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Step out of your comfort zone and invest in yourself

by Helen Fosam

Have you ever imagined yourself being on stage, commanding attention, and inspiring an audience? But when the opportunity arises, you pray for divine intervention to get you out of it. How on earth will you pull this one-off? Everyone will see right through you as the imposter you believe you are. Well, that was me!

Throughout my career, my roles did not require me to be in the limelight. My presentation skills were sufficient for the small team of professionals I interacted with: the fewer interactions, the better, perfectly suiting my personality – shy bordering on introverted. But I enjoyed what I did. In fact, I believed I was good at it. I saw medical writing as my art. My canvas is a blank page on the computer, and the computer keystrokes my brush and paint. An artist would sketch and bring an idea to life with colors and details; I start with a jumbled draft of words that is refined and edited until I am happy to reveal my work. Medical writing for medical education is a niche that combines my interest in science, medicine, and communication.

Get out of your comfort zone.” “You grow by making yourself uncomfortable.” “Invest in yourself.” Although I’ve heard these statements many times, I’ve never given much thought to them or felt they applied to me. Realistically, why would I intentionally make myself uncomfortable? But the idea of investing in yourself and needing to be uncomfortable to grow sank home after two high-stake events. On reflection, and if I am candid, my insecurities and lack of confidence contributed to my first two failures. In both cases, I was woefully unprepared. It’s time to face the music!

The first high-stake event was when I was invited to formally sign the memorandum of understanding with the Federal Ministry in Nigeria for the telemedicine CME program. Naturally, I was deeply honored by the invitation. I imagined myself surrounded by the team, a cameraman capturing smiles as signatures were penned on paper. Period. 

A few days before the signing ceremony, I was told that the event would be televised. That was when panic struck. I will have to ‘show up.’ Possibly address an audience. How will I pull this one-off? I was afraid of being exposed as a fraud. But at the final hour, a technical hiccup with the organizers led to the event’s cancellation. Divine intervention had stepped in to save me. I could not decide whether I was disappointed or relieved about the cancellation. The second event was when I attempted to sell my idea of an initiative to increase access to CME opportunities for healthcare professionals in Africa. Again, my poor communication skills stood in the way. Imagine if the televised signing had occurred or if I was confident to sell my idea. I would have had an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reach an audience I would not otherwise have been able to. Instead, I hid behind my fears.

As uncomfortable as it is, personal growth requires honest self-assessment. It requires admitting your weaknesses and finding ways to address them. This is when stepping out of your comfort zone and making yourself uncomfortable applies. This is when investing in yourself comes in. As an aspiring entrepreneur with a new business idea, I had to first believe in myself before I could inspire and sell my ideas to others. I lacked confidence. I needed to work on myself to address my weaknesses. So I did.

  1. I found mentors. Notice the plural. A business mentor provided the guidance I needed, gently nudging me to give more thought to how exactly I will make money from my idea—pushing me to write a business plan with a clear mission, vision, and strategy to provide a road map to keep my fledgling business idea on track and connecting me to resources to help me to succeed. Other mentors helped me stay accountable to my goals and gave me honest feedback and support.
  2. I joined Toastmasters. Talk about being out of my comfort zone! But this has been my best investment in improving my public speaking skills. The improvement paralleled improvement in my confidence. 
  3. I signed up for as many webinars as possible that involved personal growth. Listening to others who built something out of nothing was inspiring. Moreover, I saw that their initial struggles were not different from mine.
  4. I joined professional organizations and started taking on leadership roles.     

My second failure was in 2017. Working on myself began in 2018. The MiLHO Initiative took hold in 2019 as a subsidiary of my medical writing business, The Edge Medical Writing. I created the first MiLHO online course in 2020. Several are currently in development. I am working with a fantastic team of talent, helping me to bring my idea to life. Thank you to each of them; they are my hero. Stepping out of my comfort zone, making myself uncomfortable, and investing in myself have paid off. Although I am not entirely where I want to be, I am on the right path.

Helen Fosam is the founder of the Missing Link to Improved Health Outcomes (MiLHO) Initiative. The initiative focuses on creating online continuing medical education courses for healthcare professionals in Africa. We are currently beta-testing our pilot course on type 2 diabetes. Click here to subscribe and to access the free diabetes course.

A medical writer focusing on continuing medical education, Helen has roots in pre-clinical research, in academia as a faculty member, and in the healthcare sector as an R&D adviser. She holds a Ph.D. in Physiology from Sheffield University, UK, MSc in Biochemistry from Sussex University, UK, and BSc in Biochemistry from Kent University, UK.

The MiLHO Initiative emerged from a combination of a personal medical emergency, the role CME played in that emergency, and the realization that healthcare professionals’ access to and participation in CME is critical to evidence-based patient care and their optimal health outcomes. The mission of the MiLHO Initiative is to support healthcare professionals in Africa to access relevant and affordable CME in their local settings. Join us. Together, we can make a difference. Click here to subscribe, and then forward the link to your contacts.