30 before 30: The most empowering thing you can do is the thing you think you can’t do

Intelligence is malleable. You do not have an innate, fixed level of intelligence. You can make yourself smarter. You’re not born good at math or good at writing or good at science. You can make yourself good at any of these things. You just have to work hard and believe in yourself.

As a young teacher, I was told to impress these ideas upon my students, and I understand why. Expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies, and for kids to be successful at school, it is crucial for them to believe that they can.

But do we, as teachers, live out these ideas in our own lives? I don’t think we do. And I think that’s problematic, because kids learn by example more than anything else.

See, we think we buy into the idea that anyone can be successful through hard work and persistence and believing in oneself, as we repeat that mantra over and over to our students. But we’re forgetting that many of us, as teachers, have always been more or less “good” at school. We’ve never really struggled to believe that academic success is attainable to anyone through effort, sticking with it, and never giving up. But when it comes to other things, outside of academics, we all absolutely do buy into the idea that there are certain things we just inherently can’t do.

For some of us, that’s art. I can’t draw. I can barely draw stick figures! I’m not artistic.

For others, it’s foreign languages. Never been my thing.

Or music. I sing in the shower, but that’s it, and just be glad you’re not around to hear that!

Or sports. I’m slow and clumsy.

We tell our students they can be successful in math class if they work hard enough and believe in themselves, then turn around and tell our adult friends that we can’t draw or swimming’s just not our thing or we just don’t have the such and such talent or we’re just not made for blah blah blah.

For me, that thing was running. For most of my life, I firmly believed I was incapable of running more than a mile without stopping. Shaking that mindset in my twenties and running my first 5k was one of the most exciting, freeing, and empowering things I’ve ever done, and a few weeks ago, I ran my first half marathon.

So here’s my challenge for my fellow teachers: Identify one of those things you always casually say you “can’t” do, and resolve to do it. Not only will you get a huge confidence boost when you soar past your own self-imposed limits, but you just might be able to inspire a few reluctant students.

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!