As humans I think we all love a good Comfort Zone. That wonderful place that fits us perfectly. A lovely corner of the world where there is no fear or anxiety. There is also no growth.
In order to get where you want to be in anything you have to stretch your arms wide and bust out of the comfort zone. In that process there will be fear, there will be anxiety, and there will be growth. Gross, uncomfortable growth.
I first tried my hand at running in 2007, when I quit smoking. Just getting outside was a stretch out of my comfort zone but during one particular race I learned the joy of discomfort.
As a city dwelling non-driver for several years I look public transportation everywhere. On my 35th birthday I was doing the North Kingstown 5K. NK is a good distance from the city but I could take a bus there. I’m comfortable riding the bus so I was confident I could get there.
As an overweight, unathletic person who smoked for 18 years and was smoke free for only 5 months we could say that running (also known as slow, miserable walking with a smattering of jogging) was a challenge for me. Every time I hit about 2 miles I experienced the most painful shin splints. Every time that happened I would immediately stop.
September 8, 2007. It was a clear and crisp morning. I jumped my freshly turned 35 year old body out of bed, eagerly put in my race clothes, and headed to the bus. The ride was over an hour and in my confidence of riding the bus I didn’t double check my stop. I knew where I was going. Correction. I thought I knew where I was going. I ended up missing my stop. The driver told me which way to go to get to the high school and time was running out. I was going to have to high tail it to make it to the start in time.
My adrenaline was high! I took off from that bus and raced to the school. I knew when I must’ve hit about 2 miles because I felt the fire in my shins. I wanted this race. I needed it. I needed to be healthier. I needed to get there. I had something to prove to myself! I pressed on.
Then something happened that changed me. As I approached the long driveway to the school I noticed my shins stopped hurting but I couldn’t dwell on it. I had to keep going to pick up my bib. I arrived in time to pin my race bib to my shirt and I heard the start pistol.
For the first time this race was entirely pleasurable. I was relaxed and my body felt ready to go. I finished NOT last for the first time and did the 3.2 Mile course in under an hour. Most runners can complete the course in about 28 minutes and elite runners in 15 minutes but breaking the hour mark was huge for me! (2007 NK5K race results- Regina Foster)
When I got home I looked at where I got off the bus to get to the race. Turns out I went farther than a 5K to GET to the 5K! The beauty of that was discovering that if I pushed through the discomfort of my shin splints I could go farther and faster than I ever thought.
As I venture deeper in my karate studies I’m reminded of that memory. Karate is like a Master Class of Comfort in Discomfort but I’m getting better with it. I’m learning to just stretch my arms wide and edge out of my Comfort Zone.
To advance in a belt rank there are certain requirements we have to know. As we learn them we also have the opportunity to learn techniques above our rank. The first time Sensei called a kata that I had never done I felt an intense panic envelope me.
I don’t know this!
I will look like an idiot!
Can I somehow get out of here?
Learning by making a series of large and embarrassing mistakes has never been my strong suit. My anxiety hits a high point and I just want to stop. Very similar to a shin splint at 2 miles in 2007!
On Monday night I had my first true moment of comfort in discomfort with karate. We started with the basic kata and slowly started advancing. When we reached the first one that I only knew a part of I was surprisingly calm. I’ll confidently do the part I know and then I will watch and just do what I can. I did just that and I was fine. I figured that Sensei would probably involve the entire class for another one before breaking us into groups by rank.
We continued into the unknown and I did what I could follow and I didn’t panic. I didn’t feel stupid. I knew nothing at all and had no anxiety about it which was nothing short of miraculous. I was lobstering out of my comfort zone.
The shells of lobsters don’t grow. When they become too tight the lobster must molt. It sheds the shell and must wait – completely vulnerable – for the new shell to grow. The lobster hides knowing the dangers all around it but also knowing that without this time of vulnerability it cannot grow.
I want to grow and to do that I will have to continue being uncomfortable, continue stretching myself into the unknown, and continue to risk being completely vulnerable while molting out of my comfort zone in order to get there.