In which the fledgling spreads its wings and pushes off

There is a point at which the young bird looks over the edge of the nest and thinks, “I wonder…?”

So the other day I boarded the bus to go home, and the only seats that were available were the ones that faced sideways. Normally I avoid these seats because, well, I don’t like riding sideways. However, I didn’t have any other choices, so I sat in the sideways-facing seat. I soon discovered that this was a totally different sensation from sitting in the forward-facing seats and as the bus plowed through traffic, lurched through intersections and darted in and out of the stops (the driver was a bit reckless) it occurred to me that I was using a completely different set of core muscles to hold myself upright. I felt the starts and stops of the vehicle far stronger than when I sat facing forward. No dozing off for a nap here, or I would end up in a heap on the floor.

By stepping outside of my comfort zone, I was dealing with an entirely different set of variables.

Not that I would want to start sitting sideways on the bus as a daily core exercise, but it might be useful to move out of my comfort zone once in a while.

What does that have to do with the fledgling bird? Well, no matter how safe or comfortable a nest is, eventually the bird has to do something different and leave its comfort zone to spread its wings and fly, even if there is a danger of falling.

There is a reason it is called the “Comfort Zone”. By adapting to a comfort zone, the mind and body use only the minimum amount of effort it needs to maintain that level of comfort, because that is the easy way out.

While that is all well and good, there is no forward progress made from inside a comfort zone.

Being a writer is all about working outside of your comfort zone. All. The. Time.

Great stories – as with great art or music – are created out of difficult situations by pushing past the safe, comfortable places in the soul in order to reach into the dark places. Great writing taps into those dark depths of the human soul and that is what connects the reader to the story.

Once a story is written, a writer must then face the fear of rejection and find a publisher or an agent in order to submit a piece to be published, especially if he or she is a first-time submitter. Finding a publisher or agent takes time and effort – usually a great deal of it – and this is not comfortable.

Once a piece is published, the writer may be exposed to ridicule and even anger or persecution. But if something is worth saying, it must be said and taking the easy way out won’t accomplish anything.

For me, moving outside of a comfort zone sometimes means actually making myself do some writing. As a writer that also has a full-time job, my comfort zone after work is a cozy spot on my sofa with a plate of dinner, a glass of wine and re-runs of Star Trek on TV. Since I have all the seasons of three different Star Trek series on disk, this is a very difficult comfort zone to break out of when I am trying to force myself to get some writing done. Like Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship and begging his deafened crew to release him, I struggle against the irresistible lure that is the Siren’s song of Star Trek’s opening theme. But upon those rocky shores lies creative shipwreck.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch summed it up beautifully by stating: “The further you get away from yourself, the more challenging it is. Not to be in your comfort zone is great fun.”

Taking a chance is the surest way to step outside of your comfort zone and challenge everything you are. It is also the surest way to find out what you are capable of and how far you can actually go. It’s like weight-lifting wherein you don’t build muscles by lifting the same weights all the time.

Everyone has different definitions of what their comfort zone encompasses. Challenging your comfort zone might be as extreme as jumping out of an airplane with a parachute or speaking in front of a large crowd, or as basic as leaving the house and getting on a bus, or meeting new people at a social gathering. I am one of those humans who are uncomfortable with meeting new people because I embrace the term “introvert” with unwavering zeal. Social gatherings are one of my comfort zone challengers. Moving forward as a writer is another.

Perhaps, as a writer, challenging your comfort zone means setting your intention by simply stating, “I am a writer.”

When I was a kid, I fell off a swing set and cracked my left elbow (there is some debate as to whether or not I was pushed, but my sister and I have never come to a consensus on that one). I didn’t have a cast, but my arm was in a sling for a very long time. Part of my physiotherapy was for me to be able to touch my left hand to my right shoulder. Since this was the most painful thing in the world, I avoided it at all costs, much to the frustration of my doctor. Every day, I had to try to reach half an inch higher on my right arm until I could touch my shoulder. That became the all-consuming challenge of my existence and it seemed like that pain would be with me forever. Every day, I was moving out of my comfort zone a half an inch at a time. After what seemed like 100 years, when I was finally able to touch my right shoulder, it was a huge deal. But then, everything is a huge deal when you are nine years old.

I learned a valuable concept in those weeks: success is not always easy or comfortable and it is sometimes accomplished a half an inch at a time.

When you use new muscles and try new things, your brain builds new pathways and you become stronger, mentally, emotionally and physically.

Challenges come in all shapes and sizes and often have to do with facing fears or pain. Addressing that fear and pain through writing can definitely push a writer out of that comfort zone, but it can also open a conduit to incredible personal and creative potential.

Finding the courage to take that chance and address a challenging issue, step beyond a situation that no longer serves you or to try something you have always wanted to do opens the door to a whole new world that you never knew existed, with endless possibilities and unlimited potential. Healing occurs, growth happens, magic is made and a new life begins.

When you do finally leave your comfort zone, spread those wings and step out of the nest, you will be amazed to discover that you can indeed fly.