Expanding the Social Comfort Zone


A month? I haven’t updated in over a month?! That’s malarkey, but it’s also sadly true. Get ready though, for this is might be a heavy post!

Last we met, I was readying for Dragon Con. Well, that happened, and you can read all about it in my Dragon Con wrap up at CultureSmash. Immediately after Dragon Con, I started a new job, which, while I like more than my previous job, has proved to be a major time suck. Sadly, NikoScream isn’t the only thing I’ve had to catch up on, but I’m getting back in the groove of things.

I have a difficult time extending beyond my small social comfort zone, and this became painfully obvious with both my press experience at Dragon Con and my new job. How about you? I know I’m not alone in this within my geeky community. We are usually stereotyped for being shy introverts, and it’s often not inaccurate. Do you have trouble opening up to new people? Do you have a hard time asking questions for fear of rejection? I know I do, and if you do too, let’s go through this together.

This past Dragon Con was the first event I’ve covered as actual press since college. It was an enlightening experience. I’ve attended Dragon Con before (enough to write a survival guide, in fact), not to mention several other fandom conventions throughout the southeast. I usually write something about them on this site – some personal thoughts about the events that transpired – but there’s no responsibility or necessity to write. Just getting my thoughts out of my head.

This time though, there was responsibility and accountability, and I kept thinking after the convention what I could do better.

The focus of my feature piece is the importance in fandom culture that Dragon Con represents, the unique social nexus point it creates to celebrate the entire geek experience. I like to think I got that point across (let me know if I didn’t though).

This year’s Dragon Con was a test-run to see how featured convention coverage would do at CultureSmash. As such, we determined to stick to basic photos and experience. However I kept thinking on the ride home that I could have done more. I didn’t do interviews, despite the Dragon Con media staff providing ample opportunity. While I took a lot of photos (compared to how few I usually take), I didn’t take as much as I could have or needed to. Especially since it seems my editor is having a hard time finding good ones. I have an awkward time asking to take photos, interrupting what people are doing at the time. Interviews and photo taking, these are two perfect examples for showing the very thing I have the most difficult time with: going outside my social comfort zone.

Going back to my new job, it takes me a while to get to know my coworkers and training classmates. This company (I’m purposely not saying it here because I’m still new and that might be bad luck) is doing a really good job bringing us together with ice breakers and team exercises – many of which I’m totally filing away in my noggin for future use – but I’ve still developed a rep in the class for being the quiet, inexpressive one for the first few weeks.

As I already said, I know I’m not the only one of my fellow fandom enthusiasts with the occasional trouble overcoming their introverted tendencies. I wish this post were a guide on how to easily overcome the discomfort barrier of your social comfort zone, but we know it’s not that easy. The fears of humiliation and rejection, even if they make no sense in the given situation, are powerful.

The actual doing isn’t easy, but the equation is simple enough. In my experience, stepping outside the social comfort zone takes effort and time. To do so immediately requires a leap of faith, but small steps also get you there over a longer period of time. I usually take the small steps route, which works with groups I’m interacting with on a regular basis (like my new job). When that’s not the case, when time is in short supply (like at a convention), it takes more than that.

Keep in mind, if you’re trying to break out of your comfort zone to interact with people, that most people want interaction. They may not show it, and they may inadvertently put you down (see Accidental Nerd Elitism), but most are flattered that you put in the effort. If you meet rejection, keep in mind that they have their own reasons and issues. It won’t always work out, and sometimes it’s painful when it doesn’t. Unfortunately, we won’t progress unless we keep on trying.

This article isn’t a fix to the problem. This is a proposed agreement that we’ll all try expanding our social comfort zones together. While the majority of the work ahead of us lies within ourselves, we can also help each other. Dealing with any problem becomes exponentially easier when we know we’re not alone. I’ll continue to try expanding my social comfort zone, and I hope you will agree to too.

Do you have a difficult time interacting with strangers and new people? What do you do to overcome that hesitation? Do you help others overcome their fears? How so?

Share your answers and thoughts in the comments below!

2 thoughts on “Expanding the Social Comfort Zone

  1. I totally agree that it takes time and effort. For some of us, it takes way more time than most, and there’s not really much you can do about it. The best way to sabotage it is to try to force yourself into it too quickly.

    If I’m honest, I’m probably not doing all I can to overcome it. But then again, I’ve learned to pick my battles, which is not an attitude I could have accepted gracefully in my mid-20’s.

    For example, I don’t do interviews on the podcast because I don’t really “warm up” to someone within minutes of meeting them. I feel like that’s OK, because my strengths are group discussion and tech. But then again, I don’t really have the same ambitions for the podcast that John and Charlie have, so that’s biased (for all I know, they might feel like I’m making excuses, and they might be right).

    I think my biggest problem is I don’t set boundaries well. On some level, bad experiences have taught me that people who are unnaturally friendly typically want something (even if it’s just your time and attention). So not being naturally gregarious, it sometimes seems like my two choices are to avoid the commitment of interacting and do my own thing, or to interact and risk losing control of the situation. Often it’s easier to do the former until I have a feel for a person or group. Sometimes, even if I am comfortable, I’m not sure I want to commit to being social because that’s still a loss of control.

    But again, I typically pick my battles. If I venture into a group activity, it’s usually one where I can lean on someone else I know when I’m not feeling particularly comfortable, and where I feel somewhat knowledgeable about the subject (if it’s organized around one). And if it seems like a good fit, I try to stick with it long enough to build up a comfort level.

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