Leaping Out of the Comfort Zone


I am a creature of habit.  Sometimes I fantasize about leading an exciting life as a crazy, spontaneous, thrill-seeking adventurer … hopping on a plane with just my carry-on and my laptop, headed off for the museums, side streets and sidewalk cafes of Europe … or jumping aboard a large sailboat with masts unfurled, wind in my hair and destination unknown.  But, alas, I know that is just not me (well, the “crazy” part, maybe–but spontaneous?–only if I can schedule a time for it).  I like my comfort zone and the “sameness” it provides.  With only slight variations, every day is pretty much like the day before, and I am okay with that.  Safe.  Predictable.  Content.

But a couple nights ago I took a HUGE leap outside of my comfort zone, intentionally diving into uncharted waters without a lifevest (and I’m not a swimmer).  I had been seriously contemplating this “leap” for over a year, dreaming about it even longer … and even though I could have waited several more months to make my decision, the time seemed right for plunging ahead.

And so I did.  On that night, I gave my letter of resignation to the local school board, and as of June 29, 2012, I will be retiring after 30 years of service to the same wonderful school district.  It’s official … a done deal.  I will be forever grateful to that first school board so long ago for taking a chance on a little 22-year-old stranger from the other side of the state–and to all the administrators and school boards since then who have continued to believe in me and support me.  I could not have imagined in the beginning the many challenges that would lie ahead over the next 30 years–nor could I have imagined the even greater rewards.

I won’t lie–that resignation letter was not an easy one to write, and I spilled more than a couple crocodile tears on the keyboard.  I can’t help being just a little sad when I think about all the familiarity–and, more importantly, all the beauty and joy–I will be leaving behind.  I have made some great friendships that I hope will withstand my physical absence, and my life has been fulfilled and blessed by some of the world’s greatest young people whose hugs and fist bumps and overall silliness have made me smile again and again and again.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end.  It’s time for me to move on and let a new captain (translation: someone younger and more energetic) take over at the helm.  So far, this year has been one of my very best years in education (perhaps because I am more relaxed, knowing that the end is in sight?), and some might wonder why I would want to leave when everything is going so well.  It’s really quite simple:  I want to leave while I’m still at the top of my game.  I don’t want to be one of those people who hang on and hang on (and hang on) long past when they should have let go, and I sure don’t want others muttering “enough already!” under their breath as I totter by.

As great as the last 30 years have been, there are definitely a few things that I won’t miss at all–not one little bit.  I won’t miss being yelled at over the phone by angry parents, even when I know they’re not really angry at me.  I won’t miss 80-hour work weeks or ballgame supervisions that get me home at 10 or 11:00 at night after a 15-16-hour work day.  I won’t miss having my daily routine tied to a screeching bell every 50 minutes or waiting in line for the faculty bathroom.  I won’t miss meetings with family services representatives and juvenile officials or the disheartening knowledge that often comes out of such meetings (and the sleepless nights that follow).    I won’t miss high-stakes testing or never-ending curriculum revisions, and I sure won’t miss the sight of boiled, foot-long hot dogs in the cafeteria or the smells of dissected fetal pigs in the science lab.

But, gosh, I will miss my kiddos and my colleagues!  At least once every day–every day of every year–they have given me reason to smile, chuckle, snicker, snort, laugh, giggle, or guffaw.  In fact, here’s an example from just a few days ago (that I’m still laughing about):

I was visiting with one of my students in the lunch line–a very intelligent, very funny young man who has some learning difficulties, one of which is his inability to properly “filter” his comments.  In other words, whatever he thinks, he says.  Our conversation went something like this:

“So, you have two other sons besides Lucas?” asked the student.

“Yes, that’s right.  Zac and Sam.  How did you know that?”

“I saw their pictures on the wall composites. I didn’t know them, but I saw their names.”

“Yes, they were older than Lucas.”

“Were they good boys?”

“Why, yes, I think they were good boys.  A little ornery, maybe, but I kinda like boys who are just a little bit ornery.”

And then he responded …

“So, you breeded three times?”

(At this point, the students standing in line behind him started laughing uncontrollably, and the math teacher standing across from him started turning purple.)

