Let’s all face it: six hours in a car on a highway with a meowing (pleading) cat is not a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. Sadly, this was my first Saturday of Thanksgiving break. In an attempt to quell the boredom I listened to a good chunk of the audiobook, “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” by Mark Batterson. It’s a Christian book, focusing on one tiny verse about chasing lions and how this can be applied in our lives to be better people and better followers of Christ. It was adamantly recommended to me by a few of my friends and I can certainly see why.
I hit a particularly juicy part of the book when Mark gave this little yummy:
The greatest experiences are often the scariest and the scariest experiences are often the greatest.
Pause button. Without moving outside of your comfort zone and facing risks, how do you know what you’re capable of?
Anyone who enters the threshold of my apartment will see the mound of workout DVDs I have. I’m far too lazy to bike alllllll the way over to McComas for some futile ellipticalling while watching “Good Morning America” and “Kelly and Michael”. I’m shameless. Instead I choose things like Insanity where I’m doing burpees until I just want to lay down and die. One thing that is constantly yelled at me through my television speakers is “you have to push past your comfort zone to see results”. But.. but.. I like being comfy! Bring on the sweatpants. It’s a mental battle every time.
I relish running races, not for the 3-6 miles of pavement pounding and dodging in and out of fellow masochists, but for the last 0.1-2 miles. I keep a steady pace through the course, nothing special and making sure I’m not going too fast too early. But when I see that 3 mile (5K) or the 6 mile (10K) sign, it’s time. Book it. It hurts, it is uncomfortable, but this is where I make a difference in my race. I pass people that came too fast out the gate that have nothing left and have that intense rushing sense of accomplishment when I pass the finish line, PR-ing just barely below my goal. It’s a rush. To see results, you have to get off the couch. Push past what you’re comfortable with. Move outside of your norms.
Riding focuses heavily on this concept. Heck, if I never went outside of my comfort zone I would have NEVER gotten on a horse in the first place! That’s 1,000+ lbs of muscle.. and an independent brain operating it. Over the break my sister offered to pay for a lesson with Ashley, the trainer back in Georgia. I spent all morning long in anxious anticipation for my lesson. I knew Ashley was good: she saw idiosyncrasies in my riding habits that were weak. She challenges me to face things that I don’t want to do. To add to this, Spirit gets excessively hot in the ring which means I need to think about fine-tuning myself, mentally keep my nervousness undetectable, and keep Spirit under control. Anxious and tense rider immediately translates into an anxious horse. Pushing outside of my comfort zone paid off. The lesson went extremely well and Ashley made me do some jumping with Spirit that I wasn’t comfortable with. Spirit requires her rider to drive all the way to the base of the jump- she doesn’t decide to jump a few strides out….. Dakota does. Spirit forced me to stay back and wait for the motion. To add to this, Ashley asked me keep my hands open, leaving myself unable to balance using my hands on her neck over the fence. It was uncomfortable but ultimately it was what I needed to shape me into a better rider.
Riding is a lot of “lion chasing”. I see weaknesses that Dakota and I have…. and try to work on them. The moment she shys at something, likely a barrel with an insatiable appetite for equine flesh, I will hustle her little tushy over to it and we spend the bulk of our ride there, desensitizing her. Can it be scary approaching it? Absolutely. Is it comfortable having the beast keeping you from embracing the ground tense up with every muscle underneath your body? Absolutely not. If I didn’t force both of us outside our comfort zone she would never improve.
I’ll never forget the day that Hope galloped for the first time. It was a beautiful spring day, the sun licking the grass as Dakota and I walked out to the coined “galloping field”. My friend Lexi had recently given young Hope a lesson on her mare, Magic, and Hope learned to canter. Lexi had to work, so I was left with Hope and Magic in the field. I had determined my plans to work Dakota on the hills, running up and walking down over and over. Think hill work for runners. Hope nervously asked to try to gallop, something I wasn’t too keen on given the fact that she just learned to canter. I watched her ride around to see how comfortable I would feel endorsing her running full-tilt through a field with Dakota who notoriously tends to lose control at a full gallop. Her attitude tends to catch onto other horses. Hope had a good seat and she was so eager I couldn’t let her down.
Ready, set, GO! Dakota immediately snagged the bit from my hands, hardening her mouth. There was zero chance of me stopping this mare until we reached the top, her “finish line”. I knew she was a good girl and would stop… eventually… so I relaxed, looking over at Hope on Magic for damage control. I can still see, ingrained in my mind, her smile from ear to ear as she zoomed up the grassy slope without a care in the world. Her fear was overcome with adrenaline and glee. Magic’s tail was straight up in the air and her ears forward as she launched her copper colored body up and up. Reaching the top, both mares snorted loudly as if to let all the other horses know how proud they were of their accomplishment. Hope looked over at me, breathless. “It was like a movie! I.. I was running.. and you.. you were running. And we.. we were GALLOPING!” At the beginning of the day this little girl was scared to canter, and by the end she was galloping. All because she pushed outside of her comfort zone. A small price for a great reward of accomplishment.
Without pushing past these comfort zones we wouldn’t experience the rush of adrenaline as we’re doing something stupid, crossing that finish line, or even seeing our name in print for the first time. Grad school itself is uncomfortable. “Where is my funding coming from? Am I supposed to be researching this much.. or should I do more? Is this pointless? Will my advisor approve? What if I don’t pass prelims? Why did I choose to do this? Is it worth it? What if I FAIL my defense? WHAT AM I DOING WITH MY LIFE?” These are daily thoughts. Without pushing past the comfort zone, that little paper from the University won’t show up on the wall.
Get busy living or get busy dying. Andy says these words to his inmate, Red, just before planning his big escape in Shawshank Redemption. Fantastic movie, by the way- highly recommended. Hollywood worlds it so simply, laced with the gorgeous soundtrack to add finesse, but the core message is the same.
If you aren’t living you are dying… living doesn’t happen inside the comfort bubble.