As I sit here in my local coffee shop, sipping away on my iced venti two-pump caramel latte, I can’t help but think back with a smile to the first time I ordered coffee – how difficult and overwhelming placing that first order felt, and how I learned a valuable lesson with that simple interaction.
I can say it was a simple interaction now, but at the time it most definitely did not seem simple. You see, I came to coffee rather late in my life. Growing up with an avid tea drinker, there was no room in our home for coffee. Having had a sip of it black once or twice and finding it quite distasteful, I shied away from it even into adulthood. Drinking coffee never entered my mind, that is until I decided to go back to school. With two small children at home, there was no way to get any schoolwork done in the house. This led me to Barnes and Noble, the perfect place to sit and grind out the homework. Getting to Barnes and Noble the first time, I realized I should buy something if I was going to use up table space. While deciding what I wanted, I thought, “I am really tired…maybe I should order coffee to keep me going. Yes, I will order coffee!” However, I did not want just plain coffee; I wanted one of those fancier, (hopefully) good-tasting coffee drinks.
As I stood in line and looked over the endless array of choices listed on the board, I realized I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. As I moved closer to the front of the line, I could feel my anxiety level rising exponentially. This only increased as I heard people placing their orders…
”I’d like a grande flat white” and “I’ll take a venti mocha frappuccino”
… I had no idea what they were saying. It was like they weren’t speaking English. How was I ever going to do this?! I started to panic, thinking that maybe I should just order an iced tea or grab a bottle of water so that I wouldn’t look stupid in front of the cashier and other patrons, having them know that at my age, I do not even know how to order coffee.
Fortunately, before I got to the front of the line, I had an “aha” moment – a moment of clarity. I was able to see this moment for what it was, a defining moment. I had a choice. I could give into the fear – the fear of looking foolish, of making a mistake – and settle for a known commodity, knowing it was not really what I wanted, OR I could do this, despite my fear. In that moment, I realized that if I were not willing to step into my fear to order a simple cup of coffee, how would I ever be able to step into my fear to make the bigger changes I wanted in my life? So, I took a deep breath, stepped up to the counter and said,
“I’ve never ordered coffee before. Would you help me?”
Do you know what happened? Not only did no one laugh at me or snicker behind my back, but the barista was excited to help me. For a moment, she got to be a teacher, sharing her knowledge with me. She smiled at me like I had made her day. As for me, I thoroughly enjoyed my first latte while reveling in my success.
I realized a few things from this interaction. One is that people aren’t as concerned with you as you imagine they are. They are busy thinking about what they are doing and very much less concerned with what you are doing. Another is that people are willing to help you, but you must ask and explain what you need and then ultimately accept the help.
The critical thing I learned is this: Being able to step into the fear to make the major changes we want in our lives takes practice. Fortunately, we have an opportunity almost every day to practice doing things we find uncomfortable or anxiety producing, whether it’s speaking up at a work meeting, taking on a new assignment, or even introducing ourselves to someone new at a party. The more we do this, the more comfortable we become in risking a bit of vulnerability for the gains of personal growth.
With this in mind, the next time you think of doing something new, something outside of your comfort zone, and the anxiety begins to rise within you, I encourage you to see it for what it is, an opportunity to practice stepping into your fear in order to do, learn or become something new so that when the big opportunities come along, you are ready to respond with a resounding YES!