It is often said that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Whether with recreational activities or in the professional realm, there forever lies the necessity to break out of the norm in order to gain new life experiences that spark true personal growth. While comfort zones often serve as a safe haven for many, they are our greatest barriers to living out our full potential. We become increasingly fearful of the unknown, comfortable never actually exploring what lies beyond the box in which we’ve placed ourselves.
For some, that box is made up of putting off an active lifestyle that will improve our overall health. For others, it consists of the avoidance of social settings where networking and career progression takes place. In the quest to make our lives great, we’ve already taken a deep dive into the options that exist for those ready to become healthier and happier, placing a focus on physical health. It’s the mind, however, that remains the most difficult to conquer, especially when gaining the confidence to step out of those comfort zones.
For those looking to expand their personal and professional networks, it’s simply impossible to grow without the willingness to do what’s never been done. Stepping out from behind the computer and becoming intentional about face-to-face interactions is the first step, and one that isn’t always easy.
Melissa Cantey, lifestyle blogger behind MelissaChanel.com, knows first-hand the importance of foregoing the comfort of social media and making real life connections in order to advance her career. Getting her start in Charlotte, North Carolina and expanding to New York, much of Melissa’s success can be attributed to the online brand she’s built for herself. She, like many, enjoyed the comfort of digital interactions—both her online responses and brand image were strategically crafted. Eventually, she saw the value in face-to-face interactions, especially as it pertained to building her business. She eventually partnered with another local blogger, Janae Raquel of JanaeRaquel.com, to host events that forced her to develop interpersonal skills.
“It’s rare that strangers have an opportunity to connect with one another, so Janae and I created ‘The Best Picnic Ever’ to give young professionals an opportunity to meet without the pressure of the professional setting,” Cantey explains. “We got to finally meet many of the faces we interacted with online, and in a much more comfortable, casual environment.”
The picnic expanded to the Richmond and Hampton regions, thanks to dozens of social media followers requesting meet-ups in their area. Though Cantey initially developed it as a social event, it became a great networking and business development tool. Eventually, she became a National Brand Ambassador for Cantu Beauty. Once again, she was catapulted into the world of face-to-face interactions, honing her social skills both here in Richmond and beyond.
“Attending events continues to help me grow in my field,” she explains. “With Cantu—and with any event you attend—you’re constantly meeting new people. You have the opportunity to increase your social skills and even your education as you meet people whose career path differs from yours. You never know who you’ll meet that can help you achieve your goals.”
Cantey holds firm to the belief that stepping out from behind the screen and attending networking events and seminars may be intimidating, but it’s essential to growth. Her advice? Preparation.
“Before you go to any networking event, get business cards,” she advises. “Sit with a family member or friend and rehearse scenarios you’ll most likely encounter, such as in-person introductions, icebreakers, and various conversation topics.”
She also suggests taking a friend along as a buffer if you don’t yet thrive in social situations. Above all, let your personality shine. Your online persona is often contrived; in-person interactions help you develop meaningful connections with local professionals.
Stepping outside of the box takes practice. Attending at least one event per month provides the opportunity to exercise your public speaking muscles and helps you develop an elevator pitch to use when meeting new people. Not sure where to find monthly events? Richmond has no shortage of organizations and institutes that cater to the small business owner, blogger, or young professional looking to build their network.
One in particular is the Bonnie Newman Davis Institute for Media and Culture. Founded in 2016 by Bonnie Newman Davis, a journalist, journalism educator, and media consultant here in Richmond, the Institute provides programs, services, and training dedicated to educating and engaging diverse audiences about contemporary news media and its impact on African American life and culture. Davis is also a contributing writer for Urban Views Weekly.
While Davis’ Institute connects people to Richmond’s rich African American culture and history through universities, museums, and schools, she’s also built in a component that connects people to one another. She’s hosted events throughout the city, from the “So You Want to be a Writer” program in Libbie Mill Library last November to a gathering of local African American journalists at the Black History Museum and Cultural Center.
Her most recent event, the Master Class on Entrepreneurship with Miss Jessie’s Founder Miko Branch, provided an incredible opportunity for entrepreneurs and the entrepreneurial-at-heart to get an inside peek into building a successful business.
“I decided that it would be a great way to introduce the BND Institute of Media and Culture to Richmond while bringing in Miko, who has created an excellent brand and following,” Davis says. “Instinctively, I knew that Richmond would be receptive to her visit, and I was correct.”
More than half of the 150 people who reserved a spot showed up on a Saturday morning at Virginia Union University, eager to hear the inspiring journey of two women who revolutionized the hair care industry. Not only that, but Miko’s story ignited a spark in the entrepreneurs in the room, and the event soon became the ultimate networking opportunity. Tickets were free, and the experience was truly invaluable. It offered the opportunity for local women to step outside of their comfort zone and invest in their own personal growth. Dozens of small business owners built lasting connections and bridged the gaps between each of their industries, from photography and writing to marketing and event planning.
Davis prepares to build upon the successes her Institute has experienced in such a short amount of time, and looks forward to exploring new ways to impact the creatives and professionals in Richmond.
“I became used to being the only African American in the room and sometimes I’m the only woman,” she explains. “Whenever possible, I use my position to bring other women and minorities to the table.”
Most of all, Davis sees the inherent value in stepping out of your comfort zone and from behind the computer screen to enjoy face-to-face interactions.
“…It can be intellectually rewarding, stimulating, and even fun to gather in person to discuss our life stories and journeys rather than through social media,” says Davis. “People still crave the personal experience. I plan to use social media to further nudge them out of their comfort zones into open, public spaces where they are challenged to think differently and explore the seemingly impossible.”
The BND Institute of Media and Culture welcomes donations to cover administrative, marketing, speaker honorariums and printing costs. To learn more, visit www.bndimc.org.
Article by Janna M. Hall.
Photos courtesy of Melissachanel.com.