth was as dry as the Kalahari Desert. I had memorised my pitch of about four minutes: I had practised many times in front of the dogs at home, who unfortunately slept throughout and didn’t offer any feedback. Yet this didn’t stop the couple of annoying blank moments while on stage. But I was determined not to lose my calm and somehow managed to maintain my composure to regain my flow. I also managed to find answers to the agents’ questions. After all I am the one who knows the most about my book. And there lies the key in presenting ideas to others – it always helps to know what you are talking about.
I was one of five to pitch and each of us had very different stories on offer – including Young Adult, Middle Grade and a picture book – offering our very different talents to the children’s book market. Unfortunately for me, the agents were more tempted by the funny MG novel Monsters MIA (Missing in Action) by Justin Davies. Yet, the wonderful comments and encouraging feedback offered by the SCBWI audience to me after the event were more than enough to lift my disappointment. This continued through the weekend and has buoyed me on to continue with submissions.
So my message here is to take that step, if only occasionally, out of your comfort zone, for that surely is the only way you make progress and learn. As the short TED talk on the Steps to Success by Richard St John explains, by pushing ourselves we gradually erase that self-doubt which if you let it, will keep you forever inside that cosy place which requires little effort and yields only barely acceptable results.
As for me, I might not yet brim with confidence, perhaps I never will, but I won’t let that stop me. Taking part in The Hook at #scbwicon16 was an amazing experience and one I would definitely recommend to other SCBWI’s for next year’s conference.
P.S. For those of you who congratulated me on my pitch and professed an interest in my book – watch this space… (as in, this blog).