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Que sera, sera: Hump Day Hmm about Comfort Zones for June 4, 2008

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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Melissa said…
That's an angle I hadn't considered: other people's comfort zone for ME.

But that's why I love doing these so much. :)
ALM said…
It's funny. Since being a social worker I step out of my comfort zone every day. I step into smelly dirty apartments, I hear about illnesses and oozing wounds I never thought I would be able to tolerate hearing about. But each time you do it, you know you did it & know you can handle it the next time. When I was a kid I was scared of seniors - now I'm working with them!

At this point I'm not even sure what my comfort zone is any more... I've been pushed so far.
Anonymous said…
I find that leaning WAY out of my comfort zone is more comfortable than just a little. Kissing rock stars? No problem. Trying a new sport? Harder.
Anonymous said…
I find that leaning WAY out of my comfort zone is more comfortable than just a little. Kissing rock stars? No problem. Trying a new sport? Harder.
MommyTime said…
Wheelsonthebus makes an interesting point. For me, it depends on the arena. I love travel, particularly to places outside of the U.S., so that I can get out of my comfort zone. I love exploration, new foods, vistas I've never seen. But I have comfort zones even outside my normal comfort zone: for example, I find travel in Europe easy because I speak a smattering of French and Spanish and thus can understand a bit of Italian, and it's pretty easy to find cognates to English in most romance and Germanic languages. Travel to Asia makes me more nervous due to the utter inability to communicate -- and while I have long had dreams of visiting Japan, I now think I won't do so without my Japanese inlaws because with small children in tow, I am more reluctant to leave certain comfort zones. For myself, it's okay if I order the wrong thing, get lost, miss a train -- but with young kids along, the unexpected can be more of a hardship.

I guess what I'm saying with this example is that I really value moving beyond my comfort zone, challenging myself, in many ways -- but becoming a mother has also taught me that sometimes (not always) my ventures outside my comfort zone have the potential to be selfish to a degree...the thrill of seeking newness. And so, sometimes I have to moderate that in the name of responsible parenting. I'm not sure if I'm making sense, but I love this topic, and now I have something really interesting to ponder for a while. Thank you! Maybe next week I'll even be brave enough to jump into this Hump Day Hmmmm myself...
Anonymous said…
I firmly believe in following the gut.
Anonymous said…
Sometimes I don't realize that I'm doing something outside of my comfort zone until I find that I'm longing for it, that I can almost see it, lit up like a landing strip in the distance, waiting for me.

Rather than fly straight back to it, I'm trying to be more aware of its borders and calculate the effort that it takes to get in and out.
thailandchani said…
I am very much "in the moment" and it seems to be how I'm hardwired. For the most part, I don't give a rip about the future because it's not guaranteed anyway.

As for a comfort zone, there's some legitimacy to the idea of stretching but I also find it important to respect it. There's nothing wrong with being comfortable.

We are all made a certain way with certain gifts.. and I've found it generally more satisfying to do what I know works, to experience things more fully within that context.

I'm willing to try new things and experience new things.. as long as they are consistent with who I know myself to be.
Anonymous said…
I baffle the people I know to tell the truth, so they all seem to have their own comforting visions of/for me. No one would imagine where mine really is.
Anonymous said…
Reading this post made me realize that I was always delusional and defiant. My answer was always the first woman president or a movie star.

I think you have an excellent point,that somtimes you just have to live it and not think it. And sometimes the happening is way better than you could of planned.
Another brilliant post. Pushing boundaries was what our year abroad was all about. And I now believe that it is what life is all about - at least for me. Stepping out of your comfort zone heightens your sense of awareness and opens your eyes and your mind.

Anonymous said…
I think you're right, the comfort zone is usually what we've been taught and is based on the expectations of others. It's ok to be an individual, as long as you're an individual in safe, predictable ways. A little different but not weird.

It doesn't work so well for us weirdos, does it? ;)
Anonymous said…
I think life is about pushing us out of our comfort zones. It happens daily, whether we like it or not. Great topic! Thanks!
Florinda said…
Great topic this week. I really had to think about how comfortable I was with it...which was part of the point, perhaps.

For me, stepping out of my comfort zone to do something I've never done before can be easier than trying something that may make me reconsider who I am.
Gwen said…
It's interesting--I have never heard anyone ask my children what they want to be when they grow up. But my oldest one thinks and talks about it herself. I remember having notions about my possible grown up self as a child of varying ages, but I don't remember even the idea that I had to choose something being pushed on me. And I was living in a world with the narrowest possible defined comfort zone ever--except that everyone in it fell far far far outside the norm of the cultures into which they were born (because, you know, how many Americans grow up thinking they're going to the jungles of Indonesia to be missionaries later?).

I feel like so much of my adult life has been lived outside a comfort zone, as someone who looks like an insider but feels like a cultural outsider and it's based on nothing I've chosen, but on the choice my parents made to move overseas, work in Borneo and send me to boarding school. Perhaps this is why I cherish the relative comfort of the zone I've worked very hard to finally achieve, now, as I enter the middle age of my life (see how I saved myself from having to post AGAIN about the woe is me missionary kid aspect of my existence? lol).

A less tangential answer to your question: I was not even a little bit nervous to spend a month in Mexico last summer because I knew my husband was going to be with me the whole time. But I'm dangling somewhere between terrified and petrified for the upcoming European jaunt because he's going to be working, and I'm going to be on my own. What I'm learning: my husband is my comfort zone, as really cheezy and pearl clutching as that sounds.
Robert said…
Your post reminds me of one of the first big ventures I made out of "other people's comfort zones for me". When I went out for the football team, a lot of the "jocks" initially seemed to think "what's the geek doing here?" By the time I'd played a season with them, though, even though I was never that good, I had their respect. It turned out to be a great experience for me in team building, too, because it changed how I handled being on a team probably for the rest of my life.

Good post.
Sarcasta-Mom said…
I'm so glad to have finally caught the "Hump" train once ahain :)

I'm with alm. My comfort zone is pushed every day being in the field I'm in.
Sukhaloka said…
What an amazing post, Julie. I've never given comfort zones a thought, and right now(as I said on Robert's blog) I have very few places I'm comfortable in.
I'm still wondering where and how I "fit in"... I guess I have a while to go.
Anonymous said…
Well, right about now, I'm thinking that my comfort zones have become a bit uncomfortable. This happens, you know? And then we seek out new ones.
Mad said…
I couldn't do this. I am living so far out of my comfort zone right now that to write about it would be trite.
Anonymous said…
Motherhood was a far stretch out of my comfort zone. I was the kid who had Barbie fashion shows, not baby doll cuddle fests. I never babysat, and the first baby I ever held was my own. Motherhood did not come naturally for me, which is difficult to admit for fear of sounding like an unfit mom. Then I had another son, and boom, deeper out of comfort zone. I'm making my way to a place that feels more than comfortable; it feels right.

My husband is nagging me give camping shot. Now *that* is one zone I'm not willing to try!
Kat said…
I am very much a follow your gut type of person. So far, it has worked for me.
Great post!
ewe are here said…
I really like this post.

As for leaving the safety of my comfort zone, I did it when I left Hawaii for what was supposed to be a 3 month trek around Europe, then a year of studying in Scotland. I had a blast ... and met my husband ... and the rest is herstory... it's amazing where stepping outsize the zone can lead us.

On a side note, we have a blue rocking hippo for the boys which plays the song "Que sera, sera," when you press its ear. I find it terribly amusing. ;-)

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