One of my most vivid childhood memories is being driven to a piano exam and wondering why on earth I was being subjected to this feeling of utter dread. It was like an out-of-body experience. You’re going along with the whole thing, playing the event out, but looking down at yourself and questioning what the exact point of it all is. Who cared if I could play Fur Elise or sing a B sharp? In the higher order of life wasn’t it just superfluous? So why put myself through it.
I did do it by the way. And passed in spite of my pitchy notes. And since then I’ve had many more of these out-of-body moments, when you feel like running for the hills. Like the time I was heavily pregnant with my second and midway through giving a presentation to a room bursting with high profile clients I suddenly lost my flow. Inside I had a full on conversation with myself which went something like ‘what am I talking about, I have absolutely no idea what’s coming next, maybe if I run out of the door no-one will even notice, ok I’m going to run, I’m doing it’. Of course I didn’t run. But stood there instead left knee shaking and stuttering for what felt like forever then blamed it on my pregnancy brain. At least I had an excuse on that occasion.
More recently I agreed to go on radio to talk about this blog among other things. I didn’t give it much thought until I was sat flicking frantically through the papers needing to find some interesting news items to discuss live on air. All I could find was a picture of a cute turtle! Then the panic hit. The beating heart, the dry mouth. Naively, I’d told a whole bunch of people to listen in too. And I wasn’t allowed to swear on air or my friend could be fired. So of course I was going to swear. Again I was left wondering why I had signed myself up for it. Suddenly I was sat there sporting a ginormous pair of headphones, mouth up to a mic and listening to the countdown. ‘And today’s guest is’…great, no time to run.
Getting out of our comfort zone is said to be good for us. It pushes us to discover new experiences. For someone who hates that feeling of uncertainty and unease, true to my Cancerian crab status, I frequently seem to put myself in these un-comfortable situations and find myself questioning my motives. At nearly 40 isn’t safe the best option?
Take my career to date. I’ve had a couple of comfortable jobs. My last one in Geneva was the luxury yacht of comfort. It was like getting cosy in your pjs then snuggling on the sofa with a cup of tea and a good book. It actually involved books. Lots of them and kids asking me to read the latest Walliam’s yarn. The one about the boy who’s ball of bogeys was the size of the moon! And I’d listen to radio 4 while covering books. Bliss. But now, somehow I’m found myself back in a role were I am so far out of comfort zone I’m in Australia! I feel like I’m playing a permanent game of tag – trying not to get caught out. Constantly panting for breath.
But looking back at other such jobs, including the one when I’d ring my husband every day to say I was getting up and walking out that very minute and him having to coach me to sleep on it just one more time, as uncomfortable as they were (I mean heels at the end of a night dancing uncomfortable), they were most certainly character building. A terrible cliche I know, but I did learn something about myself.
And you do feel so good after the adrenaline has dissipated and you realise you’ve survived unscathed. After the radio show I was buzzing, though I still can’t bear to listen back. My oldest greeted me with a big hug and told me how proud he was of me. That was worth the sweaty upper lip.
For I’m teaching my three boys to push themselves out of their own little comfort zones too. To try new things and not to be afraid to fail if things then don’t go to plan. So I better be a strong role model and not shy away from these daunting opportunities even if sometimes I feel like hiding in the toilets. (I think I actually did once do that at a round table conference – too embarrassed to walk in!).
No doubt I’ll continue to put myself forward for such events then find myself in a shaking, stuttering mess. Looking down at myself and wondering what it’s all about. My body frozen, my head half way down the road.
But the safe choice is not always the most rewarding. Opting for the exotic delicacy instead of the homely bangers & mash. Trying something that’s always scared me. Venturing out of my cosy shell once in a while. It can only be exhilarating..or a disaster. Or something to learn from. But I won’t know if I don’t try.