Every few months, without exception I feel this ever-pressing urge of stretching my comfort zone. That I need to push myself a bit further and explore the outer reaches of my limits.
Growing up I was the girl at slumber parties who would ‘fake a stomachache’ come bedtime,
as the thought of the quickly coming long night ahead terrified me. In middle school I would shamelessly sleep for a week in my parents bedroom after watching a not-even-that-scary movie. Naturally, people would laugh when I would share my grand plans of going to university out of state, something that felt so certain to me – even though I knew, and accepted I was a scaredy-cat. For some reason the ‘how’ of the whole situation didn’t really matter. It was just the knowing that, yes, I would be going far away and starting a life completely from scratch following graduation day.
And so I did it.
I packed up my bags, shed tearful goodbyes and looked with eagerness towards starting a new life in Oregon.
That was the first stretching of the comfort zone. The first slight tear in it’s existence.
It was hard. The first few years in Oregon taught me more than I could ever imagine. I learned to deal with unhappy roommates, how to handle intense team dynamics and began the learning process on how to really make a decision based on what was best for myself, not what make me the most popular with the group. I almost packed up my bags and came home after year two. But just as I was about to leave, my comfort zone widened, what used to feel so scary and hard was no longer that scary or that hard and so I stayed.
Two and a half amazing, heart-warming, memory-filled years later, it was time. The comfort-zone had once again gotten too comfortable and it was crying to once again be stretched.
So I took it a step further. I moved to Argentina.
Over the prior 4 years I had educationally dedicated myself to biochemistry. I loved learning and understanding how the microcosms of the world worked. I loved proving my knowledge in tests. I loved my cohort. I was in love with everything, except the actual practice of it. So while all my friends were applying to medical school, graduate school and signing away the next 8-years of their life – I decided to finish out my Spanish minor by studying abroad in Buenos Aires.
I touched down in Buenos Aires and felt like I had landed on another planet. My host mom (who spoke zero English) picked me up in a cab and chatted away to me in Spanish (which was the equivalent to gibberish) and I felt my heart in my throat and warning bells going off in my head. She showed me my room, I shut the door and I started to cry. My comfort zone was no longer in tact & I was stuck here. With some deep breaths, some sobbing video calls back home and a few good nights rest I started to get into the flow and once again build a new ‘comfort’ zone – one that always involved being aware of my surroundings, constantly prepping to speak in another language and with brand new people. It was a zone of safety and I became accustomed to it.
During that time I played with the edges of the zone constantly. Finally embarking on a 10-day solo trip to Chile, a trip that I still hold the dearest to my heart.
In South America I was forced to learn how to let go of my embarrassment of struggling through another language. I learned how to put myself in the vulnerable position of asking for help. I also learned that speaking English feels like breathing and how you can create a comfort zone even though you’re not actually comfortable at all.
After a brief 6 month stint in the U.S. it was time for a new adventure, a new expanding – however definitely not something quite as intense as Argentina.
My partner and I packed up and moved to Scotland. English speaking, part of the U.K. – how different can it be?
And really, after Argentina, there was no ‘culture shock.’ It’s more the slight nuances, perspective differences and weather that shocks you slowly over time.
While in Scotland, I’ve continued pushing myself. Applying for jobs that I swore I would never get and picking myself and pride up when they didn’t and did work out. Finding time for solo trips to Portugal and, more recently, Germany, where again my comfort zone is stretched.
I’m currently on a train back to Aberdeen, Scotland (which makes my heart rest easy) and felt the inspiration to pick back up on this common thread after the stretching of that zone I felt so clearly in Germany. There will be no video of Germany, no top touristic tips – but instead something like this.
A musing on what I learned there and the affect of a long quiet weekend with a Greyhound & Abraham Hicks.
But that shall have to wait for another post .. more to come!