(This piece was later published on Military Spouse’s web site. Click here to read.)
When I hear the phrase “the comfort zone,” it’s followed by sinister music in my head. Shouldn’t I hear something more like waves crashing on the shore? Birds tweeting? A breeze blowing through wind chimes?
Not so much.
Because The Comfort Zone is that sneaky little bugger that gets you all nice and cozy, all wrapped up in a warm blanket on that soft and worn couch that your parents have had for decades, which now lives in their partially finished basement because you wouldn’t let them throw it away. The Comfort Zone lets you kick your feet up, take a deep breath, relax, and watch reruns of Family Ties or The Cosby Show… only to reveal that there’s not much going for you.
So you gotta get up. And you gotta step outside.
When we PCS’d to Fort Hood, our first Army post as an Air Force family, the transition wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. It took a while. After we’d been there for a couple months, I’d grown happily used to our daily routines and felt that I’d gained some confidence in my new role as stay-at-home-mom to my infant son. There was just one thing missing… PEOPLE!
Then one day, my husband came home with an invitation to a baby shower for his coworker’s wife. “I was telling him you haven’t met any of the other wives yet, and that you wanted to, so he invited you to his wife’s shower,” Mike told me.
When Mike mentioned this to me, I think I uttered the word, “Uhhhhhhh,” and began devising ways to avoid going. You want me to go to a baby shower where I don’t know a single soul? I thought, incredulous. Still, no excuse was good enough, or honest, so a couple of weeks later, I zipped up my just-started-to-fit-again red pants and made my way to the party.
I semi-awkwardly introduced myself to the hostess and to the guest of honor, who were both very warm and welcoming. The other guests were pleasant and kind. But sooner or later, as friends sat in groups to recall that funny thing that happened or to discuss plans to head to Austin that weekend, I was sitting on a couch with a half-eaten piece of cake in my lap, carrying on a generic and stodgy conversation with someone who out-aged me by fifty years at least. It was a bit of a lonely position, but I figured I’d wait out the next sixty minutes there and then crawl home.
She enthusiastically sat next me, saying, “So how are you doing?” as she happily settled herself. She seemed immediately pleasant and personable, and I was so grateful for her attention. My sense of awkwardness eased as we started chatting and found we had a number of things in common, to include six-month-olds who were just days apart. Before the party ended, Angela asked for my phone number, and the following week we met for a playdate. And so began a most treasured friendship. It was only fitting – and not a little bit poetic – that she ended up throwing me my own baby shower two and a half years later.
Angela told me not long after we’d met that approaching someone as she did with me wasn’t usual for her. “I’m surprised I did that,” she said. I couldn’t have been more surprised that that’s how she felt. She’d seemed completely relaxed and engaging, and although she operates with some reserve, I wouldn’t describe Angela as shy. And I never would have guessed that she was stepping outside her comfort zone when she struck up a conversation with me that day.
But the military life is all about stepping outside The Comfort Zone, and each assignment challenges us to do so in a different way. Although every move can bring with it a sense of imbalance, stepping outside The Comfort Zone has the fantastic quality of teaching us what we’re really made of. We have the opportunity to shake the dust off, oil our joints, and stretch our limbs. It’s not easy, but we all can do it. At this time of year, many of us are probably getting settled in a new place and some are probably wrestling with putting ourselves out there. But let me encourage you: no matter how “unlike you” it might feel, shake off that dust, and go for it. We can both go for it together. And if you learn something in the process, tell me about it. I promise I’ll be a cheerleader. 🙂