Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
I often wonder why some women seem to be afraid or hesitant to try new things. So many of us go to work and then come home and, well, that's it! Or we hang out with the same people all the time, or go have the same drink at the same bar or club. Before you know it, like a flash of light, life is going to be over. At some point you have to say, "Hey, there has to be more to life," and acknowledge that fear is holding you back. Well, it is time to erase that fear to try new things.
I wasn't always so brave, and in my case, I think that spirit of fear was passed down to me. My mother was too busy working and taking care of my brother and me to be adventurous and try new things or encourage me to develop those attributes, so it is important I break that cycle. I stretch out of my comfort zone and model that for my daughter.
I love doing things that are exhilarating and fun. This may sound silly, but I like riding roller coasters. Think about it. As the car climbs its way up that steep and narrow hill made of tons of twisted metal and steel that stretches for what seems like miles, your pulse races as you anticipate the unexpected.
It finally inches its way to the top, and before you can blink, you're released. You drop, falling hundreds of feet toward the ground, and the adrenaline rush takes over. You don't have time to think about getting comfortable. That's what life's about, taking that leap of faith that might be uncomfortable at first, but you find yourself liking it.
I always wanted to swim and when I was working in Los Angeles I heard there was a guy in my neighborhood giving lessons. Learning to swim was a great accomplishment, but fear (and worrying about my hair!) could've kept me from taking the plunge. I remember how fast my heart was racing as my swim instructor slowly led me into the water. He kept saying, "I got you. I got you." Part of me was saying, "Are you crazy, Shirley, you could drown!"
However, as my body was submerged deeper and deeper into the water, I suddenly felt weightless. Still tightly holding my hand, my instructor told me to take a deep breath and hold it, because we were going under. My pulse was going a mile a minute. I didn't know what to expect next. Before I could even try to think about making a fast break out of the pool, he had counted to three and I was underwater.
The saltwater pool was exhilarating. My head popped back up to the surface seconds later, and I thought, Wow, what an amazing feeling. Before I knew it I was splashing around like I had been swimming my entire life. I was one with the water!
Sometimes we talk ourselves out of trying a new experience by saying, "I can't do that. I'm too old," or "I'm too fat." There's always going to be an excuse, so we have to lay those things aside and at least be willing to try.
I read in Diana Ross's biography that if she wanted to learn about something she would take a class, and that when she walked into the classroom everyone would be shocked to see that Diana Ross was in class with them, but she didn't care. Certainly, if Diana Ross, who probably back then could barely walk out of her front door without being recognized, felt that learning was more important than any discomfort she might experience, then surely we can put our fears aside to have new experiences too.
We have to open ourselves up and broaden our horizons, step out of our comfort zone and do things we may not normally do, such as taking up golf or enrolling in a foreign language class. This is essential for our growth and survival.
I have several girlfriends who have recently taken up salsa. Dancing and good music is always great fun. I don't think we're ever too old to try something new. Try to remember those dreams you used to have and the things that made you happy, and seek those things out. Find a way to bring them back into your life. We've gotta do things we wouldn't ordinarily do or that may seem scary or stupid. Hey, I'm talking to myself as much as I'm talking to you.
Save your money, get a passport, and take a trip out of the country! And, hello! You don't have to wait for a man to take you there. Start a book club or Bible study at your home. Hey, you might even dare to gather a group of girlfriends and take a pole dancing class. I hear it's great fun! Instead of being sad and thinking about what you don't have, think about things you do have at your disposal and build on that for new experiences.
Cook a big dinner and invite your friends over who have no family. Or go old school and have a potluck dinner. Just make sure your friends can cook, though, because there's nothing worse than having a big old dinner and somebody brings an unappetizing dish and you have to pretend you like it. Do to your non-cooking girlfriends what people used to do to me when they'd say, "Shirley, just bring the soda!"
Your new attitude to venture out of the familiar could be something as simple as changing the color of polish you paint your toes. Hello, why do you have to always wear red? The next time you go to the nail shop get a French manicure. Or go hot pink with white polka dots! Look, maybe changing your polish is a baby step, but it's a step.
I rely on seven simple steps on a daily basis, and I pass them on to other women regularly:
1. Look your best at all times. Okay, ladies, at six a.m. I'm camera ready every day: hair, lipstick, and even lashes. I know we're on the radio and now television, and it would be very easy for me to be comfortable in sweats and no makeup. I certainly could sleep an extra thirty minutes to an hour. But when I started working with Steve I got excited about stepping up my game not only professionally, but appearance wise. I knew Steve had a reputation for being a sharp dresser. Working with a guy like him, you'd better not come in there looking crazy! Besides, I am not going to let a man be prettier than me.
2. Be a team player. Some days you are a standout player or captain, like a Kobe Bryant or Lebron James, and other days you have to know how to pass the ball. Prime example, I work with comedians. Sometimes I'm the butt of the joke. However, in stepping out of my comfort zone of taking myself too seriously, I've learned to take the humor in stride. You have to learn to laugh at yourself sometimes, and being on The Steve Harvey Morning Show team has taught me that for sure. This may sound cliche, but life's too short! Laugh often and laugh at yourself more.
Another example of being a team player is that I'm not a very athletic person. In fact, I'm a proud "girlie girl." However, when the show partnered with Disney theme parks on an event, I tossed caution to the wind and didn't hesitate going along with zip-lining through the park's makeshift forest with the rest of the morning show gang. Can you believe it?
