Comfort zone. I have come to believe those are two of the most restrictive words in the English language. We gravitate towards our comfort zone with almost no realization of how it keeps us from expanding our horizons.
Our habits and likes extend in all facets of our life. We like certain kinds of foods, music and entertainment. Conversely, we do not like those things outside of our established comfort zone. When did you last eat sushi, if ever? If Kroger did not have samples, I would have never eaten sushi. I still do not buy it, but I find myself addicted to the free samples.
I hiked roughly a thousand miles on the Appalachian Trail while I was in my thirties. It was the greatest gift my wife ever gave me. She pushed me out of my comfort zone to do something that she knew was a dream of mine. It exceeded my expectations and gave me the confidence to know I could do anything if I just put my mind to it.
A naturally shy kid, I overcame my fear of public speaking. I learned, along with my wife, that being a wallflower standing in the corner was not our path forward. We learned to work a crowd, together and separately. Overcoming that fear continues to benefit us to this day.
As we age, the restrictions of our past can dictate our future, if we let it. At the age of 65, I have learned how to tie my own bow tie. Not a clip on or a pre-tied tie, but rather an authentic tie whose imperfect nature is part of its charm. I cannot imagine why I did not learn how to do this earlier.
Maybe it is easier to exit your comfort zone as you get older. In my case, I find myself wanting to experience everything I can. That includes traveling to places unlike the wonderful areas I have called home. I want to taste food I would never have been able to order off a local menu. I want to experience theatre, plays and musicals that I would have been hesitant to visit just a few years ago.
The opportunities of extending beyond our comfort zone are greater than I could have ever imagined. What clothing to wear. What books to read. What foods to eat. What friends to cultivate. What places to visit. The list is endless.
I recently saw a picture of a trapeze artist that encapsulated my thoughts about pushing your own limits. As a child, Betty Goedhart attended the circus with her parents. It was there she witnessed the captivating magic of a trapeze artist.
That love of watching humans fly through the air with the greatest of ease never left Betty Goedhart. At the age of 78, a friend gave Betty lessons for the trapeze. Like my wife pushing me past my comfort zone to hike the Appalachian Trail, Betty’s friend pushed her to follow her dream and do the unthinkable; she became a trapeze artist at the time when most are well into retirement.
Betty Goedhart did not just do a few swings on a trapeze bar and call it a day, though that would have been perfectly acceptable at her age. Instead, she became a talented trapeze artist in her own right, mesmerizing the audiences as she flew through the air as a flyer, only to be caught by a person young enough to be her grandson.
This is not just a story about expanding your horizons. It is a story about pushing your limits and grasping those opportunities that have been on the back burner of your life. It is about trusting others and yourself to do things that you only dreamed of doing.
Look at the picture of Betty at the age of 85, her hands reaching out not to grasp the catcher, but rather reaching out to be caught. Exhibiting total trust in her partner. Embracing her dream that was so far out of her comfort zone we can hardly imagine.
We don’t have to fly through the air in our eighties to find a new beginning in our life. We can push our limits at any age. Betty Goedhart is an example, but we can follow our own dreams. Just find that edge of your comfort zone. The rewards are just beyond that boundary.
Dan Ponder can be reached at email@example.com