Remember back in elementary school, nothing scared you? Climbing tall trees. Back flips on trampolines. Racing down a steep hill on a Big Wheels knowing full well it had no brakes. Ahh, good times. Okay, maybe that last one wasn’t such an intelligent move and it scared the hell out of me but guess, what? I still remember it today.
The initial excitement, hair flying up then wrapping around my face, wheels spinning faster and faster, then too fast. Excitement replaced by fear. Knowing you’ll wipe out before you reach the bottom, no way to stop. Heart smashing against your ribcage, eyes wide, mouth wider. Then when the high pitched screams convert to muted breath, you reach the level ground, with white knuckles and clenched teeth, but uninjured. Let’s do it again! .
What is the Comfort Zone?
Fast forward twenty years. How did you spend your weekend? Sat around a patio table at a barbecue. Watched TV. Had a nice romantic dinner. Moved the lawn. Played Candy Crush. Not exactly an escapade. What makes former thrill-seekers take comfort in doing nothing? What are we afraid of?
I have cousins to thank for my appetite for seeking adventure. As one of the youngest, they dragged me on roller coasters, pressured me to crawl through the twenty foot-long ice tunnels they made, and tried to drown me during their pool games. But they made me experience adrenaline.
Then I got married.
Bought a house.
Had kids. Two of them.
Ahhh, that lounge chair feels comfy.
Needing a Change
Right before the inevitable mid-life crisis, a couple of doctors at work invited me to go rock climbing. Me, who’s afraid of heights. But I’ve learned to live without regrets. Regrets aren’t things you’ve done, but things you will spend the rest of your life wishing you did. So off to Island Rock I went.
I remember the first time. My skin clammy, body trembling, gasping for air. And that was just the twenty minute drive to the place. Once inside, thirty-foot walls encased me. Experienced climbers, with their cute little red elf shoes and cargo pants, attacked these walls and it only amplified my fear. This was a mistake. I could not do this. I delayed attaching my harness, observed them for a while, even wandered to the vending machine to buy water. But they were not having it. Up I went.
My first climb, no problem. I made it to the top! I didn’t die. I can do this.
But then they told me I climbed an easy wall and that’s not how it’s done. There were different courses, different levels of intensity, you could only grab onto certain “holds”, stay on specific colors and no cheating. Eek!
Could I Do It?
Suddenly the altitude didn’t matter. Panic returned but for different reasons. I couldn’t do it. I was too short, the holds were slimy and caked with sweat and dirt and chalk. I had to grip a hold the size of a quarter, I slipped and swung, my foot couldn’t reach the next piece, terror drenched my tank top and the two doctors called to me, telling me what to do, but I couldn’t hear. What were they shouting?
My arms shook from lack of strength and lack of skill. Hands sweaty and in need of more chalk. Stomach churned, humiliation kicked in. They were better than me, I would fail, they would laugh. I just had to reach the top.
At the very moment you want to give up, whether it be that silly brain of yours kicking in negative thoughts again, or physical inability, you find the strength. You take one deep breath, grit your teeth and leap forward. Adrenaline surges, your shaky arm tightens and yanks you up, your leg rises and finds the next hold, power swells within you to propel your exhausted body until you reach that top ledge, determined and even a little pissed off, and you slap it once, twice, three times, letting them know you made it. You freakin made it.
The fear never leaves. Each time I drive there it returns. Can I do it again? What if I’m too weak? Did I eat enough before the climb? Did I drink enough fluids? Will they encourage me or will I have to find it in myself each and every time?
But I love it.
After two years, I ventured outdoors, upstate to New Paltz,The Gunks. (And I thought a thirty foot wall was scary). Outdoors is a completely different experience. Half way up the climb on my first real mountain (half way) I almost started to cry. I whispered to myself, I cannot do this, this will be it, I’ll just finish one climb and then not do anymore. For the rest of the day. Or ever again.
I reached the top and screamed for them to get me down. Fast! But they made me climb over the ledge, stand up and take in the breathtaking view. Which I did for about ten seconds and then begged to come down.
Six hours later, I completed four climbs with my group and even stayed for one more after half the group headed home. I was obsessed with my abilities. No more silly pink elephant-shaped holds to clutch onto. No green strips of tape to guide me. It was entirely up to me to find something, anything, to grasp hold of with my fingers and toes. Clinging to the sides of a smooth mountain, clutching a tiny piece of rock jutting out, the tip of my toe smearing a crevice in the boulder.
Fear vs. Excitement
It made me realize there’s a big difference between fear and excitement. Fear would be someone dragging me up there and attempting to push me off the top of the mountain. Without a harness.
Excitement is trying new things. Seeing what you’re capable of. Getting out of that comfort zone. Of course it’s scary. How exciting would it be to climb the hill in your backyard? Woo hoo! Um, no. We must do the things we think we cannot do. And with each attempt, it builds your confidence a little more, empowers you to try something else, until you become fearless.
I’m still not sure where the nervousness comes from every time I climb. No matter how many climbs I’ve completed, I still fear that I’ll be a failure. But strangely, I still do it. Still climb out of my comfort zone and I love it. We remember all the exciting things in life, not the boring ones. Let’s make a lifetime of exciting memories!
What have you tried lately to get out of your comfort zone? How did you feel afterward? Did a friend rope you into it or were you the one to suggest it? What’s next on your list to try?
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