As a quiet and shy girl who developed into a socially anxious university student, I was always in awe of others who had the ability to strike up conversations with strangers, have such confidence to stand tall, speak to a room full of people or do something silly and manage to laugh it off and continue with their lives.
It was a skillset that I hadn’t even begun to master within my ‘comfort zone’ and by not doing that or looking for opportunities to grow, I realised that I was doing no favours to my (then-19-year-old) self and my future self, now 24 year old self.
The realisation hit me when I was in the middle of my exams during my second year of university. What made it even more of a scary realisation was that in a few months time I’d be entering my final year and then embarking on ‘true adulthood’ with a 9-5 job. It was something that I knew I wasn’t ready for – I didn’t feel like I had the skills, life experience or confidence to go straight into the end of my degree. That was definitely not the kind of person I wanted to continue being. I had to make some changes and grow beyond my limited comfort zone.
Taking A Leap
To be completely honest, fear drove my next decision and it’s one of the best decisions I made. I deferred my final year. There were no obstacles or giant forms to fill out, in fact the hardest thing was sitting down with my head of year and actually hearing out loud the reasons I had to defer. It took a few days to get confirmation by email that my records had been updated and just like that, I was no longer returning to my university that year.
It’s Okay To Not Have Everything Planned Out
I’d love to say that I had things in place, a job waiting for me or opportunity after opportunity lined up for the next year of my life…shock horror: I didn’t. It was terrifying but exciting to figure things out.
I had 3 months of summer to figure out my next steps and begin to shape myself into the person I wanted to be. Having taken the leap into the unknown by deferring forced me to do nothing but search for opportunities. To stop myself from burning out before I even started searching for opportunities , I decided to focus on finding one opportunity to develop my career and one opportunity to develop my people skills.
To develop my interpersonal skills, I volunteered with St John Ambulance. I learnt key first-aid skills, worked with a huge range of people from different backgrounds and sectors, I learnt how to speak to strangers with confidence, made life-long friends and made a positive impact on my community.
After weeks of applying for jobs and being rejected, I secured a three month internship in a start-up business in the biotechnology sector. It was my first proper job, and because the company was small it allowed me to get a great overview of how a business runs and how different departments work together. I was on my way to becoming financially independent, building up my savings and planning for the future – things that I hadn’t even thought about previously.
I’m So Grateful To Past Me
Looking back, taking the leap and deferring my final year of university was the best decision that I could have made. I grew from a shy, quiet introvert to a strong confident woman. I am still on my personal development journey, I’m still seeking new opportunities and experiences to keep growing and as tricky as the pandemic has made it to find new opportunities, there are still many opportunities out there waiting to be grasped.
Once I did return to complete my degree, I was proud of the person I had become and the decisions I had made. Looking back, there were three big lessons I learnt on the journey that keep me on the path of personal development:
- Realising that the comfort zone is no place to grow – as safe and comfortable as it may feel, you will rarely develop in your comfort zone. That is what fuelled my love for personal development, to be able to look back and see how far I had come.
- Understanding that there is no shame in realising that an opportunity is not for you. There were several opportunities that I took on only to realise that they weren’t for me.
,I was thankful for finding things that didn’t work for me, it allowed me to get one step closer to finding things that I loved instead.
- Knowing that you will always feel fear when trying something new. That’s perfectly normal! Don’t ever let that hold you back from an opportunity that could help you develop and grow into the person you want to be.