Comfort Zone

Ranee Parker blog-comfort

Growing up I was content to stay inside my comfort zone; I hated even the slightest amount of change. My mother tells me the simple act of switching me from winter to summer clothing was a challenge that often spanned most of the new season. And while I sat in what I’m sure had to be physical discomfort in my long sleeve shirts and jeans on a hot summer day, I doubt it ever occurred to me that being uncomfortable could be good for me. 

In the last several years I’ve done things I never thought I would be brave enough to do. I quit my full-time job to go back to university and earn my degree. I jumped out of a plane from 11,000 feet. I started my own business. And through all of these big changes, I never imagined one small decision would make me feel more nervous than any of those things combined.

Last spring, I took a weekly adult dance class with three other dance moms. It was meant to be something fun and different that would only last a few weeks. But as time went on, we started to joke about performing at one of the festivals our kids dance in every year. As insane as it sounded to begin with (and for all the jokes about how we’d only do it if there were shots of fireball involved) by the end of the session I found myself saying, “I think I could do it.”

This is definitely not my usual response to the idea of performing on stage – something I’d never done nor even considered doing. Surely, I would fall apart immediately while my poor fellow dancers scampered around me until I could activate my cloak of invisibility and sneak off stage.  

But we pushed our fears aside and agreed to give it a try. To be clear, none of us are dancers, outside of a good dance party or, undoubtedly, alone in our homes, but each of us are dance moms and we continued to tell ourselves we were doing this to show our kids that even moms can do scary things.

I mean, aren’t we always pushing our kids to do something different? Telling them to step outside of their comfort zone, learn a new skill or take a class in a subject they know nothing about? Do we often find ourselves encouraging them to do things because, “You never know, you might like it”? So when it comes to following that advice ourselves, why do we hesitate?

I think we tend to get more complacent as we get older. We talk about being set in our ways or claim to be too old to learn something new. But is that actually the case, or something we tell ourselves so we can stay inside our comfort zones?

My husband’s 93-year-old grandmother learned to do yoga in her senior’s home last year. Granted, it wasn’t exactly a sweat-inducing kind of yoga practice, and the participants sat in chairs instead of stretched out on a mat, but doesn’t it paint just about the cutest picture in your head that you can imagine? By the way, I recommend you hold onto that image and think about it the next time you tell yourself you’re too old to learn anything. It’s sure to help put things in perspective for you!

When it comes to pushing yourself to try something new, your first thought might be to ask why you would do that to yourself. But the answer to that question could be why not? Maybe you attend a conference by yourself and make a lifelong friend. Or learn a new language that changes how you travel to foreign countries. Or perhaps you get on a scary black stage and dance with your friends and you don’t die.

I’m not saying it will be an easy road to get to any of those outcomes, but wouldn’t it be worth the struggles when you’re standing beside your new conference friend at their wedding five years from now? Or travelling to Spain and speaking fluently with the locals? Or when people clap for you at the end of your dance, even if it’s just a courtesy? I don’t know about you, but none of that sounds super awful to me.

So, I did the scary thing. I got up on stage with my three beautiful dance mates and we performed our dance in front of an audience. And it was maybe the most scared I’d ever been – at first.

When I went sky diving and we reached our altitude of 11,000 feet in the clear blue sky, the pro jumper told me he would open the door and I was to put one foot out on the wing first, then swing the other over to meet it. I nodded and, without thinking, swung my right foot out onto the wing before my brain registered what I was doing. Then suddenly my head was like “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO”. My mind tried to overpower my body and it took several attempts before I could convince my left foot to join my right. But, as soon as I was floating through the air toward the ground my mind was like, oooooohhhh, okay. I get it now. Yep, this is amazing.

I think maybe we hesitate to try new things because we fear being vulnerable, and it takes a certain amount of vulnerability to do something different. Our mind will try to rationalize why we shouldn’t do the scary thing, but if we don’t force it to go along with our crazy ideas we might miss out on the most incredible experiences. Like watching the sun set while floating peacefully back down to the ground after jumping out of a perfectly good plane. That, my friends, is probably one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had in my life. And if I’d allowed my body to listen to my mind, I would have missed it.

So, yeah. I got on that stage to perform a dance I’d only been practicing for a couple of months. And while my body was willing to carry me forward my mind timidly begged me to go sit down. But I refused to listen. It definitely helped that I had three strong women that I trusted beyond all trusting on that stage with me, and we were in this thing together, fully supporting each other at every turn.

When we walked off the stage all the fear and wondering if I’d made the right decision went away in a pile of slightly sweaty group hugs. Our nerves were gone and we could breathe again. We had fought through the fear and nervousness and trusted ourselves to get through it together.

And we did.