When Comfort Zones Turn Ugly

Say ahhhh…

Who doesn’t love the warm familiarity of their comfort zone? It’s the equivalent of a cozy chair, favourite slippers and cuddly blanket, right there in our psyches. Always available for us to retreat into when we’ve had enough of slaying dragons, pitching business, testing our creativity, or just coping with what’s in our Facebook feed.

The problem is, like many lovely things in life, comfort zones have an evil side. They can get so – well, comfy – that we lose the ability to get outta that damned chair and test our mettle again. A comfort zone that might have started out as quite a big place in our younger years, can get smaller and smaller with trial and error. Especially the error part. We stop doing the things we’ve discovered can have potentially unpleasant consequences.

Before we know it, we’re prisoners of our own experiences.

We start to exist only within the confines of our comfort zones, when they’re supposed to be places we go to for refueling, not places we live in 24/7.

Honey, I shrunk my life

As kids we’re filled with possibilities. We sing because it feels good until we realize we’re not in tune. We tear-ass down hills our bikes, screaming with the thrill of it, until we start to worry about breaking a bone. We wear bright pink until we catch a glimpse of ourselves and are reminded, unfortunately and coincidentally, of a wad of Bazooka gum. We paint with abandon, until we come to understand our talent is, ahem, limited.

Although none of these consequences actually matters in the great scheme of life, we teach ourselves to suck back from opportunity and play it safe. In our working lives, our creative expression, our personal style. Our relationships. We avoid risk because pain and humiliation and failure suck.

But the Slipper Zone can suck, too.

Making a break for it

Physics was my worst subject but I do understand the law of inertia. When an object is at rest – say, for instance, in the evil bowels of the comfort zone – it stays at rest until some new force acts on it. Such as a kick in the butt, from yourself or some other helpful person.

The thing most people don’t get about inertia is that movement is also subject to it’s rule: an object in motion stays in motion. Which means every small step you take out of that comfy chair creates the momentum necessary to do whatever your heart desires.

Example: Really want to learn to dance but are terrified others will laugh at you? Here’s a baby steps approach to getting the magic of inertia to work on your terms: start in your own living room. Take your glasses off, if you wear them, so you don’t get too much clarity on how you look (honestly, this is how I got to belly dancing classes, and I kept them off there, too). Then take classes someplace where you don’t know anybody because really, what do you care what strangers think? Once you discover that it’s actually all about the fun and not about whether you’re good enough to crew for Beyonce, you might even find yourself talking your besties into taking lessons with you. Locally.

The same approach works for changing your clothing style (one sweater at a time) or your hair style (one inch at a time), improving your position at work (one unsolicited opinion at a time), or exploring your artistic aspirations (one small doodle at a time). Each step takes you a tiny bit outside your comfort zone. It shows you what’s possible. It gives you a proof point that you can do more than you thought.

Each step creates inertia in the positive, forward-moving sense.

Whenever I try this, I also discover that the pain, humiliation, and failure I was trying so hard to avoid aren’t actually so terrible. They’re just speed bumps on the way to the exciting world that’s waiting just outside the comfort zone.

Go ahead. Take a step.








Life plans falling apart? Try this.

I thought childbirth was really paying off when my eldest was first able to be the designated driver at a family event (I recall margaritas being involved). Now my kids have reached a stage where they’re full of brilliant ideas, too. Nice bonus.

The latest inspiration I’ve got from them has to do with life planning, a discipline which is so not my thing. I’m great at planning projects but I hate committing to set directions in life. Give me options, please. And some unanticipated twists and turns to keep life exciting.

Centuries of great minds have understood that planning is an often futile exercise in hope versus reality. In his epic poem To a Mouse, Robert Burns famously states: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.

Which in modern parlance means shit happens and our careful plans amount to zilch when it does.

However, there’s no denying that good planning does make stuff happen, even for those of use who have a bit of an allergy to it. So imagine my joy when my eldest daughter told me about a way of doing it that doesn’t feel so restrictive:

Life sketches instead of life plans. What a salvation for the commitment-challenged.

You still need a vision, an intention, and an outline of what you want life to look like. But the edges can be kinda fuzzy. All the lines and dots don’t need to perfectly connect. And white space is your friend.


Let’s say you want travel in your life.

A plan-lover’s action list might be:

  • Determine your next desired travel destination
  • Research where you’d like to stay, what you want to visit, etc.
  • Determine a cost and how much time you’ll need
  • Start saving money and squirreling away vacation time
  • Set a date based on the current availability of those two things

Whereas the sketch approach might look more like this:

  • Come up with five places you’d like to go.
  • Unearth possible ways of making any of them happen – say, as an ESL instructor, a volunteer, a student coop, a working stay, a barter deal, a house swap.
  • Based on that, pick the places that seem to offer the best possibility of making them happen soon, and start working that potential by making connections and asking others how they’ve managed to pull it off.
  • One of the possibilities you’ve unearthed will eventually bob to the surface – grab that sucker and work everything else around it.