“Umm … umm … I guess you could say that.  I have three sons.”

“So, are you done breeding?”

(And this is when the math teacher doubled over.)

“Yes!  I am done breeding!  No more breeding!”

“That’s good. You’re getting ready to retire, and I’ll bet breeding and retirement don’t go too good together.”

“No, you’re probably right.”

“Well, see ya.”

I love my job!  And I can’t help wondering–in my next ventures, who’s going to be there to make me smile (chuckle, snicker, snort, laugh, giggle, and guffaw) on a daily basis?

I know this retirement won’t be the end of my career … just the end of this career.  As much as I could get used to lying around in my pajamas every winter day or lounging on the back deck every summer one, I also want to spend money (lots and lots of money).  And so eventually (in the next few months or the next few years), I will have to find some other type of employment to help finance my fun.  Ideally, I would like to spend the next 50 years of my life indulging in some of my favorite pastimes–specifically, reading leisurely, writing passionately, traveling extensively and eating profusely–but I’m guessing that such unlimited indulgence will require a little more money than my retirement benefits will provide.  (Perhaps I can find someone willing to pay me to travel extensively, eat profusely and then write passionately about my experiences?  Now, there’s an idea …)

I still have a lot to figure out in the next eight months (or, as I like to think of it, only 34 more Mondays!).  And once I have taken this leap out of my comfort zone into the uncharted waters and have realized I can swim after all, I wonder what my next leap should be … hmm … what do you think?  Maybe a tattoo?

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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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20 Responses to Leaping Out of the Comfort Zone

  1. Jamie Adams says:

    Great story! The school district will be losing a great teacher. However, this is the next phase in your life, so get that tattoo, charge up your laptop and camera, and start travelling! I for one am ready to read about your adventures.

  2. Diana Stayner says:

    Girl, you blew my hair back when I read that you are going to retire from Gainesville school. I am so happy for you but things will never be there same there without your smiling face cheering on all those around you. But….life goes on and it’s your turn to experience something new and exciting or in other words, spread your wings and fly!!

  3. Debbie says:

    Are you done breeding? Oh my goodness, that’s hilarious! Great story.

  4. Congratulations, how exciting! And a bit like plunging off a cliff too, albeit hopefully a cliff with sparkling blue waters and with you being a pearl diver or something… -kate

  5. This is so exciting; you’re doing what many of us hope we can do one day .. I am thrilled for you .. and awaiting updates on all the new adventures you will surely take us on!
    Congratulations!! MJ

  6. Jeannie says:

    Yes dear teacher – you will do great things – congrats on your success and carry on with your journey.

  7. Arjun Sharma says:

    Hey great post. id like it if u’d visit my blog too 🙂 thanks

    arjun1097.wordpress.com

  8. Pingback: The Unknown « creatingreciprocity

  9. SUE says:

    CONGRATULATIONS, Karen!! As a bystander sitting on the sidelines of your life, it’s looked like a 30 year roller coaster ride! Now I wish for you to have time to smell the roses, hopefully some that are growing along a beautiful bike trail and some along the Pacific beach while watching the dolphins swim by!. It’ll be a good life – where ever you are.

  10. Johnnie Rotten of the North says:

    American Woman, conjunction junction, what’s your function?

    In the oh so wise words of that magnificent man, Dr. Seuss…

    “And will you succeed? Yes indeed. Yes indeed! Ninety eight and three quarters per cent guaranteed!”

    and…

    “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

    And in regards to your ex pupils, I do believe it was Willy Wonka who famously stated, “sooner or later, they all turn into blueberries.”

    Get out that Easy Bake Oven (light bulb not included), whip up some cake, then call your gal pals over for a game of Mystery Date. Then whip out the Toni home perm kit and, PRESTO! A whole new you.

    We change and evolve because if we look within, we realize we can no longer afford not to.

    SALUTE!

    • “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”–one of my favorite quotes. And I like your comment about changing and evolving–I have seldom embraced change, preferring familiarity and comfort over risk and uncertainty, but in this case I’m ready to make an exception. And in all previous cases when change and evolution have been forced upon me, they have always–always–turned out to be for the better. (I think I’ll pass on that Toni home perm, though!)

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