“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”-Neale Donald Walsch
**WARNING: Picture Overload Ahead**
The year was 2014. I went camping for the first time in years, went back to school, started eating pizza with sauce, rode a horse, which I hadn’t done in 10 years, got a gym membership and went regularly, took my first solo trip, and ultimately experienced life outside of my comfort zone. It sparked a period of growth that I’m incredibly thankful for to this day.
Going back to school was something I had talked about for at least two years. It was one of those “I’ll do it next time” situations. I talked about doing it without taking the necessary steps to do so. Being unhappy in my job at the time and realizing there wouldn’t be too many options for anything else without a degree is what motivated me to finally register and go back. I was a little nervous. I tend to be on the shier side and cling to comfort and what’s familiar. That’s not really possible when you’re on a campus you’re not used to, with people you don’t know, in a class where you don’t know what to expect. Little did I know that going back to school, whether I knew what I was going for or not, would be one of the best decisions I made.
Going to school has a way of getting you to step outside of your comfort zone. I went to a jazz club (something that was actually on my bucket list at one point), took a horticulture class that required I go to a lawn and garden convention where I met and conversed with an elderly gentleman named Kenny who wore overalls and cranked his old John Deere tractor for me, had a moment of trust with a scared horse that I’ll never forget, learned how to artificially inseminate a cow, had a blast at deaf meet-ups for my American Sign Language class, rebuilt a lawnmower engine, learned I could climb a rope, participated in a variety of activity classes (ballet, Pilates, kickboxing, Tai chi, yoga), took a couple geology field trips where I kayaked for the first time, climbed up what felt like a super steep side of Pothole Dome in Yosemite National Park, and dunked myself in an incredibly cold lake. All of this makes me feel like Cotton McKnight in Dodgeball; “I have been to the Great Wall of China, I have seen the Pyramids of Egypt, I’ve even witnessed a grown man satisfy a camel.” Although, I’ve never done any of those, but I digress. It all got me to try something new, put myself in an unfamiliar situation, and face a different level and form of discomfort or fear.
That year I also started going regularly to my dad’s softball games where we’d go out to eat pizza and drink beer afterward. I must confess, prior to that, I’d order pizza without sauce. Think I’m weird all you want. That’s fine. When I started going, however, I decided to try it and guess what? It was amazing! It was the start of a long pizza kick, but it also was the beginning of being a tiny bit more adventurous when it came to trying new foods. There’s something about socializing while eating that makes me more open to experimenting with new flavors or combinations that I have yet to try. Since those days, I’ve tried many new foods, which most people would probably find strange that I didn’t eat or had never tried before. My world was opened up to things my simple meat, potatoes, cheese, and bread palette could never fathom. Tomatoes, tofu, berries, mushrooms, cauliflower, salmon, pozole, tacos de lengua, and more were all new to my taste buds. Additionally, I met new people and joined one of the players for my first ever yoga class, before taking it at school. I was also able to stay for a night with another one who had relocated when I took a solo trip to Texas.
Now, I’ve grown up being fearful and paranoid, especially of going places alone. Yet, I had been obsessed with the idea of Texas for years and decided to take a trip out there to explore it. In my first 12 hours there, my heart got blessed 🙈 and I encountered a giant grasshopper (?), large beetle, and a scurrying lizard (?) in my hotel room. I was also overly excited to eat a Texas shaped waffle before heading out to Round Top for their Antiques Week. I absolutely loved the scenery, the armadillo roadkill, the longhorns, the oak trees, and what might be the most adorable town to ever exist. I got a slice of pie from Royers Pie Haven and took a drive down to Galveston, making it my tenth state to visit a beach in. Back in Austin, I bought a pair of cowboy boots from Allens Boots and had a blast bar hopping on Sixth Street with all of the live music. I unquestionably loved it and cherish the memories I have of it. Texas will always hold a special place in my heart, whether I ever move there or not.