Sketching involves more willingness to go with the flow. If you’re the kind of person who requires absolute control it might feel too wishy-washy. But it ultimately yields more opportunities because it gives you more than one way to get to your goal. You gotta love that.

And you don’t even have to be good at drawing.

I’m Not That Kind of Girl

Is it possible for a corporate cynic to respect crystals and woo-woo? Not in an I could make money off these products kind of way. Duh, yes, where there’s money there’s corporate respect. But in a these things might have power kind of way.

Apparently so, because I’ve been creeping in that direction, unwittingly, for ages, despite my science degree and my early adult training hauling my way up the corporate ladder in the very non-woo-woo world of high tech companies such as IBM. Not only did I not dabble in woo-woo, I actively disbelieved in it.

My innocent progress along the crystal brick road started with my quest for new Gumption Guides tools. Little did I know it would lead me to participate in all kinds of weird stuff. Willingly.

The cynic is, of course, not quite dead given that ‘weird’ is the word that popped into my head in that last sentence. I admit to still getting giddy with laughter over one ‘I’m game to try everything’ moment when I stood in convoluted poses while chanting my desired outcomes. So I’m not exactly a personal convert to all forms of woo-woo.

But I did notice that other people felt better for doing some of these things I found, well, ridiculous. I started thinking: if it moves you forward, that’s cool. Fortunate you.

And the very fact of opening myself up to trying whatever has been illuminating in another way:

I’ve come to understand I’m full of contradictions.

I don’t think I’m alone. It can’t just be because I’m a Gemini.

Contradictions make it challenging to categorize yourself, which is both liberating and discombobulating (damn, another contradiction). Liberating because you no longer have to be restricted by your so-called self-image. Discombobulating because there are times when it’s comforting to crawl into your nicely defined tribal box and not worry about what you do and don’t believe.

Besides the crystal-embracing corporate cynic contradiction, I’m also a God-loving agnostic. I’m not religious in any traditional sense. But I am into the possibility of a power higher than my puny self. My favourite poem, the only one I’ve bothered to memorize besides the irresistible Jabberwocky, is E.E. Cummings’ I Thank You God for This Most Amazing Day. It comes to me every time I witness the natural world in some act of breathtaking splendiforousness. Cuz it’s a friggin’ miracle.

The there’s the gregarious introvert contradiction. I’m all over jumping into a crowded room, meeting new people, telling stories at parties, public speaking and other acts of social daring-do. Then, suddenly, even when I’m having a grand time, a switch flips and I hit my Limit of Sociability. Smack. I urgently need to be alone to refuel. Just like that.

Other contradictions: My desire for belonging, despite being a freedom zealot. My pleasure in eating meat despite being revolted by the killing of animals (so much so that my house became home to 20 mice before I decided I really had to get over that revulsion, but that’s another story). The list goes on and on.

So I guess I shouldn’t find it all that surprising that I’m finding value in woo-woo. At least some of it. I even own a couple of crystals. I bought them years ago and my cynic self was about say ‘in a moment of weakness’ as a kind of snipe. But wait, isn’t that the point? These things are there to help us through our moments of weakness. Whatever works, is good by me.

I thinking these contradictions might be the very things that keep life interesting. Maybe I am ‘that’ kind of girl, whatever that is. The idea is giving me a great sense of possibilities.

What are your favourite personal contradictions? I’d love to know.

You’re never too old to strut your stuff

A couple of weeks ago my eldest daughter, a dancer, talked me into coming to an Army of Sass drop-in class she was assisting with. The Army is all about getting your sexy on, in heels, regardless of your body shape or age or dance ability, or anything else. I’ve been to many of their shows and I adore their focus on feeling great in your own skin and owning your sensuality.

Sassy indeed.

When I say ‘regardless of age’ I might also add that I’m well beyond anything I’ve seen on their stage so the idea was a little intimidating. And I was having flashbacks to some zumba classes in which I was, to put it mildly, the class moron. However, being ever on the lookout for new ways to be a lab rat for my Gumption theories, I said yes. After asking my favourite question – What’s the worst that can happen? – that is. I made friends with embarrassment years ago.

I can’t wear heels anymore because of an arthritic big toe (you might be getting a realistic picture of this situation by now) so I was going in sneakers. One bullet dodged.

Then I saw this video of the previous week’s class:

Good lord. I could practically hear my muscles tear just watching them. Then came the note about bringing a man’s shirt and a tie as, ahem, props for some moves. I had visions of Grizabella trying to play a sex kitten when she should have been singing ‘Memories’. All this resulted in some serious second-guessing, but my desire to make good on my promise to my kid won out.

And I’m so glad it did! All the women were super welcoming and no-one laughed at my beginner effort (Army promotes a very supportive atmosphere). Best of all, it was fun to strut my sexy stuff. That feeling, it never gets old.

They already have a Sassy Moms group…can the Sassy Grannies be far behind?

Post-strut smiles with my sassy daughter.