Life Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone: Yubing Zhang at TEDxStanford (Full Transcript)

It’s a cold and foggy winter morning and I’m standing on the world’s tallest bungee platform. The platform I am standing on is so tiny that I have to stand on my toes and balance myself against the wind. The operator ties one end of the bungee cord to my ankle and throws a slack in the air. I can feel the weight of the rope on my ankles slowly dragging me down.

I look down; all the buildings and roads are buried in heavy fog. There is only one voice in my head: I can’t do this. So I turn around and tell them that I want to quit. And then I see a huge quote printed on the glass window right next to me: “Life Begins at The Edge of Your Comfort Zone”. I don’t know why but this short yet powerful sentence gives me the final push and before I realize it I walk straight back to the platform and jump off the world’s highest bungee platform.

During the 5 seconds of free fall, I remember thinking to myself: it’s not as scary as it looks, and that thought led to a whole new world. Every time I hear the voice of fear in my head, I can’t leave this job because I’m not going to find anything better, I’m scared of entering a new relationship because I don’t want to be hurt again. And even a minute ago before I walked onto the stage the voice was repeating in my head. Every time I hear that voice, I take a deep breath and tell myself: it’s never as scary as it looks.

Let me take you back to the summer of 2007, a remote village in Cambodia, a small room in a domestic violence victim center. It’s my first day of work. I walked into room and was introduced to an 18 year old girl; her name was Chia. Chia was so emotionally and physically abused that she was trembling all the time and she couldn’t even look at me in the eyes. And on her face I saw fear, anxiety and shame. And that day she refused to take our help and went back to her husband and in the course of next few months she would do that again and again, only come back with more bruises and cuts. Chia knew that she should leave her husband but she was scared too because she had been married to him since 14, depending on him for survival and did not know that she could live a life on her own.

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To help Chia and thousands of other girls like Chia, I started a vocational skill training program. After 3 months of training, magic happened. Chia regained confidence and dignity, stepped out of the fear of failure, found a new job in a local hotel and separated with her husband. She started a new chapter of life at the edge of her comfort zone.

Chia might be an extreme example, but I can see myself in her and maybe you can too. What is it that you’re not doing because of fear of failure: finding a new job; starting a new company, or asking someone out for a date. For me it was the fear of public speaking. Whatever it is, I encourage you to try it because as Chia found and I found and I think you will find too, it’s never as scary as it looks. And you’re stronger and more capable than you thought.

The second story is about embracing uncertainty. My friend John lives an extremely comfortable life in Hong Kong. He works from 9 to 5 and receives a very good pay. But he’s dispassionate about his job and life and he’s constantly complaining. He has lived his whole life with certainty that the fear of losing what he had is stopping him from pursuing his passion.

Until one morning, I got a call from him. “Hi, Yubing, I went to a positive psychology class last quarter, got so inspired I quit my job today and I’m moving to Australia”.

“You, what? What are you going to do with your life,” I asked.

He said, “This is the first time in life that I don’t have a plan and I view every bit as scared as I’m excited”.

The next time I saw him was six months later. He just got back from Australia, a licensed hypnotherapist. From a trader to a hypnotherapist; I was shocked when I saw him again. His face was pink, eyes glittering; his whole body was just glowing. He is living his dream right now, traveling around the world giving workshops and therapy sessions for thousands of people to find happiness in life.

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And as with Chia, I could see myself in John and maybe you can too. We’re all scared of uncertainty: giving up all you have to pursue a dream that may or may not work out; loving someone with whole heart without guarantee; it’s incredibly hard but as John found and I found and I think you will find too, it’s never as scary as it looks. And it leads to more possibilities and happiness in life.

The last story is about vulnerability. And the last story is about me. My love for my parents is the strongest emotion in my life but in Asian culture, love is seldom expressed in words. It makes me feel extremely uncomfortable to tell them I love you or to even share my feelings with them. Our daily conversation is a combination of what I had for lunch and what they had for dinner. The word courage came from Latin root “cor” which means heart and the original meaning of courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. I don’t know why I have the courage to stand here today and share my story with you but I don’t have the courage to tell my parents: I love you.

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