I was recently exhorted to move outside my comfort zone by an anonymous "they." Actually not totally anonymous because while I was peripherally in the know about this person, they don't know me at all, so it was an exhortation to the anonymous masses, of which I happened to be one at the time. The interesting thing to me is that I perceive myself as tending to push the limits of my comfort zone, after all two of my primary hobbies are performance based and tend to put me out there in exposed situations. But as I thought about the exhortation, I thought about what my comfort zone is and what makes it comfortable, or not.
Around the same time a friend posted her musings about her writing and publishing and agents, or lack thereof, and getting confirmation that what she is doing is worth the huge investment she has made. It occurred to me that pushing your boundaries or taking the leap to do what you love and taking the risk involves intestinal fortitude on your own behalf, but also some confirmation that you have something of value to offer the world. After all, no matter how much I may love the work, patenting a new screw top lid to a bottle may not be the best use of my energy and dedication.
In the first case, my exhorter was encouraging people to take action to make their little piece of the world a better place ... to join a community of people working on a task within an organization to make things run. Pick any organization, a social club, a community center, a church, 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts...you name it, and there are committees within the organization that need people to make things happen. This is the exhortation I was hearing. Find an action that appeals to you, join up and do it! And this was considered to be working outside people's comfort zone or pushing personal limits. I understood why I didn't understand. This is what I do all the time. I have to set limits so that I don't get eaten alive by hungry groups. I pick and choose my actions to correspond to my needs, to those areas where I feel the need to grow. This type of involvement does not threaten my feeling of comfort.
So what does? My friend touched on it with her post - what is uncomfortable is not knowing whether what you do is worthwhile or an effort in developing a new screw top lid. On some level, we need to do what we love and if we love it enough, we will take the leap to try to make it happen. But on another level, we need to know that we are on the right track. Or we need to know that there was a pebble we missed when we were looking under rocks for treasure. We need guidance and encouragement and honesty. Perhaps that's a "duh" statement.
Because I look for honesty in people's comments about my work, I am continually frustrated that the things I find easy in life (the join up and work stuff) gets all the praise and commendation. The things that I truly love in life tend to be met with silence. All sorts of things run through my head when met with these silences. A big one being, "If you can't say something nice, don't say it at all." Perhaps this saying is precisely why I tend to voice my opinion, it's that golden rule thing. I would rather someone said something to me that was helpful in finding that perfect pebble than have them worry about hurting my feelings.
Another thing that runs through my head, and this is when I'm feeling optimistic, is that people don't say anything because they can't. I think, well maybe what I'm doing is so far outside their realm of experience that we don't have a point of resonance. In other words, that they are in some way intimidated because they can't relate. And that is the edge of my comfort zone, right there. How do I engage the people that intimidate me so that I can progress and learn from them or the opportunities that may arise? How do I reach out for those opportunities that I want to take advantage of when I hate feeling like I'm selling myself as a bill of goods that may not have any substance? In short, how do I know that what I do beyond the join up and work stuff is worth anything?
I obviously don't have the answers for myself. I am still utterly reliant on the rest of the world to tell me their opinion regarding my own efforts. I have to continue taking my leaps of faith in a vacuum. But it is a good reminder that I need to be aware of where others may be stretching their boundaries and needing the occasional or not so occasional good word and bear in mind that sometimes silence is a version of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it."