Episode 3 – Out of the Comfort Zone

In this episode, Sushi and Angie talk about that cosy place – the comfort zone. What is it? Why, how and when should we get out of it. Are there reasons to stay in your comfort zone sometimes?

Listen in as we discuss:


[Book] Show your work by Austin Kleon

[Book] Creative Confidence by David Kelley

[Blog post by Angie] How a daily drawing challenge helped my Creative Confidence

[Book] The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Episode Transcript

Sushi: Hi, This is Design Lota, the podcast where we talk about life as Indian Designers. I’m Sushi

Angie: And I’m Angie. So this past week was exciting! Thanks to all those who listened to episodes 1 and 2, some of you shared them, commented on them and could relate to them, which was great!

Sushi: Yes, it was nice to see the design community get excited about this podcast. But we are still just starting out so stay with us!

Angie: So, this week, we’re talking about getting out of our comfort zones – there are of course many aspects to this, from feeling vulnerable when you open your work for feedback, or experimenting with a new visual style, or while doing user research, travelling, learning a new tool or skill…

Sushi: So Angie, when was the last time you were out of your comfort zone?

Angie: well, I recently became a first time mom, so I’ve basically pitched a tent outside my comfort zone 🙂

Sushi: Really? That is a good thing right?

Angie: Yes, I think I’m growing and learning as much as my daughter! What about you, sushi? When were you out of your comfort zone recently?

Sushi: I just started this podcast with you, and I’m terrified of public speaking. And what is more public than the entire internet being able to listen? But still I’m really grateful that you talked me into doing this!

Angie: You’re welcome Sushi! I’m glad we can do this together 🙂

Angie: So I was reading up on what this comfort zone is and essentially, it’s a routine or behaviour that we settle into because it’s risk-free, anxiety-free and familiar.

Sushi: You sound like you’re advertising for the Comfort Zone. That does seem like a cosy place to be in.

Angie: It is, but if you think of moments when you’ve had any growth or even had spontaneous fun while doing work, it’s probably a time when you challenged yourself and got out of your comfort zone.

Sushi: That is true. I can’t really think of a defining moment when I first got of my comfort zone…as kids, we were sent off to school, and then we had to change schools when our parents got transferred. Exams! Gosh I hated the very thought of those. But in these cases we didn’t really have much choice.

Angie: Yeah as kids I don’t think we even knew there was a comfort zone!

Sushi: I think for me the first time I actually felt anxious about a decision I had taken was going to a different city for design school. But after a couple of days, it started to feel like home-both the city, and the college!

Angie: Yes, for me going to design school after having studied engineering and also working as an engineer for almost 3 years – it was a major fish out of water experience but also a  tremendous learning experience.

Sushi: Oh but aren’t we all fish out of water in design school?

Angie: There was so much I had to learn and unlearn. This was a Master’s program, so  I remember one of my friends asking me if I was insecure to find myself among students who are already from a design background. I replied that I was more inexperienced than insecure and at that point, I really believed that to be an advantage because I could look at everything from colour and form to typography with a fresh eye.

Sushi: And I’m sure you were bringing something new to everyone else, coming from engineering.

Angie: True. And it’s useful now, because I work in the space where design meets technology.

Sushi: So why do we remain in the comfort zone if getting out of it can have so many benefits?

Angie: Because it’s err comfortable?

Sushi: Maybe we can go a little deeper into the reasons we stay there and hibernate

Angie: Hmm…one big thing I can think of is fear – fear of rejection or negative feedback.

Sushi: Yes, showing your work can be daunting even if you’re an experienced designer.

Angie: Oh yes, there’s this book I read called Show your Work by Austin Kleon about how we now live in a time in which it’s easy to share your creative work, including the process with the world on platforms like Instagram and Youtube. It gives permission for everyone to try something out and put it out there.

Sushi: Yeah so technically it’s really easy to “show your work” these days…but opening your work to feedback from the whole world? Feels very scary. But I guess it can be a practice ground and motivator to keep going.

Angie: This is a reason why online art challenges or any kind of challenges really work. I’ve participated on a couple of them and it did a great job of shaking me out of my comfort zone, and it’s really about community and journeying together to grow. I’ve actually written about that experience so maybe we can share that in the episode notes.

Sushi: Yeah, it’s a lot of pressure but then it’s also understandable to others that just putting yourself and your work out there everyday is not easy. And it really requires discipline.  

Angie: In one way, that fear can be constructive coz it does help you to do your homework and make sure your work meets a certain level of quality.

Sushi: Yes, in this case, fear is a motivator! But there are times when it can be paralyzing and keep you from moving forward and trying new things, right? For instance there have been times when I had the opportunity to just walk up to people whose work inspired me, and to pitch my work to them, but then there was this crippling fear that it would be met with skepticism by the very same people who I looked up to and I could imagine my whole world crumbling.

Angie: Maybe you were having Imposter’s syndrome?

Sushi: Oh, what’s that?!

Angie: You know, where you feel like a ‘fraud’ and don’t know what you’re doing, even though there’s evidence that points to the fact that you are competent and creative.

