30 before 30: Breaking out of Comfort Zones

For most of my life, I was very much a comfort zone sort of person. It all boiled down to wanting to feel in control over my life. I remember signing up for a very popular political philosophy class back in college. I opted to take the class pass-fail, because the content was totally outside my comfort zone and I didn’t feel confident that I knew how to write a successful philosophy paper. So I chose the safe route. Several times in college, I turned down opportunities to go on ski trips, paintball excursions, and other activities I’d never participated in before. I thought I’d fail and make a fool out of myself. So I stayed home. And stuck to whatever I already knew how to do well.

Studying abroad midway through college turned me into a more daring and confident person. There’s something about traveling and living abroad that just does this. During that semester in Paris, I took a giant leap outside my comfort zone one day when I saw a 25 euro plane ticket to Morocco. I bought it before I had time to convince myself not to, something the me of a few months earlier would never have done. That trip changed my life. It made me start to realize that stepping outside my comfort zone, despite all the uncertainty and lack of control that it brings, can be immensely thrilling and rewarding and ultimately make me a better person.

Shortly after college, a friend invited me on a ski trip. I had never been skiing before in my life. A younger me would have turned down the invitation and stayed home in my comfort zone, but I hesitantly agreed to go. I fell on my butt approximately seven thousand times on the bunny slope, then tried to tackle a “real” slope that I wasn’t ready for, panicked and fell getting off the ski lift, fell a lot more times, and finally took off my skis and hiked down the hill. I was cold and frustrated and sore. But you know what matters? I tried it. I said yes. I was scared, but I went out there and I did it.

When you step out of your comfort zone, sometimes you realize things like “Skiing really isn’t my jam and the cozy fire in the ski lodge is where it’s at.” Other times, you discover a new hobby or passion because you weren’t afraid to take that first leap and give it a try.

There’s still a small part of me that tries to push me back into my comfort zone and hold me there whenever new opportunities arise. Here’s how I fight it! My four tips for breaking out of the comfort zone, “daring greatly,” and living life to its fullest:

  1. Think of specific things outside your comfort zone that you wish you were brave enough to do. Write them in a list of goals and set a deadline. Something like a 25-before-25 or 30-before-30 list is perfect!
  2. Commit yourself before you have time to second guess. Buy that skydiving ticket. Register for that 10k. Sign up for that art class. Just do it. Now you’ve signed up and paid: You can’t back out now!
  3. Recruit friends to go with you! If your friends are also new to whatever new adventure you’re pursuing, you won’t feel so self-conscious if you’re terrible at it. If they’re not, they can give you suggestions and support. Plus, including other people means accountability. No backing out or quitting!
  4. Be kind to yourself. If you come in last in your first 5k or paint something hideous in your first art class, so what? You tried! You put yourself out there and did something outside your comfort zone. That’s so empowering. And you can always try again.

Personally, I have three comfort-zone-defying items on my 30 before 30 list that I am currently pursuing:

  1. “Run a half marathon.” I was a swimmer growing up and running was never my thing, but I got into it recently. Thirteen miles is far more than I’ve ever run, though! It’s scary! But I’ve signed up for a race this spring with my husband and family, so I guess this half marathon thing is actually going to happen.
  2. “Learn how to do yoga.” I am probably the most inflexible person in the world. I can’t even touch my toes!! And because of this embarrassing fact, I’ve turned down invitations from friends to join them in yoga classes in the past. But no longer! I tried a series of free sunset yoga classes by the river last summer and loved them. I’m now taking advantage of a “30 days for $30” deal at a yoga studio down the street. I’m slowly becoming more flexible, the instructors are very patient and wonderful, and it’s helping me a lot with stress reduction and self care. And it’s fun!
  3. “Learn to salsa dance.” Okay, I’m a klutz. I am not graceful at all. It takes me a LONG time to figure out and follow dance steps. But after some free community salsa classes in a park last summer, some lessons at the Havana Club this winter, and the company of my awesome hubby, I’m starting to actually get it! I’m realizing that dancing, like pretty much every skill, can be learned. You’re not born with it or without it.

Well, that’s my latest 30 before 30 update! Alright people, let’s go out there and break out of some comfort zones!

 

30 before 30 update: cooking and booking

Since I first wrote up my 30 before 30 list and hung it on my fridge back in June, I have made it a third of the way toward accomplishing goals #9 and #10: Cook 30 new recipes and read 30 new books before my 30th birthday. Here are those recipes and books, for the record, and in case anyone’s interested in checking them out!

