Baby Steps


I am a wimp and a coward.  This may be news to some of you (I doubt it), but it’s something I’ve known about myself for a long time.  The wimp in me tries to avoid risk whenever possible because risk brings with it the possibility of pain, and I am adamantly opposed to subjecting my body to unnecessary pain.  Taking risks also means being willing to accept failure, and the coward in me prefers to stay safely nestled inside my very own comfort zone where failure is still a possibility, but–if I’ve crafted my zone just right–a limited one. 

I haven’t always been this way.  I used to be fun.  I used to know how to HAVE fun.  Admittedly, I never reached “life of the party” status (I don’t have enough confidence or wit to be THAT much fun), but at least I was in attendance at the party. 

Somewhere along the line I became sensible and boring and old.  Having fun stopped being a priority and became instead an unnecessary distraction from all of life’s duties.  I had a house to maintain, chores to perform, children to raise, and a good example to set.  (Sound familiar?)  It was time to grow up.

For many, many years I have defined myself by my roles as a mother and an educator.  Don’t get me wrong–I have been quite happy fulfilling the responsibilities of those roles.  But with all three sons now out of the house and essentially “grown-ups” themselves, and with retirement looming ever closer (yeah!), now what?

It’s time for me to start taking a few risks again, to start venturing outside of my comfort zone just a little.  Sure, I’ve made a few excursions in the past, but most of them were against my will.  However, in every case I learned, I grew, and I enjoyed.

My first comfort zone violation came several years ago when my husband, without my knowledge, arranged a trip for me to New York City.  Even though it was a place I had always wanted to visit, he knew I would never go without being forced; he also knew my fear of flying for the first time would be outweighed by my dread of wasting money, so he paid for everything in advance.  I remember my ragged breathing as I stepped onto the plane, and I remember counting the number of seat rows between mine and the exit door–that way, if I survived the inevitable crash and had to crawl through the smoke-filled cabin, I would know how far to go.  I remember being much calmer once the plane was at cruising altitude–until we were approaching New York, and I made the mistake of looking out the window and realized that we were circling over open water (no one had prepared me for that!).  I breathed easier once we were back on solid ground, until we walked around Times Square that night and I was surrounded by thousands and thousands (and thousands!) of people.  Claustrophobia set in, and I just knew every person walking past recognized me as a wimpy little English teacher from a small town and knew I was an easy target.  I braced myself for the mugging that was surely just minutes away (the mugging that never happened).  I was also convinced I was going to die in my first cab ride; our driver, along with all the other cab drivers, managed to turn a four-lane street into an eight-lane race track.  I was petrified; my traveling companion Sue laughed delightedly and tipped the driver excessively, thanking him for the excitement!  The subway ride wasn’t much better; an angry-looking young man in the front seat of our car kept flipping a switchblade in and out, in and out–but somehow I managed to escape the subway unscathed as well.

It took a couple days for me to calm down and to realize that the odds were pretty good that I wouldn’t be killed, mugged, or otherwise violated.  Once I accepted this, I began to enjoy the experience.  Now I would love to go back to New York, and now I have the confidence to hop on another plane and go anywhere else my desires might take me.  

Riding on the back of the Harley has also forced me outside of my comfort zone.  It was frightening at first; I wanted to lean away from the curves (which is a very bad idea), and every time my husband exceeded the speed limit, he suffered a quick punch to the kidney (which probably wasn’t a good idea, either).  I still don’t ride that often, but I’ve gotten much more comfortable, and I always feel refreshed and revived after we’ve returned safely home.  (I also have to admit that I rather enjoy the paradox of English teacher/principal during the week and leather-clad biker chick on the weekend!)

My sons have occasionally coaxed me away from the familiar by introducing me to several varieties of ethnic foods that I would never have tried on my own.  Now I love Thai food, and when I finally summoned the courage to try sushi, I enjoyed it as well.  They have also escorted me to several places in downtown Kansas City–places that still make me a little leery, even in broad daylight, but I’m starting to trust their instincts, and I know I will feel even safer when I get my Taser and my permit to carry (I’m serious!).

