Through high school and college, I regularly volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, waking up early on the occasional Saturday to help build a home in New Orleans or in Mobile, Alabama. It was my favorite volunteering gig because, despite my very limited knowledge of home construction, I could see the tangible results of my efforts, and know that deserving families would have a roof over their heads at the end.
An interesting part of the Habitat model of volunteering is that you don’t need to be an expert in construction to contribute – and that doesn’t mean your contributions are insignificant. Knowing that relieves the pressure; you can come ready to use a skill you already have or learn a new one, such as caulking windows, handling the miter saw to cut up 2x4s, or tiling the roof. It is with many hands (of various degrees of ability) that the house gets built, and volunteers walk away with skills and confidence they may not have had at the start of the day.
It was during these Habitat builds that I had my first experience stepping outside my comfort zone, and enjoying it when I did, because the environment encouraged me to try new things and develop my skills. My work experience at CCMU is not all too different; CCMU incubates leaders who have potential and gives them the space to learn and grow so we can then have those leaders contribute at a higher level to the health systems change work.
Also, working in a small (but mighty!) team at CCMU means that we often have to challenge ourselves to take on tasks despite any inexperience, because someone has to do them. This year, I’ve had to step into roles that were new to me, and frankly, scared me a little, but because I pushed myself outside my comfort zone, I grew in my professional capacity. Leading our legislative strategy and managing some of our grants and foundation relationships are all now part of my everyday work, and I’m a more valuable asset both to the team and to broader health systems change efforts because I accepted the challenge.
Similarly, systems and groups can get comfortable with the status quo and stick to the work they know best rather than stretching to reach new heights. Our health care system continues to be in need of transformation, but we must push beyond what is expected or familiar so it can become what Colorado really needs. One great example is how Kaiser Permanente clinics have committed to enrolling patients not only in health coverage, but also, if they need it and qualify for it, food stamps. The health care system typically does not deal directly with food insecurity; however, hunger is a major factor in many patients’ health. A health system that increases access to healthy, affordable foods, improves patient outcomes. Hospitals, insurers, providers, and others are committing to improving patient’s health by looking outside their comfort zone and beyond the four walls of the exam room, and that’s the kind of leadership that will ultimately transform the health care system.
Learning something new or flexing new muscles is important to growth and progress, whether we’re talking about personal or professional growth or leading systemic change. Staying in our comfort zones may be cozy, but it’s probably also cramped; a new challenge can extend the boundaries and enable us to do more. So grab that metaphorical nail gun, spackle, or angle grinder and push yourself and your organization to do more and be more. Colorado needs you!