Sushi: I think you’re right. That’s kind of exactly what I was feeling.

Also, this applies to me when I approach a skilled craftsperson to prototype something in the material they are used to working in. I feel like they must be thinking I know nothing about this material or technique, so how can I design something with it? And often it’s something out of the ordinary, so it takes them time and effort to figure out. And I’m aware that time is money and I’m eating into their precious profits. As a student, when I approached a cane basket weaver to help me prototype a lamp, I know he could have made and sold at least ten baskets in the time taken to make the lamp.

Angie: But it does seem like the weaver didn’t mind getting out of his comfort zone to try something new for you.

Sushi: Even though he kept complaining! We were both pleased with the result, though.

Angie: I can see a parallel to this In UI design, where it’s about communicating with developers and sharing your design accurately and not shying away from getting it as perfect as possible. Thinking – it’s good enough, I don’t want to ‘trouble’ the developer. etc.

Sushi:  That would certainly intimidate me! I feel sometimes the fear can also be of judgment. Like, while doing field research. For example, I’ve always felt this fear of being judged for my privileged position. While I’m there at that moment, I’m aware that the person’s life is very different from mine, but how do they perceive me? Are they thinking, who are you, an outsider, to try and solve my problems?

Angie: Wow, that is a big reason too. It’s not easy to just go over and talk to someone you’ve never met, expecting them to help you with your project in exchange for nothing.

Sushi: As a student, my team-mates and I once had to approach elderly people in the community for an interview for a project on Geriatric healthcare. Many of them would always complain about the students living around, so we thought we would be met with anger and accused of trespassing. But we found that, initial skepticism apart they were happy to just talk and share all their stories with us over tea, and we discussed the challenges they faced and brainstormed solutions together. We became regular friends after that.

Angie: That’s wonderful! Any field research requires us to stop thinking about ourselves and how we are perceived and just become keen observers, right? Not as easy as it sounds, but real authentic stories and research are unearthed when we do that.

Sushi: Plus, research stories are always fun to tell. Do you have one?

Angie: I once went to houses asking them about their waste disposal practices. I did speak to them at first but I also asked to see their kitchen and waste disposal setup, which was definitely out if the comfort zone for both parties involved. But just listening to their issues keenly helped me get some real stories and understand behavior patterns for that project.

Sushi: and I feel like any of the wicked problems we face, such as the waste management issue, requires all parties get on board and work together. You don’t just walk in and solve their problem.

Angie: Hmm…I find that we’re also pushed out of our comfort zone when we find ourselves in a new location, with a new language and culture, in which we need to come up with design solutions. Sushi, you had this experience during your Dip Project, right?

Sushi: Yes, I was really excited to go to rural Haryana – a place I’d never been to – and I had to speak and relate to the women there, with my really bad Hindi. But they were really forgiving and just teased me about it. Them making fun of my accent was kind of an ice-breaker. Also accepting the hospitality, staying for free and being fed for free was really awkward, but they knew I was there to try and help them create a sustainable livelihood. This made me even more nervous about living up to those expectations.

Angie: That would’ve been quite a journey away from your comfort zone huh! But sometimes, it’s just a trip next door…it’s about breaking out of familiarity and routine.

Sushi: Yeah even when it comes to finding work as a freelancer. If you happen to be in a space where you see bad design, or no design, and feel you can fill that gap…the only way is to actually walk up to the person in charge and tell them, hey I can do this for you. But at the same time, not be creepy and imposing…and always be prepared to be told straight on your face that you know nothing, or that they are not interested. I think it’s called “cold calling”.

Angie: I think I did something similar when I emailed a company regarding a position they hadn’t even mentioned on their careers page. Surprisingly, I got a response and flew out to a new city to start working with them, in a span of a week! It wasn’t until I was working there that I realized how completely out of my comfort zone I was.

Sushi: This may not sound like the smart thing to do, but you never know the opportunities you’re throwing away by not even trying, right?

Angie: I think even packaging yourself and presenting your work say, for interviews might take you out of your comfort zone. If you think of yourself as not the marketing type.

Sushi: Yes, I can testify to having messed up quite a few interviews simply by being extremely nervous while having to explain my work and “tell them about myself”

Angie: So tell us about yourself. Umm. Er. Gulp. The End. There’s also this sudden moment of panic when the interviewer has a straight face and is nodding but you feel like she totally hates your work. Has that happened to you?

Sushi: Yeah and when the person is scanning my resume right in front of me, I’m wondering if they’re looking at my list of hobbies and finding it really lame!

Angie: Hobbies are not lame. And it’s always refreshing to try out new things. The whole point of hobbies is to take you out of your comfort zone and test the waters. Speaking of waters, I can think of something you did…

Sushi:  Yes. I took surf lessons for a short while last year, and I was really terrible. I realised how much physical strength it requires, and also I had this fear of getting salt water in my nose. But it was a refreshing way to start the work day. How about you Angie?

Angie: I’m not totally comfortable even talking about this, but I took a Salsa class once just to stop thinking I can’t dance and just free myself of the two left feet syndrome. Not that I’m a great dancer now but it was fun and also a MAJOR comfort zone outness experience

Sushi: Do you feel like these hobbies feed into our work in some way?

