Many years ago, my favorite college professor told my class that great things can only be accomplished once we were able to go outside of our comfort zone into what he called the courage zone. This courage zone was a place where fears were faced and risks were taken. It was a place where true growth could occur.
Even though I was young at the time, I could only imagine myself living a life where I was in the courage zone, not sitting on the sidelines watching life go by. The years after college didn’t pan out as I had expected, and there were many interruptions in my plans to live life the way I had thought I would. But, over the past three years, that attitude from sophomore year of college has come back, and I finally have been able to challenge myself more. Now I can honestly say that I live more of my life in the courage zone than in my comfort zone. And, most of that has been done thanks to travel.
Travel is an obvious place to break free from the normal confinements of life. It can be full of adventure and opportunities to take risks. And, it is the perfect time to grow and change because you feel completely alive and free. Which is why, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to put down my suitcases permanently. Whether it’s flying half way around the world to meet up with relatives I barely know or spending twenty-one days camping in southern Africa, I’m always willing push myself to new limits.
However, my most recent dilemma has been that I have not traveled since September, all in an effort to make Africa happen. So, I’ve found that there’s little opportunity for me to bridge the gap between comfort zone and courage zone.
That was until the beginning of 2012, when one encounter on New Year’s Eve changed everything. I met Jeff that night, and he has taught me that you don’t always have to be away from home to reach your courage zone. This was all something new to me, but since Jeff has been in my life, I have been able to go beyond my comfort zone on many occasions and learn more about myself in the process.
And, so, when Jeff surprised me with ice skating this weekend, I knew that I had to fully embrace my newest opportunity to face a long-lasting fear. To many, ice skating may seem like an enjoyable activity, one welcomed with open arms. But, that was not the case for me. As much as I loved ice skating as a child, that all changed when I realized that I could fall and actually get hurt. Which is why, after one last attempt at ice skating in college, I vowed never to step on ice again.
But, here I was with an incredible opportunity literally at my feet. Surrounded by the most beautiful scenery at Mohonk Mountain House in a surprisingly empty rink, there could not be a better time for me to take the challenge and face my fears. Plus, I knew with Jeff by my side, there was no way I would fall.
As we put on our skates, I was immediately grateful that no one else was on the rink, and with an end goal in mind – sitting by the fire with hot chocolate in my hands – I was ready to take on the ice. Carefully, we walked outside, and I began to feel the anxiety take over my body. I could feel my breathing quicken and a heaviness on my chest. I took my first step onto the ice, one hand on the rail, and slowly moved my other foot to follow it, even though my body was fighting the motion.
And, that’s when I felt it, the rush of breaking out of my comfort zone and facing a fear. It was not unlike how I felt while tiger petting in Thailand or crossing the road in Vietnam. That immediate fear of death, followed by the excitement of facing something that terrifies you.
Now, I realize that comparing ice skating to a near-death situation, like getting close and personal with tigers or navigating Saigon’s insane traffic patterns, may seem absurd to you, but my fear of ice skating ranks up there with those experiences. For years, I could never understand why anyone in their right mind would skate on frozen water with thin metal blades. It just didn’t make sense to me, until I actually tried it again. And, even though my initial feelings on the ice were not unlike those of an anxiety attack, after a few circles around the rink, I began to feel more confident on the ice. I even attempted skating on my own! Though, that didn’t last for long.
After about an hour of skating, we sat by the fire drinking hot chocolate as I reflected upon my experience. It may not have happened on the other side of the planet and it may not have involved a new language or cultural experience, but I did get to face a fear that has been around for almost ten years. And, aside from realizing that it was possible to break out of my comfort zone at home, I am actually looking forward to ice skating again in the near future. My perspective has been completely transformed, and that is what breaking into your courage zone is truly about.