My Dad is a very practical man; the type that wears socks with sandals. It’s all about the user experience. He’s pretty rational. Only more recently has he begun to grow more attuned to emotion when he’s making decisions or giving advice.
I, on the other hand, am pretty emotional; always have been. My brother once put it as “you’re the Niagara Falls of emotion, and I’m the Hoover Damn”.
We laugh about it now, but this mismatch of emotional acuteness between some of my family members and I often lead to a lot of tension; especially between me and my dad. I just couldn’t understand why he did some of the things that he did. And he likewise, probably couldn’t understand why I couldn’t understand.
As I grew older, I developed the vocabulary to express and explain my emotions in a way that would be digestible to him. In hindsight, I think there could have been better means to get to the same end. But I guess we’ll never know. Now, I can definitely see the benefits of some of the things that he did.
He threw me into the deep end time and time again, and with time, I’ve learned to embrace being out of my comfort zone. Here is one story that I remember particularly vividly, and more importantly, the things that I learned from this experience in the deep end.
The Ski Trip en Français
To give you a little bit more context, my dad’s way of getting sand out of my hair and ears after a morning at the beach was to tip me upside down, put my head under the sea and swirl me around. I wasn’t even five years old. He’d just tell me to breathe in, hold my nose, and in I went. This was Spain…there’s running water… see what I mean about the means to the end?
I was born in Bilbao, in the north of Spain, and when I was five, my parents decided to move to Chester, in the UK. It was a temporary adventure, long enough for my siblings and me to learn English, and then we went back to Spain one year later. When I was almost nine, they did it again…they always asked, but the question was rhetorical. Despite not wanting to move, we went back to Chester.
When I was in my first year of high school, my parents decided that French was next. My dad picked a tiny town in the south of Belgium to guarantee that hardly anyone would speak English or Spanish, and off we went.
It was a weird age for me. I was almost 12, and whilst it would have been my first year of high-school in the UK, it was equivalent to the last year of primary school under the European system. It was the start of the awkward phase, where for the first time in my life I was becoming self-aware of everything about myself, and increasingly self-conscious.
I hadn’t spent five days at my new school when my parents announced that they had signed me up to a 2-week class ski trip in the French Alps. I would leave that very night at 12:00 am…I didn’t speak French, I had barely had time to make friends, I didn’t know how to ski, and oh yeah — I didn’t want to go!
My Mum, my brother, and my sister came to wave me off, as I boarded a double-decker night coach with my new classmates. I didn’t have a mobile phone at this age so my feeling of desperation was very real. The only aid I had was a French-English pocketbook dictionary that my Mum had gifted me that Christmas (which, in hindsight, should have sparked suspicion); the first word I looked up was: “au secours” — it means help.
I cried so hard and my stress levels were so high that I had a fever for the first couple of days. But I kept reminding myself of a phrase that my dad had told me before I left:
“In the end, you’ll see that you’ll enjoy it; you’ll be glad you went.”
And to my surprise, I was. Not that this was a particularly traumatic event objectively; thousands of kids would love to go skiing! But my subjective perception was that for the first time, I was completely on my own, and not being able to communicate made me all the more afraid. That being said, by the end of the two weeks, I had picked up French way quicker than my siblings had back home. Plus, I made friends, and I had fun!
It taught me to appreciate that the biggest learning opportunities are those that lie outside of our comfort zones.
“The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.” ― Roy T. Bennett
In particular, here are some of the benefits I consider to be true when you take yourself out of your comfort zone and throw yourself into the deep end:
1. You’re forced to self-reflect.
I wasn’t even 12 years old when this happened. Feeling isolated and unable to communicate with anyone else made me seek for answers to my problems within myself. At a pretty young age, it taught me to self-reflect and be resourceful. Perhaps I was making this seem worse than it was…
“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” — Anais Nin
2. You learn to self-soothe.
I had always had someone around me to ask for help and compassion when I was feeling down. Whether it was one of my parents, a sibling, a friend, or a teacher in school…here, I had people around me, but I barely knew how to ask them to pass the salt, never mind express how I was feeling. So I found ways to self-soothe; I would go for short walks whilst listening to music, and I wrote postcards to my grandparents back in Spain, because –
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”― Steve Maraboli
3. You become more aware of the positives.
I was going to be there for two weeks no matter what I did. I could choose to be sad and frightened, or I could choose to see the positive things that this trip had to offer. At the very least, it was going to be a learning experience. It was an opportunity to learn how to ski (although I spent most of the trip with rackets on my feet, playing games in the snow), I was surely going to make friends, learn to speak French, the views were beautiful, the weather was great…
Even now I try to apply this to my daily life. Every morning before I get out of bed, I meditate for five minutes and give thanks for the things I’m grateful for. I write in my ‘Five Minute Journal’, in which I set my intentions for the day and kick the day off on a positive note.
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” — Helen Keller
4. You learn new skills.
When you know how to do something, it’s unlikely to be scary. You’re likely to be confident in your ability, and familiar with the surroundings. It’s when you’re in a new environment, and you’re presented with a challenge that you feel unsettled, perhaps nervous or even frightened. This is what being out of your comfort zone feels like. You don’t know what to do or how to do it. The good news is that by the end of the experience, the chances are that you will.
“Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end…because in the end, it shows you a whole new world.” — Manoj Arora
5. You become more empathetic.
Other people around you will also go through tough times. And having overcome personal struggles yourself, you’ll be better able to provide wise words of advice. Oftentimes people don’t share their problems for fear that others won’t understand; they might feel ashamed to admit how they feel. But as Brené Brown explained in her powerful book ‘Daring Greatly’:
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.”
Life is short, and the opportunities are endless. So don’t be afraid to be afraid. In fact…
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” — Eleanor Roosevelt