Why I Needed to Step Outside My Comfort Zone (and Why You Should Too!)

I have a little display on one of the walls of my apartment where I hang lanyards and badges from various conventions. This year, I’m hanging up a lot of speaker badges, and I find that incredible.┬áIn the past year, I’ve spoken at MAGFest, PAX East, PAX Prime, East Coast Games Conference, and not to mention all the various courses I’ve taught for Playcrafting, Code Liberation, Game Dev House, and IGDA NJ.

Speaking at so many events is still so new and crazy to me. A few years ago, I was at a rehearsal for one of my pieces with the Gamer Symphony Orchestra at UMD. I stood and listening to the group run the piece. Then the conductor turned to me and said:

“Would you like to tell the group anything?”

I froze. You mean, you want me to talk to a group of people about my piece?

While arranging the piece, I had so many ideas running through my head. This portion was modeled a bit after Verdi’s “Dies Irae” chorus. That portion has to be strong, triumphant, you’re saving the day backed by boisterous brass and militant snare drums. Really express your crescendos here. Here’s a moment of thoughtfulness, brought to you by the contemplative oboe solo.

Wow. That all would have sounded so smart. As it turned out, my brain went blank. I murmured a few things that probably made no sense, barely made eye contact with the group, and sauntered away. Way to go, Alyssa.

So as you can see, I’ve never really done well with public speaking. I always hated giving presentations at school. In fact, just trying to talk to a group of people was probably one of the most difficult things I could think of doing. It’s actually why I didn’t want to pursue music education at Montclair State… imagine having to talk to a classroom FULL of kids every day? No thank you!

Anyway, last summer, the manager at Playcrafting (then called NYC Games Forum) offered me an opportunity to teach a class on game audio.

Oh jesus. Standing in front of a class. Full of people. All those eyes on you. Watching. Listening.

Part of me was filled with dread. The other part was excited for a new opportunity. I told her I would absolutely do it. The class turned out to go really well, and since then, I’ve spoken at Playcrafting 6 times (4x in NYC, 2x in Boston). I’m still a bit awkward in front of a class, sure. But before my very first class, my boyfriend sat me down and said: “Don’t be nervous. When you’re up there, you’re the expert in the room.”

That advice helped so much.

So why is it so important to push yourself out of your comfort zone? In my case, I feel that branching out and doing talks has given me so many opportunities. You end up meeting so many people and making so many friends after giving a talk. You get the chance to guide people who are new to the industry, and give them someone they can look up to. And if you speak at conventions and conferences, you get to go for free (aside from travel and hotel, of course).

But most importantly, you can’t get better at what you do if you don’t push yourself in new ways. Talking about audio always helps me reinforce what I know. And often, I’ll get students in my classes who will give me some kind of new insight, which is incredible.

Being able to speak in public has also given me much more confidence when it comes to networking as well. Talking to a group of people? No problem!

I like to take a look at everything I’ve done for my game audio career in the past year. None of it would have been possible without pushing myself out of my comfort zone. For a while, I wasn’t confident I could do sound design at all. Then someone offered me a small SFX contract. I took it. I learned. I improved. Now many of my credits (Homestuck, Defragmented, Pixel Prison Blues) all include sound design. That would have never happened if I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone and try that initial sound design job.

So if you’re reading this blog, your call to action is to do something outside of your comfort zone, something you feel can help you in your career. This year, I started public speaking, and even started conducting the Montclair Gamer Symphony Orchestra (conducting also kind of fell into the public speaking category of being something I never thought I could do). It’s been an amazing year of growth for me, one that’s led to so many new opportunities. I hope pushing yourself past your comfort zone can do the same for you!

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