This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.
I hate change. I mean, I really hate change. Being the creature of habit that I am, I thrive on routine and rebel when anything – illness, unexpected obligations, life hiccups, or even vacation – breaks my routine and forces me out of my comfort zone.
My aversion to change is exacerbated by my impatience. I often avoid trying something new if there is any risk that it might involve discomfort, struggle, incompetence, setbacks, or feelings of not belonging.
I like comfort, security, routine.
I dislike apprehension, anxiety, uncertainty.
But, then again, I know very few people who do like those feelings. So what, then, makes some people more open to change, more eager to meet new people, more willing to embark on new experiences, and more receptive to new ideas?
Well, some of it is certainly impacted by innate personality traits – whether a person is an introvert or an extrovert, whether a person enjoys stability or is a thrill-seeker, whether a person is wanderlust or a homebody.
But I think that there is more to it than the characteristics we were handed from the gene pool. It has less to do with whether a person is naturally comfortable with change and new experiences, and more to do with whether a person has mastered the art of ambiguity and imperfection. Because even the thrill-seekers, the world travelers, the extroverts, and the explorers feel trepidation, discomfort, and anxiety when faced with change or the unfamiliar. Those feelings are just part of the shared human experience.
But some people seem to have learned – through practice, I suspect – how to be comfortable with discomfort. They have learned how to alleviate the growing pains, not through avoidance, but through patience, acceptance, and confidence.
Change and new experiences –whether public speaking, a new exercise routine, vegetarianism, giving to charity, an alternate viewpoint, a new church, cooking, a new restaurant, a different route to work, less procrastination, taking more time for oneself, an earlier wake-up time, a later bedtime, a new place, talking to strangers, or a new haircut – can be difficult, scary, and nerve-wracking.
But they can also be transformative, magical.
Even if a new experience only reinforces what you had already suspected or supports an existing opinion, it is impossible to not be profoundly changed through a deep personal understanding that you are braver, stronger, bolder than you had ever been before.
Stepping out of our respective comfort zones isn’t always fun or enjoyable. Heck, it might be downright painful at times. Consequently, we use hidden tactics of avoidance and rationalization to stay inside our little cozy circles of comfort.
Avoidance comes disguised as assumptions and stereotypes so that we can pretend that an option or alternative doesn’t even exist for us. Charitable giving is only for the rich, we might say. You can’t learn foreign language as an adult. Real people don’t meditate, only monks and Buddhists meditate. Atheists don’t have anything to gain from religion. Working moms don’t have time to cook. My job makes it impossible to unplug from technology. Only hicks listen to country music. Parents of young children don’t have the luxury of time alone. The list goes on and on, and I am just as guilty as the next person of using assumptions to justify my avoidance of new adventures.
Rationalization, on the other hand, builds a fence around our circle of comfort so that whatever may be “out there” is different, foreign, and unattainable. I don’t have time, we might say. I know what I like and I like what I like. I’m too old to change now. There’s nothing in it for me.
The cycle of avoidance and rationalization plays over and over and over until it drowns out that tiny little voice inside of us asking: What about…? What else…? What if…?
And isn’t the mere possibility of finding the magic – regardless of how hidden, unrecognizable, or fleeting it may be – enough to offset any discomfort or unease that might come from the process?
The time has come to get our hands and hearts a little dirty, to climb over the fence of comfort and take that first daring step into the sea of change, to join hands and walk toward a courageous new freedom.
The time has come to dare and to endure.
In order to step out of my own comfort zone – and in the hopes of motivating others to do the same –I am launching a new “Stepping Out” series. Each month I will step out of my comfort zone in one specific area with the goal of learning something new, fostering personal growth, or bolstering cultural empathy. Some of the planned adventures include: learning to meditate, practicing yoga, listening to new music, and attending worship services of a religion different than my own.
These are not necessarily enjoyable experiences, but what they lack in pleasure, I expect that they will make up for in their ability to enhance personal, cultural, and spiritual knowledge and understanding.
My first adventure out of my comfort zone will be meditation since it has long been a goal of mine – albeit one that has eluded me – and my current struggles with prayer have led me to explore new ways of establishing mind-body spiritual connections. I certainly don’t expect to become a Zen master, nor do I even expect to enjoy the experience. Rather, my goals are modest: to meditate regularly so that I can fairly assess whether meditation is a viable spiritual practice (or relaxation technique) for me.
This is more than just a personal project, however; this is a community project, as well. Stepping out of our comfort zone inherently involves a bit of discomfort (maybe even physical pain) so the support and encouragement of friends, family, and community are absolutely crucial. I invite each of you to join me on my monthly adventures out of my comfort zone – or embark on an adventure of your own – and to share your experiences here. Write your ideas in the comments section below, spread the word on Facebook or Twitter, or send me a private email message.
No adventure is too great or too small. Maybe you want to start exercising. Maybe you want to quit smoking. Maybe you want to try that Ethiopian restaurant down the street. Maybe you are stuck in a relationship rut and want to reconnect with your partner. Maybe you want to reconcile with an estranged relative or old friend. Maybe you want to feel more connected to your community. Maybe you want to find an authentic faith. Maybe you want to learn a new language.
Whatever it is, the time has come to step out. The time has come to dare and endure.
Let us step out and find support in each other. Let this be a place where we can publicly voice our goals, share our experiences, offer support, and receive advice from each other. Let this be a place where we walk with each other into the great abyss of the unfamiliar. Let this be a place where we break down walls together, lighting a candle for each other so that we can find our way.
Will you join me in “stepping out?” If so, what magical adventures do you plan to take? Do you have any suggestions for the series?