On air I'm daring and outgoing, but off air I'm much more reserved and laid-back. So, joining the gang, and zipping around the Disney forest, letting loose like Steve, Tommy, and Carla, was truly a testament of me being a team player. I let my off-air personality switch places with my on-air one and it felt great!
3. Keep yourself updated on everything from current news events to current trends, and maximize your resources. In radio our job is to entertain and inform listeners. However, for me, it's always been about taking it to the next level. I don't just depend on getting information when I'm on the job. In my spare time I read books, magazines, newspapers, and check out what's happening on the Internet. Being aware helps you to be prepared for the unexpected times when you're forced to step out of, again, your comfort zone. You never know, you may be interviewing the president of the United States one morning, just like we did recently on the show. I couldn't believe we were actually speaking with President Barack Obama!
4. Don't be afraid to reinvent yourself, from your image to your career choice. Hey, someone may just ask you to write a book, like me! Suddenly, I went from giving advice in the mornings with Steve Harvey to being an author. I was scared to death, but I took the challenge head on!
5. Be both accommodating and assertive, and don't be afraid to express your ideas. I'm pretty easygoing when I'm in the workplace. I don't mind getting Steve a cup of coffee. No, I'm not his assistant, but it doesn't degrade me as a woman, or belittle my status as his colleague and co-host to take on a task someone lower on the totem pole is expected to do. On the flip side, I'm sure that to you I'm this assertive, fearless woman dishing advice to listeners each morning. Well, believe it or not, I wasn't always that fearless when it came to The Strawberry Letter segment on the show. When I first started The Letter, I held back when it came to expressing my opinions. I simply wasn't comfortable dishing out those jagged pills to the audience. I didn't want to crush anyone's feelings. So, I used to be extra nicey-nice, borderline timid, and played it safe when answering letters. I wasn't expressing my true feelings or opinions. But I realized after just a few months of sitting next to Steve, hearing him be so straightforward, that coming soft wasn't helping people. I wasn't being fair to the fans in need, or being true to myself. Besides, it was just my opinion. Hate it or love it, I had to keep it real. And guess what? It worked. Our listeners, even when my views were more critical, loved it. What would've happened if I had continued being afraid to speak my mind? The Strawberry Letter might not have become what it is.
6. Do everything that's required of you and don't be afraid to go beyond expectations, because it will pay off with bigger successes in the long run. I've always stayed at the station for as long as it takes to get the job done, with or without pay. Having that kind of reputation showed my bosses that I was the woman for the job. I moved from being an on-air personality in Chicago to a bigger market in Los Angeles, co-hosting the top morning radio show in the city, to sitting in the number two seat next to Steve Harvey there, and now being known nationally after the show was syndicated. My longevity in the business proves that not being afraid to go above and beyond what's expected pays off with bigger successes.
7. Exercise your creative muscle outside the workplace with hobbies or other areas of interest, to alleviate stress and burnout. Who knows? It may be the makings of your next successful career. I love interior design and clothing. So, trying out new decorating ideas at home and fashion styling for my girlfriends is a great way to exercise and sharpen my creative muscle when I'm not working. I also love entertaining friends and family (catered of course)! Who knows, maybe a fashion/interior-decorating/entertaining show is next for me! What's your next successful career?
Don't let the skepticism of others stop you either. When I was just coming into adulthood I listened to other people and their negative comments. They were quick to tell me what I should and shouldn't be doing, and I'd always fall right into the negative clutches of what they had to say.
I was a smart kid and it was very unpopular to be smart where I grew up, on the south side of Chicago. But my uncle Wardell, who was my favorite uncle growing up, was really smart. He is the one who noticed that I had a great speaking voice, and that I was an exceptional reader. He would show me off in front of his friends and pick out random words and say, "This is my niece. Go on, Shirley, let them see how you can read." Once, when I was six or seven, he showed me the word "chaos," and I read it aloud, pronouncing it correctly. Everyone around was impressed and cheered me on. He grabbed me, hugged me, and spun me around.
That day probably gave him bragging rights in the neighborhood for the next month. Every time he came around he'd tell people, "I told you. Put my niece up against anyone!" He made me feel like I could do anything. My last act of gratitude was making him proud at his funeral when I read his obituary.
My uncle encouraged me to stay in school and go to college because he was a schoolteacher, but you couldn't tell me anything at that age. I had to have nice clothes, and in order to get that I had to work. Luckily, the opportunity in radio came along. It was at a time when you could get in the business without necessarily having a degree.
I was hardheaded back then, but thank God I eventually woke up and followed my passion. I didn't recognize it at that time, but I was in fact reaching outside of my comfort zone. I could've very easily allowed what others thought or said about me never making it in the radio business to hold me back.
The only downer was that since I made the decision to work, I didn't finish college. However, the desire for my degree is still strong in my heart.
I was in Washington, D.C., last year with the Susan G. Komen Foundation as an ambassador for breast cancer awareness. I was happy and honored to have been chosen, but I felt awkward when everyone around me talked about their college experiences and degrees. If you ask me my biggest regret, not finishing college is absolutely it. I think that's why I felt so strongly about and identified so closely with Kanye West's first album, The College Dropout. It's a brilliant album that felt like it mirrored my life. He's very successful, but I bet his dear mother, an educator with her doctorate degree, who has since passed away, still held on to the hope that one day he'd get his college degree.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Strawberry Letter by Shirley Strawberry with Lyah Beth LeFlore. Copyright © 2011 by Shirley Strawberry. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.