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Comfort Zones

Everyone has a comfort zone or two… or a ten. It’s not an inherently bad thing to have them; it’s perfectly human to be drawn towards familiar, comfortable things. It only becomes dangerous when we never leave those things. Lately I’ve more readily admitted my own comfort zones to myself, and I’ve also made more of a conscious effort to break out of them once or twice. Acceptance is the first step to recovery, after all.

Take last weekend, for example. I went on a service immersion trip with my service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega, to Hendersonville, North Carolina. Not only had I never previously been to Hendersonville, I also had practically zero experience with the environmental conservation work we were going to do. I was terrified the whole way there that I was going to mess something up and almost started to wish I’d just stayed home. Well, turns out I had no reason to fear— we worked hard, had fun doing it, and learned so much. I was more than glad I went.

One moment of the trip that really stood out to me was when David, a volunteer from the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, took us down a little forested path to see the bog which our efforts helped to protect. We’d been cutting down invasive bamboo stalks all morning and afternoon, and things were starting to feel a bit monotonous as we neared the home stretch of our workday. It may sound odd that the sight of a tiny wetland area, which frankly looked a lot like a large puddle, boosted all our spirits, but it did— because David’s passion for protecting it was just so evident.

I’ve thought often of that moment since returning to Blacksburg. Not so much because I have a newfound zest for bog protection, but because every single one of us on the trip agreed that the way David talked about his work, the way he cares for it so deeply, made us all care, too. That’s the thing about comfort zones— everyone has them, so if you step out of yours, you’re stepping into someone else’s. You’ll have the chance to share with them whatever it is that they love. You won’t be alone. And everything is so much less scary when you’re with another person.

In order to get my degree of choice, I have to read and write a lot of things that I’m not exactly comfortable with, or at least things I wouldn’t have chosen on my own time. I’m trying to take it all in stride, especially in light of my little detour to North Carolina. You only get to do college once, and besides, for every essay or poem that I’m simply uninterested in, someone else is overjoyed. When those moments come along, I try to sit back and listen, hopefully coming to at least understand why others love the things they do, even if I can’t relate. And sometimes I’m surprised to find that I can relate, if only I shift my perspective.

David and his tiny, beloved bog in Hendersonville reminded me that it’s worthwhile to occasionally walk outside your own comfort zone and just bask in the light of someone else’s. You may even find that you want to stay a while.

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