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Tracy McHugh On How to Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone to Grow Both Personally and Professionally

An Interview With Maria Angelova

Ask for feedback — this a lot of times is professional feedback to grow in your role, but also is useful to ask people in your life for input on matters where you are less familiar. Feedback is great to see things from other people’s perspective for areas of growth or trying things in a different way.

It feels most comfortable to stick with what we are familiar with. But anyone who has achieved great success will tell you that true growth comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. What are some ways that influential people have pushed themselves out of their comfort zone to grow both personally and professionally? As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tracy McHugh.

Tracy was born and raised in North Jersey, which she didn’t venture far from until college. Tracy only made it to Poughkeepsie, NY for her undergrad but fell in love with travel during part of her Junior spent in England. Since then, Tracy has been to 28 countries and 46 states which she started writing about in her travel blog during the 2020 shutdown.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I grew up in a tiny town in New Jersey, 20 miles outside of NYC. It was a great experience having a sleepy town up brining, with the most diverse city in the country at your fingertips. One weekend we would be hiking in the mountains or playing soccer, and the next heading into the city to see a Broadway show.

With that said, I didn’t have a childhood that changed much. I was the youngest child in my family, we lived in the same house from the time I was 2 years old, most of my friends remained in our town from the age of 0 until at least 18 years old. So needless to say, I didn’t experience change often nor did I handle it well when it did arise. By the time I went away to college (only an hour from my hometown), it was like my world was crumbling.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

‘The measure of intelligence is the ability to change’ — Albert Einstein

What this quote means to me is that life is every changing and many times it is out of your control. You can fight it and complain about it or you can accept it and pivot.

After college I enrolled in a 3-month acting course in Dublin, Ireland. Dublin isn’t necessarily known for studying acting like London, New York, or LA are, but I wanted to spend an extended amount of time in Europe, I always wanted to see Dublin, and I found a 3-month course through an acting school I had previously attended. A few weeks before the course was set to start, and after I had purchased my non-refundable flights, the class was cancelled due to low participation.

While disappointing, this moment taught me that not everything always goes accordingly to plan and learned that at times you need to roll with things. Instead of taking the course, I traveled around Europe for 2-months by myself. This scenario also taught me how to be self-reliant, independent, resourceful, street smart, organized, as well as helped me work on my social skills. If you are a social being but spending 2-months traveling alone, you either acclimate and start engaging with strangers or you remain silent for 2-months. You also need to assess each situation to figure out if the stranger is friend or foe. In addition to all these life lesson I learned from the trip, I also just had an amazing time, got to spend 2- months in amazing places, and meet some amazing people.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Two movies I watched repeatedly as a kid were, A League of Their Own and Fried Green Tomatoes. Both of these films portrayed strong, independent women during times when women didn’t have as many rights and it was not as easy to be strong willed, opinionated, or go against the grain.

When I was little it was very important for me to try to fit in and make friends. I would bend and misshape myself to fit in with others, no matter how much I lost myself in the process. As I got older and went to college, it became easier for me to make friends and sustain relationships, but I kept myself at the core. It took me a while to realize quality over quantity was key.

If I didn’t allow this transition to transpire, I would have missed out on so much in my life, mostly travels. In college, I spent a summer living alone in Los Angeles to take an acting class. For 19 years I hadn’t spent more than a couple hours (at most) on my own; let alone lived on my own, completely took care of myself, or ran errands and executed chores completely on my own. This trip is also when I became more independent with doing activities solo. Prior to this time, I never would have gone sightseeing on my own or eaten in a restaurant without a companion but if I wanted to leave this apartment during this trip to LA, I needed to start.

This experience in California broke the barrier for me into traveling by myself. If I hadn’t done this trip, I don’t know if I would have traveled around Europe for 2-months alone in the story I mentioned above. This may not sound like a big deal now, but I was raised by Baby Boomers who thought moving more than 10 miles from your parents and not starting a job within a month of college graduation, was crazy. This was years before Social Media Influencers and Digital Nomads were options. Literally every person I knew moved to New York City or back to their hometown and got an entry level job and I was like, I’m going to wander around Europe alone for several months. Since this time, I have traveled to 18 countries and 30 states alone. I have done 5 road trips in and around North America by myself. I took a job where I lived out of hotels for 6 months, covering most of the continental United States. I gave up my apartment and most of my belongings well before the term Digital Nomad was even coined.

