To step out of comfort zone? How much?

While completing the mid-term evaluation with my supervisor at the internship, we discussed about each of the qualities listed and expressed each of our opinions on how my performance has been so far in those domains. One of the pattern that we noticed was that, I did not seem to demonstrate a lot of relevant performance regarding to “participating in dialogues” or “making reasonable decisions”. I later expressed that based on the nature of my internship (it is more on the observational side), I didn’t have tons of opportunity to actually engage in a staff meeting/conference call, or I didn’t really get chances to actively “make” a decision, since I was not licensed to provide any therapeutic services or professional counseling. I was able to engage in some small tasks, such as assisting with art therapy workshops or translating documents from French to English, but none of those tasks were significant enough to be considered as me deliberately affecting the process or weighing between different choices and conduct an optimization.

My supervisor responded by saying (in French): “well, you might to be more “audacious”. Think about speaking in front of people at a public meeting as taking risks that you just need to give it a try. Similarly, approaching people directly and take initiatives would be some ways to change your situation a little bit. ”

I then became really confused: before coming to France, or during the orientation, we were told that at French workplaces, there is a culture of “hierarchy” in which people respect their relevant positions and do not do things that don’t seem appropriate to where they are at. Thinking from this logic, it makes sense that I, as an intern, who does not know a lot of the organization’s operation structure or the years of work those people have done, should probably not trying to “express myself” at a meeting. It is true that I could have insightful opinions on a certain subject, but I almost can say that my contribution would probably not be very relevant. So what I did (as in listening at a meeting and making notes myself) was an adaptation I made to adjust to the culture and also make myself comfortable while learning things.

It seemed that what my supervisor suggested was for me to “step out of my comfort zone” and made some bold attempts to demonstrate my abilities. That’s what I have been told a lot here at Pitt, and I am a little surprised that it is also encouraged here. However, how do we define “stepping out of your comfort zone” and to what extent should we do it? I think personality factor, in addition to culture, plays an important part. From my perspective, I have definitely tried to go out of my way to communicate with people in different settings even since I started the internship, but it might not always appeared as a behavior of “taking decisions” or “speaking opinions out loud”. I might be asking someone’s opinions on a certain question at one point, and that was a little bit hard for me to do and which I considered to be a little step forward. More importantly, I don’t really think that it would be beneficial to get too far out of my comfort zone to the point that I don’t feel comfortable at all and is consistently bothered and affected in terms of making progress. This is a personal decision made based on the cultures I’m exposed, the  most stable and central of my personality traits, and the learning goal I currently have.

This all seems like a little bit of ranting from my perspective, but I did think it was interesting to put thought on this topic when thinking about how I got confused between different cultural expectations.