Angie: Absolutely. I think I wouldn’t even call them hobbies because I think they are an essential ingredient, especially in a designer’s life… I think as designers we need a knowledge of many worlds and unless we immerse ourselves in different kinds of experiences, we will remain in a bubble and it will definitely reflect in the work.

Sushi: I started going for a pottery class couple of months ago so that I could learn to design a certain product better. But going for the class has opened my eyes to the world of ceramics and the possibilities, and it’s something I don’t want to stop doing.

Angie: Wow. It’s good to know you’re on the right track when it comes to creating your product, isn’t it?

Sushi: Yes, actually taking the class to learn how to do it yourself is sometimes better than just asking someone to do it for you since you’re the one most invested in it. But we don’t always have that luxury. As a product designer, everything I have designed so far, I had zero experience on how to create it, prototype it, test it. I just knew that I had a problem to solve or a gap to fill. You sort of have to learn on the job and figure things out.

Angie: Speaking of being utterly unqualified when you start something, I remember when my sister and I worked on a newsletter called Coffee Beanz when we were in our undergrad college. It was very much out of our comfort zone. We basically did whatever we wanted and the organisation founders trusted us enough to leave it completely to us. We used to work on Adobe Pagemaker and made very questionable and cringe-worthy typography choices 🙂  But it taught us so much.

Also, I can think of when I had to learn how to work on mobile apps when it was so new and the standards kept changing requiring me to stay out of my comfort zone and it was a huge shift from working for the web.

Sushi: It seems like many of the gutsier choices we made were when we were students. I’m sure we’ve all done some pretty crazy things as students..even bordering illegal, in order to really give an edge to our work.

Angie: But we will stick to the legal ones for this podcast. Do you think we have become more risk averse having graduated and become…err… professionals?

Sushi: I’d say yes, because as a student, you go to class with a concept that you know for sure, is going to be ripped apart, and criticised and you’ll be told everything that’s wrong, and there will be suggestions on how you can fix it. As a professional, though, this seems unnatural. It’s scary to fail in the real world, because people expect you solve their problems, and trust you with their resources. Also this fear of looking stupid and “unprofessional” for asking or trying certain things.

Angie: Great point, I totally agree. For me I had to go from professional to student to professional again, so now I feel I am mouldable and that is a good thing.

Sushi: Mouldable is certainly mandatory if you want to be a good designer! Be mouldable, don’t get moldy.

Angie: I can imagine that on T-shirts! I think it’s about striking the balance between being confident and being mouldable. Being a confident learner. I guess that means being prepared to fail as well.

Sushi: Often I see a lot of my peers portray a high level of confidence like they have it all together, and maybe they do, but when I try to portray the same level of confidence, I’m usually dying of fear on the inside.

Angie: Yes, it is a healthy fear too but if not managed can become unproductive. In the book, the war of art, yes that’s the war of art and not the art of war….in the book, the author talks about what he calls ‘the resistance’ which is the friction that hits all creative people and keeps them from moving forward, and it can take all kinds of forms…fear being one of them, and he talks about how to use these to go forward and not stay paralysed and fight ‘the resistance’ – for example just showing up and doing the work without worrying about the result or waiting for that spark of inspiration.

Sushi: So I guess it all boils down to diving right in. All that said, do you think there are some pros to this comfort zone thing?

Angie: Yes, it’s important to know when to push yourself and when to hold back. For example, in design thinking, you brainstorm and get all the big, unrealistic ideas onto paper, and then you focus on execution. Which is kind of being both in and out of your comfort zone.

Sushi: Yes, sometimes I wonder if you get this amazing idea hours before the deadline…is it worth a shot? I’ve found that sometimes it is, and it totally paid off taking that risk. But often the execution isn’t thought through and looking like you didn’t put enough time into that is never a good thing. So in this case maybe it’s better to stick to what you know and what you can vouch for. Even if you’re bored of it.

Angie: Actually boredom isn’t all that terrible. It’s sometimes when you’re really bored, stuck in traffic, or you’ve made yourself comfortable waiting in line for something, that you have the opportunity to daydream and come up with new ideas. Apparently, people like Einstein would set apart 2 hours or so to just walk around and think. Sounds quite comfortable to me! 🙂

Sushi: Yeah, you’re just staring into space and observing something without thinking too much and you have this aha moment. I read this book called Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley, and they call this state of being “relaxed attention”. Sometimes all you really need is your boredom and your favourite stuffed animals. Who would’ve known!

Angie: I’ve seen your stuffed animal collection, Sushi!

Sushi: Now you know the reason.

Angie: Hey Listeners, what do you do to get out of your comfort zone? And what intimidates you?

Sushi: What are some of those things you’ve done that really pushed you over the edge? Tweet to us @designlota!

Angie: You can find references and the complete transcript for this episode at We’ll be back next week to talk about literally traversing continents as designers!

Sushi: See you and your stuffed animal friends next week! Bring your sunglasses and snacks!

Angie: Until then, bye 🙂





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