Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

The Ever-Shrinking Comfort Zone

Have you ever noticed the older we get, the more we loathe stepping outside our comfort zones? Kids hate it when other kids laugh at them, yes. But adults? We would rather sit in a corner and not even live if it protects us from the pointing fingers and scathing comments of others.

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As a new and soon-to-be self-published author, I know well the feeling of dread that putting yourself out there creates. Just coming out of the writer closet and admitting that I have done such a crazy thing as write a book! That left me quaking in my sneakers. To actually call myself a writer out loud about made me pee my pants! 🙂

But the thing about our comfort zones that I think we forget as we age is they are resilient. Heck, they are downright stretchy! And the more we push and prod at the confines, the stretchier they get. Every little step beyond the wall we built around our fragile ego expands our zone and gives our cramped little ego room to spread its wings.

This kind of growth is important throughout our lives. Kids do it daily as they take progressively harder classes and play progressively harder sports. They stretch their comfort zones and without realizing it, put their ego aside and risk being laughed at every time they raise their hand in class, or step up to bat, or try out for a team or play. They know they are nervous. They even feel a little sick to their stomachs. But that chance they take does not kill them.

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As adults, we often feel that we have paid our dues to the gods of ridicule and we no longer need to take the risks. What we fail to realize, or at least attempt to forget, is that without the risk there can be no growth.

In his book Self-Renewal: The Individual and the Innovative Society, John W. Gardner wrote, “We pay a heavy price for our fear of failure. It is a powerful obstacle to growth. It assures the progressive narrowing of the personality and prevents exploration and experimentation. There is no learing without some difficulty and fumbling. If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure – all your life.”

We have to allow ourselves to take a chance and be a beginner at something in order to learn something new. This is what you have to do when you sit down to paint or write, even if you have done it a thousand times. You have to set the ego aside and allow for mistakes. Natalie Goldberg wrote about this in Writing Down the Bones. She said, “That beginner’s mind is what we must come back to every time we sit down and write. There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before. Each time is a new journey with no maps.”

I have tried to cultivate this feeling of beginner’s mind in other areas of my life as a way to practice. I took up violin in my late 30s. My husband just bought me a cello, an instrument I have always loved but don’t know the first thing about playing. I sign up for some sort of class every year and fill my house with books on subjects I want to learn more about – writing, yoga, painting, photography, meditation – you name it, and we probably have a book on it! 🙂

I can honestly say that every time I walk into a classroom, I am nervous. Every time I join an online – virtually-annonymous – discussion, I am nervous. Every time I try something new, I am nervous that I will make mistakes and make a mess of things.

And then a little voice in the back of my head says, “Duh! Of course, you will make mistakes! Get over it!” Sometimes that is all I need. 🙂

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What are you trying that is new? In what areas of your life are you allowing yourself to be a beginner?

Other posts about the comfort zone are here, here, and here.

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