In my office, on my desk, I have a plain white coffee cup that has written on it in simple black letters, "'Do one thing every day that scares you' -- Eleanor Roosevelt."
As I stare down the barrel of another year filled with hope, possibilities, challenges, and change, I think about what living the cup's motto really means in practice.
It's all too easy to stay in the same routine year after year, doing the same things, thinking the same thoughts, eating the same foods, doing the same job and engaging in the same hobbies. Relatively nothing new learned or risked. No standing on the cliff looking over the edge and thinking, "What am I going to do?" or "What have I done?" or "What the hell have I gotten myself into?"
The feeling of jumping out of your comfort zone so that a free-form anxiety grabs hold in the stomach and won't let go. A lump in the throat that sits sedated like a cat sleeping on a hot spot where the sun comes in through the window in an otherwise dark and cold room. Then again, there are comfort zones and there are comfort zones. Among the risks that I won't be taking this year are:
1. Climbing Mount Everest. First of all, it's cold, really cold. Bone-chilling, long-underwear, ski-pants, parka-jacket, gloves-under-mittens cold. Secondly, there is the altitude, which, as I understand from hearing stories from people who actually are crazy enough to climb Everest, packs a real wallop to the head and stomach causing blinding headaches and constant nausea.
If this were not enough, consider those ice caverns or cracks or whatever they are called that at least once a year (if not more often) some climber falls into, descending to the bottomless pit of frozen blue, never to be seen or heard from again. The other members of the climbing team don't even try to rescue the guy, but just place a bandanna on a stick, plunk it into the ground (in memory of) next to the site of their fallen comrade and place a cellphone call back home to the wife.
All this for the chance to freeze to death once you reach the top and are caught in a blinding snowstorm with sub-zero temperatures that descend in the wink of a cloud's eye. No, thank you.
2. Sky dive. Do I even need to explain this one?
3. Wear a prairie skirt with Birkenstocks and white socks. If your reaction to this is, "Why not?" go immediately to your television set and Tivo TLC's fun fashion makeover show What Not To Wear -- all will become abundantly clear.
These are the things I won't be doing to stretch beyond my comfort zone in 2009, but there are plenty of ways I plan to make scary (good scary) choices in my everyday life in the coming year.
Of course, from this vantage point this is an easy plan to make, but in the hurly burly head-long rush into life, I may have a bad day or two and be tempted to say, "No," even when I ought to say, "Yes," or "Yes" when I should be saying, "No." No worries. Just in case, I have my coffee cup to remind me to break out of my comfort zone and do one thing every day that scares me.
To Break out of your comfort zone, try the following:
- Say yes to something you have always wanted to do, but been afraid to try for fear of failure, rejection or embarrassment.
- Say no to "a sure thing," where you have the security of knowing the outcome but no passion for its pursuit.
- Say yes to a creative challenge, even if (at least for the moment) it does not carry a big financial reward.
- Say no to something you really don't want to do, but are doing anyway out of guilt, fear or shame.
- Say yes to being of service to an individual, an organization or your community -- without expectation of getting something back in return.
Karen Leland is author of the recently released books Time Management In An Instant. She is the co-founder of Sterling Consulting Group. For questions, comments or to book Karen to speak at your next event, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.