One of my biggest comfort zone violations has been in church where, believe me, there’s a whole lot of huggin’ goin’ on.  I’m just not a “hugger” by nature (even my family could attest to that), and in the beginning all those people coming at me with arms open wide made my heart throb and my palms sweat.  Over time it has gotten easier, though, and now I find myself actually enjoying being on the receiving end of so much genuine affection (and sometimes I even instigate the hug myself!).

Writing this blog has probably been the only step outside of my comfort zone that I have actually initiated on my own.  I have always wanted to be a writer, but I have forever been too busy (and, honestly, too afraid) to start.  “Blogging” seemed to be the safest way, but even so I have been besieged by doubts–what if people don’t like what I have to say?  What if they don’t even bother reading what I have tried so hard to put into words?  Fortunately, any negative thoughts have been kindly silent, and I have been pleasantly surprised and encouraged by the response–and so I write on.

My friend Julie recently sent me a link to a quite humorous story in The Onion (a “news” source known for its satire), in which the writer claimed that millions of Americans die every year while trying to step out of their comfort zones and experience something new.  I have no plans or desires to try sky diving or mountain climbing or rattlesnake handling or anything else that might be considered remotely dangerous (again, I don’t like pain), and yet I also don’t want to succumb to the “soul-crushing monotony of habit” to which the article refers. 

So to avoid such monotony, I pledge to periodically take baby steps, to tiptoe ever so slightly away from the safe and familiar.  Should I try salsa dance lessons or swing?  Ballroom may be more my speed, but perhaps I can first find someone who can teach me rhythm.  I have always wanted to visit Hawaii and England–but Cabo, I hear you calling.  Should I try yoga or tai chi?  Maybe both.  I would like to write a book, but should it be a novel, a collection of short stories, or an assortment of editorial essays?  (I do like voicing my opinion.)  Perhaps there a few of you out there who would like to join me on this journey–or maybe you have your own, individualized “comfort zone violations” you need to make?

Decisions, decisions.  One thing is for certain; all this talk of “doin’ stuff” has made me tired, and before I commence on this journey a good nap may be just what I need.

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About icedteawithlemon

I have recently retired from a 30-year career in education in one of the best school districts in the world. I hope to spend my second life reading, writing, photographing, traveling, biking, cheering on my favorite baseball team (the St. Louis Cardinals), and soaking up glorious sunshine. In my spare time I enjoy playing with my pet tarantulas, trying out new flavors of chewing gum, and knitting socks for prison inmates. I'm almost positive that in a past life I was one of the Seven Dwarfs (most likely "Grumpy"), and in my next life I'm going to be either a taste tester for Hershey's or a model for Victoria's Secret's new line, "Bloomers for Boomers." I want to travel country back roads, singing Vanilla Ice songs at every karaoke bar and rating bathroom cleanliness at every truckstop. And someday I plan to own a private beach where skinny girls aren't allowed. I want to be a writer when I grow up. "Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake."--Henry David Thoreau
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17 Responses to Baby Steps

  1. Jamie says:

    What a great, honest story!! I have traveled to many parts of the globe but, oddly enough, leaving my comfort zone simply meant writing and sharing my thoughts from the safety of my living room. (thank you for your support). We each define our “comfort zone” differently… I love your writing so, please keep sharing!

    • Thank you, Jamie–I appreciate your support as well. Writing–even though it has been something I’ve always wanted to do–has definitely been the biggest risk I’ve taken. No threat of physical pain, but the risk of rejection is so much more frightening!

  2. Janet says:

    An empty nest does create a sense of a void–and choosing how to fill it is an antidote for the emptiness a mom feels. I, too, turned to writing. When my youngest went off to college, I went off to the local newspaper office and asked to have the opportunity to submit some articles. If they had laughed me off, I’d never have tried again, for I, too, am a wimp. But instead, I received worlds of encouragement, sending me on a journey that has been so fulfilling. I’ve been able to take it wherever I’ve wanted to go, and at my own pace, which was important for me, considering my other responsibilities. The blogging has been a little self-indulgent side of writing that is simply fun. So, good for you! Good for you, for taking baby steps….it may take a little longer to get there than if one uses grandaddy-long-legs strides, but baby steps WILL get you there!

