Maybe it’s the times, maybe it’s middle age, or maybe I read too many Internet articles, but there’s so much talk about continually challenging ourselves. No matter what we’ve accomplished, society seems to want us to be in a constant state of dissatisfaction with our lives. If we’re not on a relentless quest to improve ourselves, to step outside our comfort zone, we’re not keeping up with the Joneses.
I’ve been writing all my life, but personal essays weren’t something I had considered before the editor of Mansfield-Storrs Patch approached me with the idea last year. I completed an essay before my first meeting with the editor, not only to get her final approval, but also to prove to myself that I could actually do it. We were both happy with the result and before I could contemplate whether I could produce one every week indefinitely, I took the job. It was a challenge I was excited to take on. Yes, I was stepping outside my comfort zone.
Now, a year and a half later, this will be my last column. Not only have I enjoyed (with only slight trepidation) laying bare my flawed but earnest trek through motherhood, I’ve also gotten a lot of satisfaction hearing how so many of you can relate to my experiences. It’s amazing in a wonderful way how alike we moms are.
With no more deadlines looming, I thought I’d rest on my laurels for a little bit. However, everyone who knew my Patch employment was ending has already been asking what my plans are. Truthfully, they were no loftier than cleaning out the hall closet (which, by the way, is firmly in my comfort zone). But I have to admit, even I was asking myself, what’s next?
Happily, I’ve reached an age (and a modicum of self-confidence) that I feel no need to ride a mega rollercoaster or bungee jump to prove I can face my fears. For me, chasing the next adrenaline rush has nothing to do with real life challenges. I get my high and hurdle my fears every day raising my son. Besides, I’ve done my time outside my comfort zone. I put myself through college, moved across the country on my own, worked a host of different jobs in order to pursue my passion, wrote a ballet for Hartford’s Bushnell Theater and a screenplay for a television producer, and , just to name a few challenging occasions.
I don’t know about Mr. and Mrs. Jones, but I like my comfort zone. I have no desire to do Bikram yoga or sing karaoke or run a marathon just to show I can step out of it. I persevered many years in order to fashion it just the right way so I can still be fulfilled even when I’m fully embedded in it. So with my job at Patch coming to a close, I felt ready to finally entrench myself in my well-earned comfort zone. I planned to hunker down in it and enjoy the fruits of my past labors.
At the same time, was also ending. One of their voluntary camp activities over the summer was to scale a high wooden wall with a boost from the counselors. Each time my son climbed it, he’d hesitate when he reached the top, his feet dangling over the edge, scared to come down the other side. Still, he successfully accomplished it several times. I wanted to know what impelled him to do it even though he was afraid. Was it peer pressure? Did he not remember he’d be scared until after he got up there? He explained to me that even though he was a little afraid, he knew it would be fun if he could do it. “I was proud of myself,” he told me.
At eight, my son still has many daunting walls to climb to grow his assurance and figure out how far he can go. At much older than eight, I’m more confident in what I’ve done and where I’m going. I understand the balance between striving for a goal and appreciating the journey. I’ve learned to be grateful for today instead of constantly looking ahead to tomorrow.
Still, thinking about my son’s summer achievements made me decide to hunker down after Patch in a different way. I’ve started writing a novel, an endeavor that makes my stomach turn over more than The Tower of Terror ever did. I do like my comfort zone, but as my son taught me, there’s something to be said for dangling your feet over the edge.