On Comfort Zones

This post has been marinating in my mind for a little while now. I think that comfort zones are a tough topic to talk about without coming off as either holier than thou or like the inspirational Pinterest quote of the day. It’s easy to say “Do one thing a day that scares you!” But how realistic (or advisable in some cases) is that really? And how often do we hear that and brush it aside? Yeah right. I’m not going to go wing-suiting today. Not happening. I’ve always hated that quote because I think it fails to go further than surface deep into what comfort zones really are, why we should do anything that scares us, and what it really means to be scared. It can take weeks, months, or years to build up to doing something that scares me, and I think to water it down to doing something every day that scares you is disheartening and doesn’t take into consideration the very real steps it takes to convince yourself to do something that’s uncomfortable.

I push people out of their comfort zones for a living. Pretty much every job I’ve ever had has somehow involved convincing people to do something they are uneasy with. Every day that I guide I raft I have to set a mind at ease.  It can just be on the bus giving a safety talk to some worried moms or it’s telling a group of men 20 years older than me that “Yes, we are going down that rapid whether you like it or not, so paddle.” I’ve tricked three year olds into skiing, coerced trembling boy scouts into scooting into a cave head first, and I’ve made more tweens than I can count learn how to find the area of a triangle–whether they like it or not. All those things–rafting, skiing, caving, Math–they often scare people in a really primal way (ok maybe not Math so much) and the people I take on these adventures think that I am braver than they are for convincing them to do it. I’m not. Those things are all within my own comfort zone (to a certain degree) and it doesn’t make me more brave or daring or outgoing. It’s simply what I know.

The things that scare us can be incredibly minute but take up a hugely disproportionate amount of head space. Admitting I was blogging about knitting to people I knew in real life was INSANELY difficult for me. It literally took me almost two years. I had told a handful of people close to me that I knew wouldn’t judge me for it, but apart from them, I kept it a secret. I’m generally a pretty private person, and to make public my personal thoughts about something in my life that I value so much and that makes me so happy made me feel extremely vulnerable. Two months or so ago I posted a picture of me in shawl that I made to Facebook and Instagram with a link to my blog. For me, within my own comfort zone, it felt as if I was that three year old dropping out of a helicopter to go ski some huge line in Alaska. Or a 13 year old made to take a calculus test.  And since I did it? I’ve had nothing but great experiences. And I find that just about every time I take a big gulp and suck it up to do something that makes me uncomfortable, it expands my experiences and world views in a valuable way. The greatest parts of my life are a direct result of gathering courage and doing something that had previously given me pause. Sometimes those were the smallest of things; finally buying an adult coloring book despite the looks I would get for doing it. Sometimes they were much bigger; living in a camper and road tripping through Mexico and Central America with my man-friend. In either case they enriched my life–whether for the 5 minutes I took to color a flower or for the lifetime of memories I’ll have as a result of that trip. Comfort zones are important to push, which I think is the real heart of “Do one thing a day that scares you,” misguided though it may be.

For some people, comfort zones are physical boundaries, and for others they’re emotional. And it may be just as hard for a person with social anxiety to strike up a conversation at a party as it is for someone else to jump out of a plane. Our fears are our own, but regardless of what makes us uneasy, I think that as knitters we have a perfect place to test our fears without any tangible repercussions. I’ve heard people say so many times that they are too scared to knit a sweater, or socks, or colorwork, or a myriad of other things. But if we take the step and try a new technique and fail, what’s going happen? There might be a tangled mess of yarn, or a giant sweater, or a god-awful sock. But so what? Our craft is so forgiving in its medium that we can literally just rip it out and try again. How often do the other things in life that scare us give us that chance?  Knitting is an incredible way for us to practice pushing our own limits, so that when we finally build up the courage to step outside ourselves in another aspect of our life, we can. Who is to say that knitting lace for the first time doesn’t directly translate to starting up a new business? I think that trying, failing, and succeeding at anything, no matter how small, makes us more prepared to do it on a grand scale.

Karen Templer of Fringe Association wrote a beautiful piece on her blog about why failure is important and it has clearly resonated with me. It’s an honest and personal look at failure that I think is important to read. As knitters, we are so lucky to be able to fail in small ways so that we learn how to bounce back and try again. And I say that as someone who has a tough time with that particular skill. I’m happy to push my knitting boundaries and develop new skills, but that doesn’t mean I have a grin on my face as I’m ripping out something I spent hours on. I’m impatient, and this morning I just realized that I completely messed up a lace panel on a cardigan that I spent 3 hours knitting.  And I am dreading fixing it. But however annoyed I will be while re-knitting it, I’ll know that I challenged myself in a small  way. And I think that challenge will pay off in strides.