As parents we are always encouraging our kids to step outside their comfort zones. It starts right from when they are young. We embolden them to say goodbye to their pacifiers. We promise them it will be okay if they go to sleep with their nightlight switched off. We prod and push them step by step, until something that once was scary becomes non-threatening, until they slowly, ever so slowly, start to spread their wings.
They say life begins at the end of our comfort zone and that it’s actually outside this comfortable, effortlessly easy space where all the magic happens. As parents we know and understand the importance of always stretching our kids to try something new, to attempt things that scare them and to never, ever let fear get in our children’s way.
Many of us say this while we relax in our own comfort zone, sipping our wines with our feet kicked up, without ever feeling the urge to exit our own self-imposed boundaries we have created around ourselves. We ironically lecture and yell at our kids about the importance of “trying something new”, “of giving things a go”, “to stop being so afraid”, without actually practicing what we preach.
Those who fall into this category don’t even realize they are stuck in a boring rut. Instead it feels like home, a place they have lived in for years and everything around them feels comforting and warm. It’s their safe space, a familiar haven where their fears are never encountered, where their limitations are never challenged. Let’s be honest, our comfort zone is a beautiful place but nothing ever grows there.
The irony is we think that our words have more power with our children than our actions. We tell them to do one thing but then do something different ourselves and think they haven’t noticed. We shout, “Go out there and experience life, the world is your oyster” while we sit there, watching another crappy TV show night after night. And then we wonder why they haven’t grasped life with their fists, why they are lazy, unproductive, defeated and a disappointment not only to us but to themselves.
Now while I believe I am a pretty motivated, determined person, who sets a good example for my two children, I discovered recently that I was blind to my own comfort zone. Though much larger than others, it still existed nonetheless. My daughter and I were at a new beach, somewhere we had never been before and she had packed along two sets of snorkels so we could enjoy the pristine aquamarine waters.
I thought it was ambitious of her to pack two sets because when it came to the beach, I enjoyed nothing more than soaking up the rays from the comfort of my towel. I am known for taking short, quick dips only when the sweat is quite literally pouring down my face. But it seemed she was oblivious to my regular routine, to my desire to stay put. The expectation that day was that she and I would go snorkeling.
Then the weather turned bad and the bright yellow sky morphed into a dismal shade of gray. A thunderstorm festered in the horizon and it looked like the clouds were ready to burst in anticipation. Just as I was about to announce it was probably a good time to pack up, my daughter turned to me and said, “I think we better go snorkeling before it’s too late.”
It was a crux, a powerful moment. I was staring down two roads and I didn’t know which one to take. I could tell her to forget her plans, that going snorkeling in the cold, crashing sea was a bad idea. But she could see that the bay was already filled with more courageous snorkelers, who were not prepared to let a little freezing water or ferocious wind stand in their way.
This was when I realized the limits of my own comfort zone and snorkeling in the cold water mere meters away existed outside the perimeter. Nothing about the idea of stepping outside this safe space appealed to me. If I was alone, I would have gone home. But I had a daughter standing in front of me, waiting patiently for me to follow her down the rocks. Her comfort zone is currently so far and wide I can’t see the beginning of it.
My choices so far have encouraged her to dream big yet it was these little moments now that had the potential to impact her in a ubiquitous way. My excuses could possibly become her future excuses. My fears could possible transform into her future fears. So I did the only thing I could do – I took a step out into the open waters and relished that swim.