I always found the song "Que sera, sera," a little ironic. I never wondered too much about what I was going to be when I grew up until adults continually asked me---and I started to get worried that maybe this was a question that ought to have an answer; after all they asked it expecting an answer, anticipating that I would know, and other children seemed quite definitive. I was not.
I'd start answering in the moment:
* a private investigator like Kelly Garrett (the Charlie's Angels phase)
* a spy kicking Russian ass (the rebelling against duck and cover phase)
* a back up dancer for a rock star (the Tony Orlando and the Dawns phase)
* a scientist who studied and found medicine in the backyard (the backyard botany phase, and yes, I tasted every item in the yard) (boiled it in water, dried it out, and so forth)
* a famous writer like Carolyn Keene (the Nancy Drew phase, coordinated well with the PI and spy phases)
* a psychologist who treats people with multiple personality disorders (Sybil)
and I'd sense the subtle shift from curiosity to perplexity and slight disapproval. So I'd begin saying what I thought they wanted to hear, these curious grownups:
* teacher (like my mommy)
* nurse (like the nice ladies who take care of you when you're sick)
* mom (like my mommy, care for others)
Those grownups taught me that society has a comfort zone for me, or the general me anyway, and they taught me that living outside it is uncomfortable. They also taught me that it's never enough to just live in the moment; one always needs to plan and have an eye in the future. Although, since few ever seemed terribly interested in who I was just then, they seemed to also be saying that now doesn't matter as much as then, the future.
It became a bit of knowing; that seemingly simple and innocent, "What do you want to be when you grow up," said that who I am as a person will never be as important as what I do, and that will never be as important as fulfilling expectations.
It's a curious thing, this thing we do---this well-intended display of interest, a question so common it is practically cliched. But what we really ask is that a person know who he or she is from the earliest moments of life---know where he or she fits, know his or her comfort zone, or more accurately, let us in on this information to accommodate our comfort zone and desire to know how to file this person.
A comfort zone is really a sense of safety and solidity, in a way, isn't it?
I'm not terribly good at identifying my comfort zone. I wasn't sure how explain what I wanted to be when I grew up---and in fact, I still am not 100% sure. The interests behind my original list haven't altered. I suppose my comfort zone might just be exploration.
My husband knows me fairly well, but even he was surprised when I suggested the trip to Costa Rica. Once he got over his initial shock, he wasted not one second in planning and had us flying out within a week. I'd just gotten off crutches: a year of physical therapy, nerve therapy, and pain management for an injury to my leg that was now permanent. The doctor and physical therapist were self-congratulatory, proud of me: we did exceptionally well, exceeded expectations. "I think you've had about a 90% recovery," the doctor told me, "And truthfully, even an 85% recovery is pretty rare." I was walking, on my own. It wasn't until we got to the end and I saw the professionals happiness and relief that I truly understood that I'd run such a risk. I cleared the trip with the doctor, who thought it was a great idea but cautioned I should get a walking stick for balance and support. So we went to a tropical climate, stayed on a beach, slept under mosquito tenting, ate native dishes, climbed mountains, canoed down rivers at midnight and had an amazing experience.
I find that when I go outside my comfort zone, I often find something incredible and amazing. Maybe the risk heightens the pleasure; maybe being outside a zone means my senses are alert, sensitive, attuned. Every now and again, though, it just seems right to take that risk, to step outside that comfort zone.
I'm willing to explore Costa Rica, hike through Provence, leap up on a stage and kiss my favorite rock star, ask the handsome man to come out to dinner with us, write letters to the editor, and even write a blog. And when I do these things, incredible things happen---sometimes not what I planned or expected, but something amazing in there anyway.
I find I can still climb mountains, learn red wine is good chilled, get to know Neil Finn is a really cool person, find a man to marry, meet other local writers with similar interests, and even end up with an article on The Huffington Post.
Every day doesn't feel like a miracle or incredible, as much as some say it ought to. Perhaps because I am this way or because I was asked about the future so often, I'm not very good at living in the present. But every now and again, usually when I am outside my comfort zone, I feel it. Blessed.
How does a person know when to step outside the comfort zone?
Me? I listen to my heart and gut on this one, and so far that's done pretty well.
What do you guys think about comfort zones?
Copyright 2008 Julie Pippert
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