A few years later, I took another solo trip starting in Massachusetts. After a canceled flight, a delayed flight, ol’ Aunt Flow showing up, driving in the rain in an unfamiliar city, and coming up on the middle of an accident where a pedestrian was hit by a car, I made it to my cousins’ house. It was late and their son was in bed, but the next morning I got to meet my young cousin, who’s had a tough start with health issues, for the very first time. He’s the cutest boy on planet earth and that’s not me being biased. While in Massachusetts, I stayed with my aunt that I hadn’t seen since the last time I was there when I was 15 and went to several Cape Cod Baseball League games where I was asked by an older gentleman at one of them which of the players was my boyfriend and was offered a sweatshirt by another at a different chilly game. I also enjoyed a delicious pizza and pear brandy in the company of my cousin’s sister with Maury Povich and Connie Chung one table over. During my last full day on the east coast, I took a drive up to Vermont, taking a moment to marvel at any old cemeteries I came across, just like I had done on the Cape. That portion of the trip had one more, well maybe two more, adventure(s) in store for me before I could, which involved me ending up on the wrong side of town in an attempt to find a gas station.
In the early hours of the next morning, I got lost trying to return my rental car and missed my flight to Chicago. Luckily, one of the airline employees saved me from spending an extra $400 and got me a guaranteed seat on a flight to Chicago that would get me there just in time for a Cubs game. Wrigley Field had always been #1 on my list of stadiums I wanted to go to. There’s something about the ivy on the outfield wall that really speaks to me. Before going out there, I talked to my great uncle on the phone because he and my grandma grew up in Chicago. He warned me to not go back to their old neighborhood and told me stories of being outside of the stadium during the Cubs’ batting practice as a kid. If you were lucky enough to catch a ball that exited the stadium, you would get a free ticket to the game. Uncle Chuck told me he was able to get one once. Of course, the fights that broke out over the home run balls and being able to get a ticket for a caught one are things of the past. In my time there, I learned to make sure I carry enough cash when traveling after it took a couple tries to find a parking “lot” (guys allowing people to park wherever) that would accept the $29 I had in exchange for a place to park for the game and that sirens can surprisingly make you feel at home. I guess that’s what happens when you live by a busy street. I was there for less than 24 hours, something I regret a little, until I was on my way to Colorado.
After not being able to sleep on the flight, like I’d hoped, due to a loud bachelorette party, I landed in Colorado. There, I stayed with a friend of my mom’s and her wife, both of whom I’d never met. They were extremely warm and welcoming, though, and made me feel right at home. I slept amazingly there with the cool mountain air coming through the windows. Colorado is beautiful and the pictures I took of their property don’t do it justice. One night I even got to see elk grazing in the meadow below. Although I nearly fell asleep at a Rockies game (exhausting few days), Rocky Mountain National Park was stunning, and doing yoga at Red Rocks Amphitheatre was an experience I’m glad I stayed an extra day for.
2014 for me can be likened to the episode of Friends, “The One with the Fake Monica” (Season 1, Episode 21 for any wondering), where her credit card is stolen and, while looking over the purchases, she concludes that the other person is living her life better than she is. In an effort to track the woman down, she goes to one of the dance classes the woman is enrolled in, and ends up befriending her. During their short-lived friendship, Monica is exposed to trying and doing things she was too fearful of or intimidated by to do before. Although after the woman is arrested, it’s assumed Monica will go back to her uptight ways, she returns to the dance class in an effort to hold on to what she’s gained through the experience. Similarly, 2014 got me to realize that getting out of your comfort zone isn’t only not as scary as you think, but can also be a ton of fun. That initial year of growth has helped me create lasting memories, become more open to meeting new people, be better at striking up conversations, and has rewarded me in many other ways. Remember, you don’t observe a dance class, you dance a dance class.
**Looking for the pictures to include in this post was a little bittersweet; a mix of bringing me joy and making me long for days past. I miss my old coworkers, going to sporting events and eating at a new place before the game, having the time to devote to a garden, being good at saving money for things like a new car or a trip, my upper body strength I had from working out, and all of the random general education classes I took. I look back on it fondly, though I’m quickly reminded that I was more focused on things I was unhappy about at the time to have fully appreciated everything. The same can probably be said about the present; I won’t recognize all of the things I’m doing or memories I’m making until I reflect on this time years from now. Keep in mind, we can alway be more out of shape, more in debt, busier, have a smaller social circle, find something to feel down about, and forget how much we can accomplish and the fun we can have during the times when we think we’re lost. Don’t let the good things of today go unappreciated.