Gruyere Cheese and Life Outside My Comfort Zone
I need Gruyere cheese for the French Onion soup I want to make tomorrow. I grab my shopping bag, some Euro, my coat, and my keys from the magnetic hook by the door. It's another dreary, cold day here in Stuttgart. As I’m walking it starts spitting a mix of drizzle and snow. I've lived here for almost 2 years now, I've learned a thing or two, and so my most recent winter coat purchase was a smart one...I have a hood and I use it. At this point, I'm bored with myself over complaining about the weather so I just sigh and accept it. My walk is a short one to the Bio store. I know where to find the Gruyere here now and find it quickly. One small problem, there is only the giant wedge of what must have been an enormous wheel of it. Shit. I start scanning the case to see if there is another brand of Gruyere cheese with the smaller, already wrapped and ready to go portions like all the other cheeses. No luck. Shit. Deep breath, here it goes. I look for someone to help me. I successfully get someone's attention (to those of you that don't live here, it's hard for me to properly explain what a victory this is), request drei hundert grams, stop her when she starts to slice it into thin slices and explain I want it as a single chunk, and pay. I do this all with smiles and it is a pleasant exchange. I am halfway home when it dawns on me what just happened. A year ago this would not have gone down this way. I probably would have said, screw it, picked a different cheese, and then been annoyed that I "had" to use a cheese that wasn't what I really wanted. Or maybe I would have tried, I've done that a lot too, but not really knowing what I was doing yet meant it would have been an unpleasant exchange.
I know this all seems so trivial, but for me it was such a nice moment of feeling almost at home here…almost. My German is still atrocious. But after so much upheaval, change and not always feeling at home over the last few years (all for a number of reasons, not just being an expat); it was the nicest feeling of peace and "normalcy" to realize, hey, I just did that. That just happened AND it was pleasant. It wasn't a stressful scene of annoyance and irritation with me. I mean I pretty much laugh off most of those at this point, but it's still there, that feeling of "not normal", not comfortable, not home.
There are many adjustments that have happened, particularly over the last 2 years, that have gone a similar course, and I realized this is a lesson on how it goes for most all the things we do that push us outside our comfort zone. It takes time, but we WILL feel "normal" and comfortable again. We will master that new thing, new job, or new skill that is giving us trouble right now. When we persist, accept the failure and discomfort as part of the learning process, and stick with it we will get comfortable again. Then, if we're smart, we'll look for that next thing that will push us out of our comfort zone. We'll look for what calls to us now, that will help us continue to learn and grow (after a little rest first of course).
As old Red says in Stephen King’s book The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Are you coasting along in your comfort zone? What is that thing you keep thinking you would like to learn or try? Is it a writing or art class, maybe a language you want to learn? A sport you want to try? A business you want to start? A promotion you want to go for? A cause you care about and want to get more involved in? Maybe someone you want to meet? That idea you have for a product, service or book? Are you settling for less than you know you're capable of?
Or maybe you're in the middle of massive change and living entirely outside your comfort zone? If so, I hope you'll stop to congratulate yourself on being brave enough to make the leap. And take heart in knowing you're going to look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.
There are so many ways big and small that we can keep ourselves more fully engaged, alive and happy. Take a new route to work, try a new restaurant or recipe, or change things up in any number of ways. Listen to that little voice inside that wants you to step out of the tried and true, to listen to your heart.
You don't have to sell most everything you own, attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, travel cross country to live in AZ, only to decide it's just "too brown", and move back East. Or quit your rather successful career of 17 years with one company, move to a country where you don't speak the language, and put yourself out there like never before by starting your own business. Only crazy people do these kinds of things all at once. But you know what; you can if you really want to. Know that. There is so much you can do if you'll allow it. Don't get me wrong, I know it can be tough and get ugly at times! I've had more than one meltdown along the way...and then I take a breath, tweak my approach where I need to, and keep going. When you decide and commit, you will find your way. And before you know it you'll have the profound sense of accomplishment and joy you get when you realize, hey, I just did that.
I wish you much happiness, success and joy...and failure and discomfort. I know you've heard it, that if we're not failing some of the time then we're not putting ourselves out there and trying hard enough. But Seth Godin is right, perfect (whatever that means really) and "fitting in" is boring. Life is way too short for boring. Don't you agree? Or is all this outside your comfort zone? ;-)