This week I want to talk about comfort zones. Now, we all have something that makes us feel safe and comfortable: our Mom’s lasagna, a favorite chair, an old worn out sweatshirt that feels like a hug every time we put it on. And we all need comfort. Kids need to know there’s a safe place when they’re scared. Actually, adults do, too.
There is a problem with comfort zones, though. Sure, they’re safe, but they never let us get anywhere. It’s much safer to walk around the block without ever crossing a street, but if we never cross the street we’ll never know anything other than our own block.
Last week I took my kids to visit my BFF Heather, and her family up in New Hampshire. Now, I’d have to say that Heather is probably the person on this planet that I am most comfortable around. I met her at McGill University my freshman year, and we’ve been buds for the last 28 years (yes, we went to college when we 5. OK, we weren’t. Yes, we’re old. Just let it go). But although I was in a comfortable place, my family and I all did things out of our comfort zones.
First, the drive alone was stressful for me. I don’t drive much anymore, so 5 hours on interstate highways was not something I enjoy. Also, my track record for drives to and from Heather’s house are not stellar. Once I got a huge speeding ticket, another time I had to pull over on I-95 because there was such torrential downpour that you couldn’t see and the road was flooded. And then there was the ice storm that I tried to drive in and ended up wrecking my car and getting a concussion. So, although Heather is my favorite person to visit, driving there is not what I would call fun. That said, if I wanted to see Heather, the only way I could get there with the kids was to step out of my comfort zone and drive there. And I did. The drive was nerve-wracking but fine, and the payoff was 4 days with my bestie. Totally worth it.
My next “out of comfort zone” story isn’t about me. It’s about my 9 year old daughter, Olivia. For those who don’t know her, Olivia is a very methodical, by the book kind of kid (unlike her mother, I doubt there will ever be any speeding tickets or car accidents in her future). Olivia is also very practical. Dumb ideas just don’t fit inside her body. You know how you use a kid’s first, middle and last name when you are yelling at them and you want them to know that they are really in trouble? Well, I don’t think Olivia even knew what her middle name was until she was about 7.
|Heather's family and mine, before the course|
During our visit to Heather’s, we all decided to go to Gunstock Mountain. Gunstock is a ski resort in New Hampshire that doubles as an adventure destination in the summer. They have a ropes course that takes you about 50 feet off the ground, a zip line ride that is 3 miles long, and off-road segways just to name a few. Heather and her teenaged daughters were set to do the adult ropes course, and I was going to watch Olivia and my 6 year old son Benjamin on the kids’ one.
The course started with a safety demo. I watched Ben to make sure he was listening and understood (unlike his sister, let’s just say that Ben was hearing his middle name 3 times a day before he was out of diapers). Every now and then I’d look over at Olivia. I knew she was concentrating on the rules, but I could see that she was also scared.
After the demo, the kids and I headed over to the kids’ course. Although it’s smaller than the adult one, it still puts you between 6 and 10 feet overhead, where you have to tightrope walk, Tarzan swing, or balance your way across wobbly logs while you’re held on by nothing other than a climbing harness and a couple of carabiners.
Ben went up first, and I had my eye on him to make sure that he was always clipped into something, even if it was just a cable attached to a tree. I knew that Ben wouldn’t be overly scared, so I also watched Liv. I just wasn’t sure if she could face her fear of heights, climbing, and well, hanging from a cable held on by nothing but a climbing harness and a couple of carabiners.
|Liv, facing her fears and talking to Willy|
Olivia was fascinating to watch. When she got really scared, she started talking out loud, and after a bit I realized that she was pretending to talk to her favorite stuffed animal. “Willy” always makes her feel better, so she just pretended that she was talking to him. I watched her concentrate and focus. One obstacle was really difficult. You had to walk the length of three different logs. Each one only had suspension points on the end, so they wobbled back and forth as well as side to side. And as you finished each one you had to take a very big leap to get to the next one. Liv was terrified. Frankly, I was terrified watching her. But she comforted herself by talking to Willy and just kept putting one step in front of the other. And let me tell you, nothing has ever shined as brightly as her face when she made it to the end. It was amazing. Liv stepped out of her comfort zone, and the feeling of accomplishment she had was so big that it radiated from her.
|Ben crossing the wobbly logs|
But it gets even better. When my guys were done with their course (which they got to do twice; the first time was slow and methodical, the second time they whipped through it), I texted Heather. It happened that she was done with her course at the same time. I hadn’t planned to climb at all, figuring I’d be with my kids while everyone else went, but Heather offered to watch them for me so that I could try the adult’s course.
I didn’t do all of the course, because I had to get back and relieve Heather since she and one of her daughters had to leave before the rest of us. I was a little nervous, but I really wouldn’t say that I was out of my comfort zone, so I won’t get into my journey through the ropes course. Besides, I want to get back to part two of my kids.
|The kayak phenom|
When I was done, I found Heather at the lake. She was standing on shore, watching Ben and Olivia zoom around in kayaks. I told Heather that they had never kayaked before, and she said that they wanted to try it so she took them over.
When the kids came back to shore, I asked them about kayaking. Liv had a blast, and said it was her new favorite thing. I asked her if she was scared to try it, and she said, “Well, yeah, but I was scared of the ropes course and did it, so I figured I could do this, too.”
And that, my friends, is why we need to step out of comfort zones from time to time. We need to push ourselves at one thing to realize that we can accomplish many. It’s great to feel safe all the time, but if we never leave that safety, we won’t discover other things that we end up loving.
So, the next time you’re sitting in your favorite chair eating your mom’s lasagna while wearing that old sweatshirt that feels like a hug, think about trying something that scares you. You may just find your new favorite thing.