I pushed my comfort zone. It was a mess. I loved it.

By Mars Dorian, {grow} Contributing Columnist

If you want to take your career to the next floor, you have to push your comfort zone. I just did that in a big way.

Despite my background being in digital content creation, I collaborated on an international art exhibition in Berlin. My art … was in a public gallery.

The event was dusty sweat, injured fingers, moments of terror, and unbridled excitement.

Here are three major lessons from my exhibition, my move far beyond my comfort zone!  

1) Be ready to improvise

As an online creator, I solved all of my problems sitting on my butt, writing digital messages. But when you work on an event with creators hailing from different cities and even countries, I found I had to be extremely resourceful:

  • You want to coordinate a transport of the art, but your co-artist from East Germany doesn’t have e-mail, let alone a smartphone.
  • You get assigned a specific gallery space which then gets cut in half one week before the exhibition.
  • You design the invitations and order them in bulk, but can’t get them in time because you have an appointment in another German city and your Lebanese co-exhibitor is only in Berlin for one more day so he needs the invitations right now but his assistant from Ethiopia doesn’t reply to your e-mail …

You get the idea.

Instead of pre-ordering a month of anger management classes, I remembered my improv theatre classes where you welcome every challenge as a gift!

The audience is watching and waiting. Instead of getting whacked out by every problem and rejection, you run with it, even if it’s bonkers. The popular “Yes, and…” improv statement comes into play:

Your partner says: Hello my king, your sausages look like alien worms.
You: Yes, and they taste like sardines from Jupiter.

Partner: Mom, did you ride my car into the ocean?
You: Yes, and the fishes loved seeing my new SUV.

The idea is to become a problem solver, adapting quickly to every situation. This mindset helped me out whenever a frame wasn’t available, an artwork was damaged, or the exhibition space was different from what was promised.

Lesson: Complaining is not a business strategy. Similar to Mark’s podcast episode about how to stay relevant in a hyper-changing world, you have to adapt constantly.

mars dorian

2) If you’re out of your comfort zone, think it through

I created tons of my own problems for my exhibition.

Yes, I did.

You see, as a digital creator, I only worried bout drawing killer artwork for my exhibition.

The problem? Physical limitations.

I created artwork in sizes I couldn’t get affordable frames for. Some were even too big for the gallery space. What was I thinking?

There were too many different artwork sizes, which made measuring and drilling holes a logistical nightmare.

If I had known this earlier, I would have created art with the right frames and gallery space in mind.

However, I only learned that lesson by having done everything myself: I had brought and cleaned the frames, joined the transport, measured the gallery space, and drilled holes through super-solid-and-nasty-bricks with my cousin.

In short, the problems arose because I only focused on my discipline (artwork creation) and not caring about the other “departments” (transport, framing, installation).

From now on, I will keep all of those issues in mind when creating new artworks.

Lesson: Learn about the other departments in your field. Your specialized work will improve because you keep the other needs in mind. In some cases, generalists can even be better than specialists.

3) Embrace cross-pollination

At first, planning an exhibition with two other artists rubbed my ego the wrong way. I thought I’d deserve my own space.

Why share the flare?

But then I realized the other artists were more experienced and brought different audiences:

  • My audience is from the US and Berlin and are in their 30s/40s
  • The East German artist brings many older clients and friends from the former East Side
  • The Lebanese artist pulls an international crowd from Europe and the Middle East

So most of the visitors and clients visiting the exhibition come from their circles, which I didn’t need to lift a finger for. And if you know the competitive gallery space, pulling interested crowds is a major challenge.

Lesson: Working with other established players in your field allows you to tap into their audience and customer base.


Sometimes, the best lessons for online marketing and content creation come pushing, pushing, pushing outside the comfort zone.

Which out-of-the comfort zone event has taught you valuable insights about your career?

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at www.marsdorian.com and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

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