I’ve rated the recipes on a scale of one to five stars:

* = yuck, ** = meh, *** = okay but nothing special, **** = pretty good, will probably make again, ***** = yum, yum, delish, will definitely make again

  1. Greek chicken stew with cauliflower and olives from NYT Cooking ****
  2. One Pot Red Lentil Chili from Minimalist Baker *****
  3. Poulet a la creme from Sur La Table ***
  4. Asian lettuce wraps from allrecipes.com*****
  5. Pork tenderloin steaks with wilted cabbage and apples from the Food Network ***
  6. Blueberry Baked Oatmeal from Cookie and Kate ****
  7. Creamy tomato basil tortellini from TipHero *****
  8. Cajun Chicken Pasta from allrecipes.com *****
  9. Shakshuka from Tori Avey *****
  10. Salmon Alfredo Pasta from RecipeTin Eats *****

 

Books I’ve read since making my 30 before 30 list:

  1. Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad. Read this if… you read The Great Gatsby in high school and found yourself thinking, “Every character in this book is a dysfunctional hot mess but I can’t look away and I don’t even know why I like this book but I kind of do.” (I should point out that you will find more punkrockers than roaring twenties speakeasiers in Goon Squad.)
  2. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah. Read this if… you want to dive into complicated questions about race, culture, and identity while reading the work of an author who writes so beautifully that you’ll almost feel disappointed when you get to the last page.
  3. Malcolm Gladwell, Blink. Read this if… You like learning more about what drives human behavior and this fascinatingly weird world.
  4. Esmeralda Santiago, When I Was Puerto Rican. Read this if… you love beautiful memoirs that read almost like fiction.
  5. Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake. Read this if… you’re wrestling with questions about identity, or you’re interested in stories about immigration, coming of age, navigating multiple cultures, and finding oneself.
  6. Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men. Read this if… you’re into fantasy, fairy tales for grown-ups, and/or funny phrases in Scottish accents.
  7. Terry Pratchett, The Shepherd’s Crown. Read this if… you liked The Wee Free Men and want to find out what happens next. (It’s not quite as good, though.)
  8. Lois Lowry, The Giver. Read this if… you like dystopian novels that make you think. This book is basically Brave New World for kids.
  9. Jean Kwok, Girl in Translation. Read this if… you like stories about immigration, coming of age, and overcoming challenges. The last couple of chapters will have you cheering out loud, then holding your breath, and then feeling all the feels.
  10. Ngugi wa Thiongo, A Grain of Wheat. Read this if… you want to know more about African history and literature because it was woefully neglected in your high school curriculum.

30 before 30 update: green thumbs, brown thumbs

Goal #20 on my 30 before 30 list: “Keep a plant alive for more than a year.” This one’s going to be a real challenge for me, people. I have owned many plants over my twenty-seven point something years of existence and they have never managed to survive longer than a few months. You could say I have a brown thumb. I am ze plant killaaa. But I am determined to overcome this challenge.

Two months ago, I bought a succulent and another cactus. I figured I should start at a nice easy level. Succulents are supposed to be hardy and low maintenance, right? Every basic millennial seems to have one, and let’s be real we’ve barely figured out how to feed ourselves and get out of bed in time for work. I can do this.

Here they are, lookin’ pretty with an instagram filter, awww. New plant babies!!!

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Well, that was two months ago. Fast forward. The bigger cactus is looking okay, but the smaller one has some droopy yellow and brownish looking leaves. It looks a bit sickly. I’m thinking the little pretty square glass container I originally planted it in might not have been the best home for it. So my little cactus family has now moved into new homes: less pretty but more functional flower pots with room to grow and drainage holes at the bottom.

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Here’s hoping they hang in there! Because I can’t help thinking of this Dmitri Martin comedy moment: “About a month ago I got a cactus. A week later, it died. I was really depressed because I was like ‘Damn! I am less nurturing than a desert.'”

Too real. Too real.

This ivy thingy, on the other hand, seems to be doing quite well. I was given this one as a housewarming gift and told to throw a cup of water in it every Saturday and otherwise leave it alone. I’ve done that and it’s thriving! This might be my first plant to make it past its first birthday.

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My “30 before 30” list

Because I’m the kind of person who needs to make herself lists like this so I don’t spend the next three years sitting on my couch sipping ginger tea and watching Friends for the fourth time through.

  1. Go to South America.
  2. Run a 10k.
  3. Run a half marathon.
  4. Learn to salsa dance.
  5. Go parasailing, hang gliding, or ziplining.
  6. Write and publish something, anywhere.
  7. Learn to speak Kiswahili. Improve my Spanish.
  8. See the Northern Lights.
  9. Read at least 30 new books.
  10. Cook at least 30 new recipes.
  11. Go to Iran or Cuba.
  12. Learn how to do yoga.
  13. Take a jewelry, pottery, or woodworking class.
  14. Participate in an open mic night.
  15. Road trip out west. See the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Portland, Seattle, LA. (I’ve seen pathetically little of my own country!)
  16. Learn some Kenyan and African history.
  17. Watch all my 2015-2016 ELL 9th graders GRADUATE!!!
  18. Learn how to code. (They say it’s the new literacy?)
  19. Go windsurfing, paddle boarding, or snorkeling.
  20. Keep a plant alive for more than a year.
  21. Have a baby.
  22. Learn the major guitar chords. Be able to play at least 3 songs decently well.
  23. Start seriously saving for a down payment, retirement, etc. Get an IRA. Get better at budgeting.
  24. Bench more than just the bar.
  25. Buy a good camera and learn how to use it.
  26. Learn to make at least five cocktails really well.
  27. Learn to make really good coffee.
  28. Really seriously master makeup, skin care, nails, and dressing myself. Invest in the perfect little black dress, the perfect pair of comfy and gorgeous leather boots that will last for years, and a timeless handbag.
  29. Keep a gratitude jar for a year.
  30. Do at least 30 random acts of kindness for complete strangers.