Outside the Comfort Zone

I've been thinking a lot about a lovely comment I received from my friend Star just the other day. Her comment was in reference to this post, and my son and daughter-in-law's trip to Thailand to spend six weeks visiting my daughter-in-law's family. Star wrote that she wished me "peace of mind while they were out my comfort zone." So comfort zones have been on my mind today, as I drove them to the airport, watching them set off on their journey. When I first became a parent, almost 27 years ago, I had a very tiny comfort zone when it came to Brian. For many years he was rarely out of my sight. His only caregivers, other than Jim and I, were my parents. When he started school, I drove him there and picked him up every day. Occasionally, he slept over at a friend's house, and once or twice as a teenager he actually went away for the weekend with a couple of his buddies. He seemed quite content to remain within this circumspect sphere -until the day he met Nantana. Suddenly, he decided to break out of "the zone" in a big way, traveling on his own to meet her in Australia, becoming engaged at 19, then traveling to Thailand to meet her parents. Huge risks for a very shy and relatively sheltered young man. But he was determined, and brave, and it all worked out wonderfully well.

As you might imagine, all this activity outside the comfort zone was more than a little disconcerting for me. I was raised within a very restricted comfort zone. My parents, as much as I love them, had an extremely limited tolerance for any activity that might be unusual, possibly uncomfortable, or, god forbid, carry any aspect of danger. My marriage at the age of 20 was the first step outside the safe little box I had spent my life in so far. Even then, I married a young man I had known since the age of 13, and we moved into a house less than a mile away from my parents. Not much of a leap into danger, was it?

The narrowness of my comfort zone had a lot to do with my need to control life. I admit it, I'm a control freak of the highest order. Deep down I truly believe that nothing will be done correctly if I'm not the one doing it...that goes for child rearing, music making, cooking, cleaning, you name it. And of course, the perfectionism that accompanies the need to control means that I have to do everything or nothing will be perfect, and that is unacceptable.

My friend Pat first encouraged me to step outside the safe perimeters I built around my life. As I began following in her wake, traveling, performing, watching the way our students were following their dreams, I became more and more comfortable with taking those small risks that make life so exciting. I began traveling more, auditioned for musical groups, went out looking for a "real job" in the business world, and about a year ago started writing again. I learned that the process is sometimes more important (and enjoyable) than a perfect outcome.

My emotional comfort zones have changed as well during the past years. I am much less fearful of life in general, much less apt to become paralyzed with anxiety, much more likely to speak my mind if I disagree with someone. Because of the positive experiences I've had outside my comfort zone, confidence in my own abilites has increased, as has my satisfaction with myself as a person.

While my comfort zones are certainly wider than they were 15 years ago, they remain relatively circumspect. I would probably never sky dive, or bungee jump, or go on safari in Africa. I would, if given the opportunity, go ballroom dancing, spend a season in Paris, or take a race car driving course. However, I've learned to enjoy stepping outside of the areas in life that I know are safe for me, places where I know I can easily succeed, and foray into activities and attachments where I'm not so sure the outcome will be perfect.

I did wake up occasionally last night, thinking about my son and daughter-in-law flying somewhere over the China Sea on their 17 hour journey from Las Angeles to Bangkok. But rather than the fear and anxiety I might once have felt, my emotions were more reflective of this saying:

The teacher said to the students, "Come to the edge."
They replied, "We might fall."
The teacher said again, "Come to the edge."
And they responded, "It's too high."
"Come to the edge" the teacher demanded.
And they came, and the teacher pushed them, and they flew.
~Apollinaire Guillaume~