What if you went on a long, long trip, eagerly anticipating your Disney-like vacation in paradise only to find that it’s a Motel 6 adjacent to a traveling carnival and a parking lot? What if this long, long journey were your life, and your destination wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be, or you never got where you wanted to go? You will have just spent your whole life anticipating something that will never happen the way you expect.
We each journey along several axes: education, professional, personal, spiritual, physical, intellectual and many others. When I look back on my life, I believe I’m usually traveling on one or two axis at a time, then I might switch to different ones. I imagine that the challenges we perceive as we move along each axis differ from person to person, and perhaps even as a function in time. For example, my educational journey was easy easy easy harder extremely-hard, and that story will have unfolded differently for someone else.
Quickly answer: Which is better – easy or extremely-hard?
Yes, during easy, I had a fair amount of self-confidence in my ability to be a good student. However, I would probably characterize those periods as lacking growth. The opposite, on both counts, was true during the extremely-hard stage. Being in a program that was truly challenging to me meant I was pushing my boundaries, and thus my comfort zone. Though in the midst I had a huge confidence crisis, even to the point of dropping out of school briefly, the process of requiring that I push, stretch, and test myself allowed me to learn more about myself and know that I could do more than I had imagined.
The sports analogy also applies here. Athletes (I’m not one so I’m only surmising here) can stay in their comfort zone and be competent, remain competent. But if they want to truly excel, they must push themselves to the edge of their ability (and comfort zone) over and over again. What if Michael Phelps was satisfied with just winning his high school or regional tournament, and stopped there?
Our knowledge and abilities are like a bubble, and we’re in the center of that bubble. If we don’t push on the bubble from the inside, our sphere stays static. Or worse, our bubble contracts. But if we can go to the edge and push, though we may venture outside our comfort zone, we are also expanding our minds and abilities.
When I think about the periods of my life defined by stasis, my mental image of myself is on the couch watching cable TV. Actually, I spent much of my college years doing just that. I have also had years of active stasis – the work/family/life rut where I’m running like crazy but not feeling like I’m making any progress. Rushing to get nowhere.
When I think about the periods of my life defined by growth, my mental image is one of blossoming, renewal, birth. The most active growth occurred when I stuck my neck out and took a chance, and was willing to go way outside my comfort zone.
In between the two, between stasis and growth, was fear and clinging to the center of my bubble to various degrees. Unfortunately for me, change mostly occurred when I was feeling bad: literally sick, depressed, disoriented, confused, frustrated, angry, or hurt. I don’t think that’s unusual, actually. I think much of the time, change is instigated by discomfort of some sort. If we’re not uncomfortable, why get off the figurative couch?
The psychological process of change is well known, but I’m not sure most of us apply those theories to how we journey, evolve and change in our own life. We might kick ourselves for not being able to change, but change is a process. We have to traverse each stage for change to occur, and some stages are harder to leave than others. We change when we’re ready to change.
Being open to the possibility of change makes change much easier. Knowing that growth and opportunity are on the other side of change, both good and bad, makes the change less scary. Successfully navigating change makes change easier the next time*.
Right after my separation, I had periods of time when I felt absolutely terrified by my new life. This verse reminded me that there is much beauty in the unknown, if we let ourselves see it. And if we enjoy the flowers, the company, the sunset, the food at the Waffle House on the road to Disney, who cares if Disney turns out to be a traveling road show? We’ve just had a long, long, wonderful ride.
“Be not afeared
the isle is full of noises, sounds, and sweet airs
that give delight and hurt not
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.” – (my man) William Shakespeare, The Tempest
*See also: Can You Spare Some Change?