It wasn’t that long ago that I lived in my shell (to borrow a term from a turtle). I was afraid to talk to people I did not know – okay painfully afraid. I avoided the phone at nearly all costs and overall, I was uncomfortable in almost every social situation.
That all started to change in 2011.
Almost 9 years ago, I was closing my eBay business and looking for something else to do in my life. Something that would get me out of the house and give back to my community.
I heard about a new program started by our local Big Brothers Big Sisters called lunch buddies. I had always wanted to be a big brother since I saw Alex P. Keaton be a big on Family Ties – but couldn’t because I could not drive – lunch buddies sounded great since a driver license was not necessary to meet and have lunch at a local school with a student.
After a year of working in the lunch buddy program, I wanted to take another step out of my comfort zone – I wanted to fulfill a childhood dream of working at a hospital.
Unlike when I applied to BBBS by filling out an application and waiting for BBBS to call me, this time I had to call the director of volunteers and speak to her on the phone.
I was not much of a phone person when I decided to volunteer at our local hospital. I tried to avoid calling by filling out a volunteer information card and wait for a call. After 2 weeks of waiting and not receiving a call, I summons up my courage and called.
During my in-person interview with the director of volunteers, Linda, it was suggested that I work in the intensive care unit. In the ICU my job would be to answer the phones and call back to the nurses when visitors wanted to visit the nurse’s patient.
I didn’t want to do that as I was still not very confident talking to people I did not know over the phone, so I declined her offer and accepted the position of Pathfinder.
As a pathfinder I escorted guests in our hospital from the information desk to wherever they needed to get to in the hospital. I was good at my job, and I learned where things were in hospital. However, as a pathfinder I felt expected to small talk with the visitors to the hospital as I escorted them throughout the building.
The job did force me out of my comfort zone as small talk with strangers was difficult for me. The awkward silence while escorting visitors bothered me and probably bothered some of our guests.
Still determined to use this volunteer position not only to give back to my community but to grow, I called the director of volunteers and asked if I could also work in the ICU – as she suggested during my initial interview.
The first 2 months In the ICU were horrible. I felt uncomfortable in my job. I didn’t think anyone really wanted me working there and I debating quitting. However, since I was not a quitter, I forced myself to commit to one year in the ICU before I threw in the towel.
I wound up working in the ICU, answering phones and checking in visitors for more than five years. I am glad I did not quit. I became well loved by the staff of the ICU and visitors. I even earned two awards for my volunteer work in the ICU.
Through the connections I made in the ICU I improved my small talk skills a bit and I become very comfortable speaking to people I did not know well. These connections, and my new comfort level of speaking confidently with strangers, came in quite handy during the 9 months my father was in hospital, long-term acute care hospital and rehibition centers before his passing.
Although I no longer volunteer in the ICU, the skills I learned and the confidence I again by stepping out my comfort zone while working in our local hopital serves me well today. I can now start a conversation with strangers. Call people who I do not know for both personal and business reasons. I can speak up for myself with confidence and I can speak confidently with anyone I meet in public.
Forcing myself out of my comfort zone brought me out of my shell and opened a new world of possibilities for me.