For my daughter’s 13th birthday, she gave herself a new relationship with fear.
We were on spring break along the Gulf of Mexico in Florida, in one of those quaint coastal towns where you can still find cow tails and Big League Chew in the tourist shops and speed boats fly huge banners advertising All You Can Eat Crab! specials.
While playing in the water, we couldn’t help but notice the giant, yellow smiley-face parasails off in the distance. I’d watched them with zero interest for decades, but this time, I thought, see if you can get Isabelle (my most serious and risk averse kid) to go. Her big 13th birthday was a few days away, so I impulsively asked her if she’d like to go parasailing together as a birthday present.
Her reply: “No thanks, mom, I’m scared of heights!” My reply: “Great news! I am too, so let’s get over that fear together.” I then read her the great reviews of the company and its attention to safety. To my surprise, she agreed. (She wasn’t thrilled but she wasn’t opposed!)
The next day, as we sat on the back of the boat a mile offshore, strapped in our harnesses about to liftoff several stories high above bluewater, I told her how proud I was of her decision. I said, no matter what, whether you like this or not, you will have a new relationship with heights and all of your fears after this.
Because you will have learned that you are in charge, not your emotions or the limitations you put on yourself.
I needed to hear that just as much, if not more so, than her, but sometimes it’s easier to be brave as a parent when you feel like you’re being courageous for your kids.
Our comfort zone is comfortable and that’s the problem. We get complacent. We think what we’ve got is good enough, and we forget our dreams.
The past three years, I’ve had quite the journey with mine. I have become increasingly aware of, then frustrated by and now actively attacking my comfort zone. I step out of it, then it tries to pull me back in. It feels like a constant battle, and I’m ok with that because I know it’s a sign of progress.
As Daniel Coyle suggests in his book The Talent Code, the only way to deepen skill and to transform ourselves is to push ourselves to the “sweet spot,” that area where we stretch our current mental, spiritual or physical capacity to the point where we have never been before.
That means having a new (sometimes confrontational) relationship with our limitations and fears and also having head-on collisions with failure. If we are constantly pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone and beyond our current abilities, then we are going to fail. We are ASSURED of failures. Do you know what comes with failures?
Pretend for a moment that you’re training for the Olympics. What do you do after you barely lose a race to a competitor? You watch a video of the race, you see what they did, you see what you didn’t do. You’d playback everything you did before the race and during it over and over in your mind and you’d make a list of all the small and big changes you need to make before the next race. That is, if you want WIN the next race.
Learnings come with failures. And learnings lead to new connections in your brain and body, which lead to…you got it, your never-ending improvement.
This is not only true for the hard skills athletes need, it’s true for any improvement in any area of your life that you decide to stretch yourself in — a better relationship, a more fulfilling career, a happier family life, or simply conquering a fear that you’re tired of letting control you.
You can change, and you can get out of your comfort zone in a moment’s notice. You just have to decide to.