Home has truly become where I am and not a dwelling with belongings. Someone asked if it was difficult for me to downsize and without skipping a beat, I replied that it would be odd if I became emotionally attached to an air fryer and an Ashley Furniture couch; I have everything I love with me.

I am not giving Geena Davis in A League of Their Own and Kathy Bates in Fried Green Tomatoes all the credit for my independence, but I think a lot of little things and influences lead up to me continually catapulting myself out of my comfort zone.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Let’s start with a basic definition so that all of us are on the same page. What does “getting outside of your comfort zone” mean?

A lot of times people assume getting out of one’s comfort zone means something grandiose like skydiving. It can mean that, and I did go skydiving. As a child I was severely afraid of heights and while the feeling diminished over time when I learned how to curb my emotions, the fear of heights still irked me into adulthood. A friend and I had been talking about skydiving quite a bit and decided to go. I knew if I paid the money, I wouldn’t back out. While I don’t see myself tightrope walking over the Grand Canyon anytime soon, it lessened my fear of heights, and I would definitely go skydiving again.

With all of that said, getting out of your comfort zone isn’t always going to look like a skydiving excursion and that may never be on the docket for someone. When I was younger, going to the movies or out to eat alone was out of my comfort zone, traveling by myself was out of my comfort zone, even putting myself out there like this and sharing personal details about myself would be out of my comfort zone. So, I think comfort zone is a loose term that can depend on the person and moment they are in. The most basic term boils down to doing something that is not natural or comfortable for you.

Can you help articulate a few reasons why it is important to get out of your comfort zone?

I think it comes down to growing as a person. Growing isn’t something that is necessarily required to pass through life. For me, I wouldn’t be content if I wasn’t learning, growing, and evolving. The duration of a life is an awful long time to stay in one place.

Is it possible to grow without leaving your comfort zone? Can you explain what you mean?

I suppose so. Life is constantly about learning and new experiences. Things are only new once so as time goes on things get less daunting, but it doesn’t mean things aren’t changing and you’re not learning, they just may not be changes that are outside of your comfort zone.

Can you share some anecdotes from your personal experience? Can you share a story about a time when you stepped out of your comfort zone and how it helped you grow? How does it feel to take those first difficult steps?

In the beginning of 2022, I left my job after 3 years without a backup plan because there was no room for growth at the time. I did not leave on a whim. I had been looking for different work for quite some time and it took me an additional 7 months after I left to find a new postion. This was out of my comfort zone as like many people, I need the income and my job gives me a focus and purpose.

I thought about resigning for so long that by the time I gave my written notice, it was a sense of relief because I was thinking about it a lot and talking about my job a lot to friends and family so much that it was time to take a step. It would not benefit me and would counteract me resigning if I just sank into a slump and did nothing, so I made sure to setup a routine for myself, kept in a positive frame of mind with meditation and exercise, and spend time friends and family. I learned a lot from that job, but I also learned a lot from my time after when I was looking for work.

Here is the central question of our discussion. What are your “five ways to push past your comfort zone, to grow both personally and professionally”?

  1. Ask for feedback — this a lot of times is professional feedback to grow in your role, but also is useful to ask people in your life for input on matters where you are less familiar. Feedback is great to see things from other people’s perspective for areas of growth or trying things in a different way.
  2. Try Something New Every Day — It doesn’t always need to be big things, but at least once a day do something different than you normally would. Try a different coffee, go a different route to work, bring lunch to work if you typically eat out.
  3. Reassess — Sometimes you do things a certain way just because you do things that way. For the longest time I would cook my eggs only with salt and pepper because that’s how my parents’ cooked eggs. I love spice and when I realized there was no reason I was making eggs like that I started experimenting with Mexican and Asian spices on my eggs and loved it.
  4. Lead With Curiosity, Not Fear — Change happens. Whether you bring it on or not. You can’t always pick the change, but you can pick your response. Who knows the change may be better than the original scenario. I would always be apprehensive when a boss of mine that I liked left the company, what if I didn’t like the new boss…but what if I did like the new boss and learned something from them. And if I wound up not liking them, I am free to make a change of my own.
  5. Feel Free to Say Yes or No — When I was younger, I always felt like I needed to be the one to compromise. Compromise is important in life, but you don’t need to say yes to everything. On the other end of it, if you are saying no to everything you may be missing out on great opportunities.

