Going outside your comfort zone: When is it worth the risk?

Good morning, sunshine. I didn’t know how desperately I needed you until I did. Your early morning caresses soothe me. Your midday beams energize me. And your steady presence, day after day—here in Hawaii—rejuvenates my spirit and confirms my impulsive decision to escape Minnesota during one of the grayest, dreariest, and iciest January’s on record. I typically love the deep freeze of the Bold North winters—the biting and invigorating crisp air, the resplendently clear blue skies, and the teasing sunshine that sparkles but promises nothing. I just walk faster to keep warm.

I had no intention of leaving on a jet plane in search of hope. I’d only just begun to travel again after a low-back fusion, with complications. And it wasn’t until I got on the plane that I realized that I hadn’t traveled alone in almost four years; not since my cervical spine collapsed and required urgent surgery to walk again. I sat on the plane and reflected on my very impulsive “click” to book a flight I was seemingly unprepared for. I had been desperate to escape the dreariness, the inertia, the drudgery of just getting through the days. For eighteen long months.

When was the last time you went out of your comfort zone? Maybe you did something you felt was impulsive or irrational or out of character for you. How did you feel making the leap? And after? Apparently, you survived. Well, I did too.

I spent a sleepless night ruminating over the feasibility—could I sit for twelve hours when it took me a year to be able to sit for an hour? Did I have the energy to travel for eighteen hours? How would I get my carryon bag on the TSA conveyer when I can’t lift more than eight to ten pounds? I had herniated another disk in my neck two years ago lifting a small suitcase into the trunk of my car. But I was determined. I let the twenty-four-hour cancellation window pass, and I spent the next three days frantically buying, packing, and shipping the things that I couldn’t carry with me.

And then I began to wonder. What could I do once I got to Hawaii? Would I be able to walk up the hill, when “up” is the only direction to go? Could I swim? Snorkel? I had been warned not to go in the ocean because of the waves. But the ocean is my solace. If the dolphins were in the bay, I was going. My response to those cautionary folks was always, “If it’s my time to die, I can’t think of a better place to be.” And then I follow with, “But I’ll only go in if the waves aren’t big.” Which is all relative, of course.

We can get too comfortable—and stuck—in our day to day lives. In her book, “Welcoming the Unwelcome,” Pema Chodron cautions us about staying in our comfort zone too long. She believes that the more we avoid leaving it, the more afraid we become. We need to venture out in order to learn and grow. And isn’t that what life is about—learning and growing to advance our soul and serve whatever purpose we are here for?

And yet, there is such a thing as an “excessive risk zone” where we can leap too soon, before we are ready. Like foolishly diving into a big wave that’s crashing on shore. But, how do we know when the risk is growth-promoting or potentially catastrophic? As desperate as I was to escape from under the thick, gray clouds that hovered over the Twin Cities seventy percent of the month, I didn’t really know if my body could handle it. Chodron recommends taking small steps at first to avoid immobilizing anxiety. And I would add, to better know the risk of harm.

In December, I had gone on a test trip with my husband, who did all the lifting and carrying for me. I was totally exhausted just negotiating the airport and hotel, but I was glad I went to see my son and his family, who weren’t coming home for Christmas. The desire to go made it worth taking my first trip since having limited mobility and reduced strength from nerve damage. Wanting to take the leap outside of my comfort zone, for a particular payoff, made it worth it.

I knew what to expect on this trip—where I would need help along the way. I relied on imagery to walk me through each step of the trip, at least that which I could anticipate. It was a strategy I’ve relied on for years whenever I faced a new experience or situation. Imagining the details—seeing myself going through whatever it was I was facing—prepared me for a likely scenario and made me think through any uncertainties. Walking through, step by step, helped me feel more prepared and confident. What if my connecting propjet flight doesn’t take off (which has happened because it flies on sight, not instruments)? What if they (I won’t name the airline) won’t transfer my thirty-pound checked bag through to the island? (It didn’t, and I ended up sending it back home with my ever-so-patient son). I calculated my options and chose the trade-offs and risks.

I really wanted this trip to restore my strength, infuse sun into my weary soul, and inject joy into a one-week break from the slog of appointments and health crises. It was time to find my spirit after five major surgeries in two years. I set off to restore my faith in myself and my body. The risk seemed worth it. And it was. It definitely was.

Next trip, I’ll go one step further and snorkel in the bay.

What will your next adventure be?

2 Comments

  1. Inge on February 8, 2020 at 10:42 am

    What an inspiring read that drew me in from first to last word. Bravo, Janet, that you took the leap of faith and reminded us as well!

    • Janice Post-White on February 8, 2020 at 11:14 am

      Thank you, Inge. Your winter adventures inspire me!

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