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Christopher Penner

SFU Co-op Student
Beedie School of Business

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Men jumping off a cliff
By going outside of your comfort zone, you break the norms of your everyday life and have an opportunity to see what you’re truly capable of.

The Threshold of My Comfort Zone

I would consider myself someone who is shy when you first meet me, and not much of a risk-taker. Although, those closest to me might disagree as I do a lot of backcountry camping. In a sense, this is more of an adventurous trait, yet I didn’t always go backcountry camping because I was afraid a wild animal would eat me. Thanks to some motivation from close friends, I gave it a shot and now I’m hooked! Nonetheless, I have had past employers tell me that if I could get past my initial ‘shyness’ phase, I could accomplish a lot more. As the Project Manager, Website and Student Engagement for the Beedie School of Business, I was taken out of my comfort zone and many times my shy personality was challenged. However, if I didn’t face these fears head on, I wouldn’t have gained a newfound confidence in myself.

There are two phrases in particular that I found myself saying over and over in my head during my co-op with Beedie: “I don’t want to do this” and “I don’t think I can do this”. The situation that lead to this train of thought involved being given the task of conducting interviews with random students throughout the Burnaby campus for the purpose of obtaining student opinions on SFU’s (and Beedie’s) social media content and distribution. We were to apply the results of these interviews to the development of a social media campaign for Beedie’s Student Engagement Office. This meant approaching individuals and asking them to take a few minutes out of their day to answer some questions. You might be reading this thinking, “So what? I can do this type of thing no problem.” I totally understand where you’re coming from, but for me this was no small task.

Initial Shock and Maybe Some Self-Doubt

When the other co-op student and I started doing some research and developing a series of interview questions, I had the expectation that I would have to consult students at random. However, I had not anticipated that I would be interviewing 50 students! When I heard this, I had an empty feeling in my stomach. My supervisor could see the look of worry on my face, and even asked, “Are you sure you want to do this?” Of course, I said I would. I didn’t want to let the team down and wanted to prove that I could get the job done.

As you probably can guess, my biggest barrier was my shy personality, but I also had another thought obstructing my belief in myself. As a student, I have experienced different SFU, student, and other organizations trying to get those walking through the AQ to champion their cause, or fill out a survey and the unwanted pressure that accompanies this. My assumption was that most students had the same dismissive attitude when it came to ‘answering a few questions’ for one thing or another. I had the feeling that I would approach students and they would immediately turn me down. As I soon discovered, this did happen a few times, but once I got into a groove and refined my approach, this was more than often not the case.

Realizing My Ability

The first day that I went out looking for students to talk to, I was very nervous, but I was also determined. With a red face and beads of sweat forming on my forehead, I began my pursuit. If you’re thinking that I’m making this story sound a little bit more epic than it should, this is my recount of how it actually felt for me. After getting turned down a couple of times, I was able to start racking up my interview numbers. I began to approach students with the attitude that I was just like them and that I was obtaining the information for their benefit, rather than for the organization that I was representing. I had real conversations with students, asked them how their day was going, if they were busy with classes and studying, and made it clear that I wasn’t going to take a lot of their time. Students were very receptive to this approach and it paid dividends for me in the end. Once I finished interviewing fifty students, I certainly felt relief, but I also felt a sense of pride. Yeah, I may have embarrassed myself in the first few interviews as I placed the question sheet on the table with my trembling hands and blushed cheeks, but it was all for the better. I learned from this experience and accomplished what I set out to do.

Attaining a New Skill and Developing Confidence

Stepping way out of my comfort zone in this situation really taught me a lot about what I’m capable of. I gained the knowledge and ability to consult people via verbal communication to really hear what they have to say and take action on it. More importantly, I gained a newfound confidence in myself. I truly believe that since conducting these interviews, I have approached projects and other situations with much more confidence and realized that sometimes one of the best ways to learn is by actually doing.

The takeaway message from this article is not “Chris was a timid SFU student that overcame his fear during co-op.” What I want you to learn from reading my story is that going out of your comfort zone can really benefit you. As I said earlier, I didn’t always go backcountry camping and it surely wasn’t because of being dis-interested. I wanted to give it a shot. My fear of being exposed and vulnerable to the elements of nature stood in the way, yet I pushed my fear to the brink on my first backcountry trip and overcame it. The same applies to the working world. By going outside of your comfort zone, you break the norms of your everyday life and have an opportunity to see what you’re truly capable of.

About the Author

Christopher Penner

SFU Co-op Student
Beedie School of Business
Connect with Chris on LinkedIn
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