Life begins where your comfort zone ends. The magic happens outside of your comfort zone. Success, happiness, excitement, love … it’s all found outside of our comfort zone.
I’ve known this for most of my life and have often escaped from my own comfort zone. After which my comfort zone’s boundaries are re-drawn and I find myself having to escape again.
My first real escape was my decision to go to university a few weeks’ shy of my 25th birthday. Nearly three years later, I escaped again as I travelled overseas for a year’s study abroad in Scotland. Then I fell in love. Then I got married. Then we started to plan for a family.
Then I became a widow. Wow! Talk about escaping from my comfort zone. (Or rather, being forcefully evicted from it!) Only I found myself seeking out mini-comfort zones. Mostly my bed and my PJs—even the shower was too far outside of The Zone in the early days. (Really, widowhood is smelly business those first several weeks!)
As widowhood continued, I was forced from The Zone over and over again. I became a foster mum. I left my marital home behind to return to Scotland and further education. I attempted re-entering the dating world and failed. I started to apply for PhD programmes. And I, eventually, started a PhD.
Throughout these widowhood years, The Zone has been redefined more than it ever had been before. And now I’ve added being a PhD student to the mix, meaning there are even more big exciting things awaiting me—once I step outside of The Zone.
Five years ago, I loved my comfortable life in my mostly comfortable zone; I was actively happy in my comfort zone. The big excitement was starting a family and I knew that would include little trips outside of my comfort zone. But, mostly, life was looking pretty well settled and I was actually looking forward to spending most of my time The Zone. In our zone.
But now, I’m faced with living a life well outside of The Zone, or not really living a life at all. Because I’ve realised that everything I want out of the world today requires me to step outside. If I don’t, I will die. Figuratively at least, though I realise that life within The Zone might actually speed up the literal act of dying, too. After all, I am actively unhappy in my comfort zone most days.
Of course, I also know that I rely on The Zone to protect me sometimes. I rely on it to help me recharge and as a private, comfortable place to lick my wounds when I’ve been hurt by something outside of my safe boundaries. Yes, The Zone is my safe place—but only if I allow it to grow. And to do that, I have to go outside to learn new skills; to gain new experiences; and to find new passions.
Currently, I’m exploring several little areas outside of The Zone. I am exploring the world of online dating again (but with a better roadmap this time) and I am exploring new academic paths that will (hopefully) lead me to experiences in presenting and teaching in the near future. I’m even trying to do this new thing where I don’t turn down opportunities to do things. Which means that if I’m invited to go somewhere, I’ll go—as long as I can afford it and it doesn’t interfere with my studies. (The other caveat is that I am allowed to turn down offers if I haven’t had a weekend in The Zone for more than three weeks. After all, I need The Zone to recharge sometimes!)
I don’t know what wonderful things are waiting for me outside of The Zone but I am excited (and nervous and fearful) to find out. And one day, I hope that I’ve found so many wonderful things that I can expand The Zone and make it a place where I’m actively happy to live once again. (But don’t worry, even when I love The Zone I’ll leave it behind for holidays every now and again!)
[Photo note: That’s the sunrise from my First Class American Airlines seats on a flight home to Scotland last November. I never would have witnessed that beautiful scene if I lived my life in The Zone!]