    • Thank you, Janet. I have enjoyed reading your writing ever since those first newspaper articles and have admired the seeming ease with which you have incorporated writing with your other responsibilities! My current job takes up so much of my time that I have no choice but to take baby steps right now, but I’m trying to slowly increase my confidence level so that when retirement arrives, I will be ready for a giant leap!

  3. Rhonda Newton says:

    Enjoyed reading this. I feel like I know you so much better now. The first time I met you, many years ago, I was so intimidated by you, I realize from reading your blogs that once again, we shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover. You give the impression of someone who is so self-assured that NOTHING would intimidate you. I love to travel and experience new things and it never occurs to me to be frightened, this may be caused from my lack of thinking things through. So many people think that I’m full of self-confidence and have great self-esteem. This is a facade. I’m scared every time a new client sits in my chair and I STILL feel intimidated by people that have letters behind their names. In my heart, I know that we all matter, but somewhere along the way, I still developed this notion that I’m not as intelligent as those with degrees. I don’t know why I’m writing this to you, as a blog comment, but I DO so admire your writing. You have such talent for it. I look forward to reading your first book and saying, “I used to read her blog.” Have a great day!

    • Rhonda, once again your kind words have made my day! Just so you know, I intimidate a lot of people! This is certainly something I do NOT strive for, and yet it happens–I think because I’m relatively quiet, and I have a serious demeanor. In other words, people never know what I’m thinking, and this tends to frighten them. I have always had problems with low self-esteem, and I think sometimes I over-compensate because I don’t want people to see my weaknesses. I certainly understand your “facade”–it seems to be a mirror of my own. I can tell by your comments that you are very intelligent (and I’m not just saying that because I like what you say–I like HOW you say it; you have a way with words yourself), and Carolyn says the same thing about you! Thanks again for your support.

  4. echo11am says:

    Wow, how I DO understand your feelings of ‘stepping out of the comfort zone’. I, too, am NOT a risk taker. Never have been, never will be. I prefer staying safe inside my own little world, with very little drama. You may be onto something though. Perhaps I can take a few baby steps of my own. Thanks for the inspiration!

  5. Julie says:

    Wonderful as always! The one time I can use the word epiphany in my own life I was standing on the side of a mountain. Cold, soaked to the bone, in tears, and feet that were swollen and bloody from blisters, 30 miles from the nearest trailhead, I had no other choice but to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I had never been so far out of my comfort zone. A change happened that day……I knew for the very first time that I could handle absolutely anything that came my way. Ever since I’ve been making up for the time lost seeking safety instead of personal growth. Thank you for taking the time to share with us, Karen. And one final thing…..when this blog (and subsequent book) gets made into a movie, I would like my part to be played by the incomparable Jane Lynch! =)

  6. You know, you could write your own book … seriously. You already have a group of old married ladies who live vicariously through you and your many adventures! And yes, Jane Lynch … definitely!

  7. Creative Messiah says:

    You should go the David Sedaris route. You have a lot of great short stories of personal accounts. We could always team-up and do a Mother-Son book. Take a baby step and meet me … for discussion.

    • A mother/son joint venture would be really cool–but I’m not sure we would be writing for the same audience!

      • Creative Messiah says:

        Gee Mom. Thanks for censoring my post. If you are ever the editor for a book I write, you’ll have to remember that that’s the stuff you have to keep in … for my audience.

  8. caryl feiler says:

    Karen. . I love your blog. Fortunately I wasn’t a high school student, so you didn’t intimidate me. . but I always knew I truly liked who you are. So keep up the good work.. Ed and I both read it. . and love it!

    • Caryl, thank you so much! You were such an important figure in the young lives of my three sons–as well as a great advisor to their mother!–and I greatly value your opinion. It makes me feel good to know that you and Ed are reading my words!

  9. Trish Souder says:

    Hi Mrs. E!

    I was tipped off to your blog by a friend of mine and just wanted to drop by and say “Hello.” I have only fond memories of your classes. The dreaded red pen served me well! It’s nice to feel somewhat connected with you again through your blog.

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