From your experience or perspective, what are some of the common barriers that keep someone from pushing out of their comfort zone?

The biggest barrier would be the uncomfortability of getting out of your comfort zone. I would also say some hurdles are time and patience. New things are not ingrained, and it takes time to become habitual.

There is a well-known quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt that says, “Do something that scares you every day”. What exactly does this mean to you? Is there inherent value in doing something that pushes you out of your comfort zone, even if it does not relate to personal or professional growth? For example, if one is uncomfortable about walking alone at night should they purposely push themselves to do it often for the sake of going beyond their comfort zone? Can you please explain what you mean?

My thought on that quote would be similar to my above comment that getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t always need to be grandiose. Doing something that scares you every day doesn’t always need to be the skydiving activity. It could be taking a different route, asking for a raise, requesting feedback from an interviewer, asking for help.

In reference to the comment above about walking alone at night. I don’t think you need to sacrifice safety to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I have literally walked many places alone at night and I knew there were no safety concerns in my surroundings, but if I felt at risk I wouldn’t berate myself into doing it just to prove a point. So no, I don’t think every boundary pushed is a learning opportunity.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I have a lot of causes that are close to my heart. Some of them would be women and children’s organizations, education and literacy, cancer research, and animal rights. I would say if I had to pick one to focus my time and resources on would be for animal rights organizations. I love animals and always want to serve groups that can’t always defend themselves. I have adopted two cats and if I had the space and resources, I would adopt a ton of cats and dogs. In addition to adopting Mia and Caela, I have donated goods and money to several organizations, I have volunteered time to many animal shelters to help take care of and play with the animals, take the dogs for walks (I need the walks as much as them), etc. When I was an event planner for a venue, I would plan puppy parties where we would donate funds to a local animal organization that would bring out adoptable dogs for the attendees to play with and adopt if they connected with the animal. The puppy parties were always my most well attended events!

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I am going to go with the first person that popped into my head and that would be Meryl Streep. I cannot speak for her as I have never met her to know if she pushes herself out of her comfort zone, but my gut would say she does. Acting as a profession would be considered the road less traveled, especially for a woman when Meryl started her career in the 1970’s. There was no equality in the workplace for women, women’s lib had just barely started, and women being in the workforce full time, was a relatively new fad.

Also, when you look at Meryl Streep’s career. There are actors who play themselves in whatever role they are in, they are good at it and convincing in their part, but you always see them. I don’t think (fact check me on this one) Meryl Streep has ever done a sequel. Whatever role she does pick, is usually different from the last and any other role she had done in the past. In Sophie’s Choice, I saw a Holocaust survivor. In Kramer vs. Kramer, I saw a mother struggling. In A River Wild, I saw a rafting expert. She has taken on a few singing roles even though she is not a singer and the list goes on.

What I really admire about Meryl Streep is that for someone so talented and always in the limelight, you rarely hear anything about her in the press unless it’s to promote her work.

I really like, admire, and respect Meryl Streep. As a person and as an artist. And that is who I would have lunch with.

How can our readers follow you online?

I am always happy to connect! My website has all my social media handles.

Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!

About The Interviewer: Maria Angelova, MBA is a disruptor, author, motivational speaker, body-mind expert, Pilates teacher and founder and CEO of Rebellious Intl. As a disruptor, Maria is on a mission to change the face of the wellness industry by shifting the self-care mindset for consumers and providers alike. As a mind-body coach, Maria’s superpower is alignment which helps clients create a strong body and a calm mind so they can live a life of freedom, happiness and fulfillment. Prior to founding Rebellious Intl, Maria was a Finance Director and a professional with 17+ years of progressive corporate experience in the Telecommunications, Finance, and Insurance industries. Born in Bulgaria, Maria moved to the United States in 1992. She graduated summa cum laude from both Georgia State University (MBA, Finance) and the University of Georgia (BBA, Finance). Maria’s favorite job is being a mom. Maria enjoys learning, coaching, creating authentic connections, working out, Latin dancing, traveling, and spending time with her tribe. To contact Maria, email her at To schedule a free consultation, click here.

Tracy McHugh On How to Go Beyond Your Comfort Zone to Grow Both Personally and Professionally was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.