by: Rana Hanna, writer and editor of the Deloitte Middle East Point of View magazine

What do you get when you throw a lonely writer into a room full of auditors and consultants? Worse, how does it feel when, in fact, you had thrown yourself into that room?

“I cannot tell a lie,” George Washington is reported to have said when confronted by his father about a damaged cherry tree (the boy had apparently cut it with his hatchet.) I cannot lie either when I say that, when asked to act as master of ceremonies for the Deloitte Middle East Annual Partner’s Meeting, I jumped at the chance.

Ten minutes later I had regretted my decision. As a writer I lead a lonely professional life and here I had accepted to promulgate myself in front of an exacting audience of 150 or so professionals. And I had to make it interesting.

This was beyond stepping out of my comfort zone. This was about stepping out of my comfort zone and then stepping on it, trampling it.

The good news is that I survived to tell the tale. But when we are up against a challenge that takes us out of our element, such as being a writer in a roomful of professional services people–or an auditor in a room full of writers–we tend to think that our very survival is at stake. So we tend to shy away from anything that is too unfamiliar or uncomfortable, for fear of failure.

It is precisely this fear that keeps us from growing. What taxes, strains and stretches us, is also what stimulates, inspires and excites us.

I know a psychologist who, over the past twenty years, has taken on a different challenging work project every year. Something that forces her to learn a new skill or undertake new research, or simply, to test herself. She forces herself to do it in order to keep herself motivated, interested and interesting.

So what did I do after I had accepted to throw myself into the deep end? I swam. I made sure to prepare. I wrote a first draft that ended up in the bin, and a second draft that ended up in the bin and a third draft that didn’t.

I talked about how, as writers, auditors and consultants, we all tried to make sense of a changing world. I spoke of what united us, of how we were at once similar and different. I told them stories.

By the end of the day we had warmed up to each other, they thanked me for keeping them interested and I thanked them for listening, for giving me their time and attention.

I came back home to the comfort of my chair and my screen. Back to my world and to my comfort zone. But I was changed, I was invigorated. I had stretched myself and emerged more limber. I had met new people, exposed myself to new ideas. My world was a little bit bigger, my comfort zone a little larger. And most importantly, I was inspired.

I started working on my next challenge.

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