THE BLOG

Sometimes You Have to Leave to Grow

01/22/2014 10:15 am ET | Updated Mar 24, 2014
Tara Moore via Getty Images

It's hard growing up. But they don't tell you that when you're a teenager.

No, when you're 16, you tell them. You scream when you're grounded, you pout when you're sad, you try to get the last word, the last say, the last quip because you know more than your parents do and all the rest of your friends have curfews at 1:00 a.m., so why can't you, too?!

WE tell THEM. We tell them we can't WAIT to be adults, can't WAIT to stay up as long as we want, doing whatever we want, eating whatever we want and not gaining weight in the process.

Then it comes. Adulthood.

Suddenly, all we want is someone to tell us what to do. Wait, let's backtrack a bit, OK? I'm not ready for this. We realize that maybe, just maybe, we really didn't know everything back then, since we sure are aware of how little we know now. Because all of these decisions? Making all of these life-altering, mind-boggling, often expensive, sometimes painful decisions?

It sucks.

It sucks because we aren't on the same page anymore. We aren't all in the same grade, learning about the Revolutionary War and the square root of pi. Life isn't split into freshman, sophomore, junior, senior years. Our days aren't divided by first period English, second period Geometry, who's in first lunch, who got to second base, bathroom whispers and hallway swagger. High school is hard, and yet the boundaries, the rules, the rigidness, can give us a perimeter to live within.

Like a nest to tuck our wings.

Last summer, a robin built a nest in the pine tree in our front yard. The mother bird worked hard to build a sturdy nest out of clay, twine, leaves and cotton. After a few weeks, the blue eggs broke open to reveal bulging eyes and fluffy feathers. Three baby birds.

Since the nest was built about five feet from the earth -- right around my eye level -- I would easily sneak a peek or two at the nest each day. As weeks passed, I watched the babies go from writhing naked bodies to little fluff balls with gaping mouths to almost full-grown robin birds, all gray feathers and red breasts.

Then one day, the baby robins were gone. They had flown away.

Well, all but one.

I knew it was coming. The baby birds were getting so large they barely had room. They looked like chubby marshmallows in between graham crackers, all stuffed in the nest. So I was surprised to see the nest not entirely empty that day, but occupied by one lone robin. He sat, eyes beady, looking unsure of what to do with all of that room without his brothers and sisters.

"Hey, little guy," I said, taking a nonchalant step towards the nest. Just then, the mama bird swooped in and began angrily chirping at me.

"Alright, alright," I said to the bird, now staring at me from a nearby oak. "I'm walking away." I took a step back from the pine tree and started walking towards the sidewalk.

Suddenly, I heard a rustle of tree branches and noise. I turned around and looked down on the ground. The last baby bird, alone in the nest just a second ago, had flown out of the nest... he just sort of missed the flying part. Now the bird was sitting in a low bush near the ground, about a foot next to the pine tree.

Oh no, I thought. He's scared. He's scared to leave the nest. And now I was scared he was going to be eaten by a barn cat.

The baby bird sat on the bush, his weight making the branch sag down. His mom was chirping quickly from her oak tree, helpless. Flying out of the nest is like squeezing toothpaste of the tube. You can't really put it back in. It's a done deal.

I walked back inside the house and sat near the front window, watching to see if the baby bird would complete the mission. He had already flown out of the nest successfully -- flew or hopped, I'm not sure -- now he just needed to go out into the world.

I sat there for about 10 minutes. So did the baby robin.

It must be so strange, I thought, to have one view your entire life, to be surrounded by others in the same situation as you. Then, one day, you're on the bottom looking up and you're all alone and you can't go back, no matter how hard you try.

I decided to walk away from the front window. It was too hard to watch him just sit there, knowing I could do nothing to help him. He was on his own.

Later that afternoon, I looked out the front window and took a peek at the bush where the baby bird had retreated. The branch -- once sagging with the bird's weight -- was now empty.
I opened the front door and walked outside, stopping right in front of the pine tree with the nest. No scattered feathers, I thought. So he wasn't eaten.

The Lone Baby Bird had used his own wings and had flown away.

It's scary to leave the nest. It's hard to take on the world by yourself -- without the agendas and the lunch hours and going with the flow in a school of fish.

But we have to.

Whether we're 16 or 60, life is full of leave the nest-I'm scared to death-fight or flight-speak now or forever hold your peace-moments. Moments where we have to leave the Comfort Zone and buckle up for the bumpy ride.

But leaving your comfort zone is the only way to stretch as a person. Whether you're the bird leaving the nest, or you're leaving a guardian, a house or a hometown, a job or relationship, if you are stuck feeling empty, it means you need to go get full again.

So leave the nest. Expand your comfort zone. Stretch yourself. If you know it's the best thing, if you know you can only grow by leaving, the answer is often hard yet so simple:

Go.