For the first 29 years of my life, I was stuck inside my comfort zone – and I was unfulfilled. But for the past two years, I’ve been moving further and further away from my comfort zone – and I’ve never been happier.

When I was 17, I moved from Hong Kong to Melbourne. For the next 12 years, I suffered from a big problem: I was scared of talking to Australians. Yes, really. Literally all my friends were from Hong Kong. Talking to non-Asian people would fill me with anxiety. And the longer this problem persisted, the lower my confidence sank.

I hit rock bottom in late 2017, when I started a new job and attended my first client meeting. The client asked me a question – and I was so nervous, I couldn’t reply. Humiliating, right?

Then and there, I vowed that I would finally do something about my crippling social anxiety. My problem was caused by living in my comfort zone – mixing only with Hongkongers. So I knew the solution was to step out of my comfort zone – by mixing with Australians. And that’s why I set myself the audacious goal of having lunch with 100 strangers in 2018.

Start with the end in mind

How do you step out of your comfort zone? First, you need a reason. My big reason was to set a positive example for my two young children, to show them that it’s possible to overcome challenges. I also wanted to get better at socialising and communicating.

The second thing you need to do if you want to step out of your comfort zone is focus on the end goal. Mine was to become a better person and a better mum.

I’ll never forget how excruciatingly nervous I was during my first 10 lunches. I desperately wanted to quit and run back to my comfort zone. But I kept thinking about setting a positive example for my children and becoming a better person. That’s what gave me the strength to continue.

Take one small step at a time

That leads on to my third tip – you don’t have to take a massive leap out of your comfort zone. Instead, just take one small step … and then another … and another. Eventually, all those small steps will add up to something big.

I didn’t do 100 lunches at once – I did one at a time. Gradually, as my comfort zone stretched, the lunches changed from being scary to uncomfortable to comfortable and then enjoyable. Now, I love them so much that I recently had my 230th stranger lunch.

A similar process happened with socialising and communicating. Initially, I struggled even to talk to people who weren’t from Hong Kong. Then I started having one-on-one lunches. Then I progressed to one-on-many networking events. Then I was asked to MC an event. Then I started giving keynote speeches about my lunches – including at a TEDx event in Melbourne. Next, I’ll be performing at a comedy festival. No joke!

Set yourself a clear goal

My fourth tip about stepping out of your comfort zone is to set yourself a specific, ambitious target with a clear end point. That will allow you to persevere during difficult moments.

When I struggled during my early lunches, it was easier to force myself on, because I’d committed to ‘100 lunches with strangers in 12 months’. But if my goal had been something vague like ‘some lunches with strangers’, there would’ve been nothing to stop me quitting.

Remember that it gets easier

My fifth tip is to realise that the hardest part of stepping out of your comfort zone is taking the first step. Each step then becomes easier, because your confidence grows and your mind comes to grips with the new reality. The more progress you make, the more motivated you become to keep going.

Say goodbye to your comfort zone

Are you stuck in a comfort zone? If so – get out while you still can!. Before my 100 lunches, I was low on confidence, I was drifting through life and I felt I wasn’t realising my full potential. Now, I’m full of confidence, I know where I’m going and I’m learning new skills all the time.

Your comfort zone seems like your friend. But it’s actually your enemy. So do something daring, whether it’s having (virtual) lunches with 100 strangers or asking out the man or woman of your dreams. Remember: Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.

Kaley Chu is the author of 100 Lunches With Strangers, a fun and brutally honest memoir that charts her inspiring journey from insecure immigrant to master networker. Kaley used to be so nervous around other people that she struggled to have even one-on-one conversations. Now, she’s a TEDx speaker who regularly shares her story at conferences. Find out more at www.kaleychu.com