For most people moving outside their comfort zone creates feelings of anxiety and produces a lot of questions. There are sound biological reasons for this. We are wired and programmed to choose safety. Do not beat yourself up too much, it is brain chemistry. If our brain deems one situation to be “safe” and another to be riskier, you are naturally going to feel better about the safe option.

Sometimes this fear is accurate and should be headed. For example, we learn from a young age that if we touch a hot stove, we will feel pain.  In the psychology world these are called rational fears and often serve a good purpose… to keep us safe.

However, often our definition of “safe” is only relevant in our world and this untruth paralyzes us to press out and do new things. We can learn to have a fear response to things that aren’t necessarily likely to happen, which are called irrational fears. Sure, you can die today in a car crash, but the odds are more likely that you will not. These irrational fears cause a swarm of questions in our minds like a cloud of locusts. Questions like: What if…I shouldn’t ….I couldn’t… sound familiar?

On the exterior I appear to be a risk taker. I have been told many times…”I could never do what you do, it is just too scary.” Just choose a crazy life adventure. Go to grad school a few times, go serve in Kenya or Guatemala, start my own business, or have three kids under the age of four. Well maybe the last one I did not do intentionally, but it worked out pretty great!

Some things have been easier to walk out of my “safe” place, while others have been downright terrifying and kept me up at night breathing into a brown paper bag. In 2012 I made a decision that was WAY out of my comfort zone when I traveled to Kenya for the first time. There were so many rational reasons that this was NOT I repeat NOT a good idea and the fear light was blinking like a nuclear warning alert. Here is a list of just a few of the thoughts that popped like moles in my proverbial whack a mole brain!

What if I die? I was the Mom of 3 young children

What if I can’t be on a plane for 14 hours and go ballistic? I mean do you watch the news? I could be one of those people that just loses it plus I had only flown a few short flights which always ended up in serious vomiting.

I have never traveled abroad! I had never left the US besides the Bahamas and that one accidental Canadian border crossing

I didn’t have a passport and if I did get one, what if I lost it and couldn’t get home?

I will have to get a lot of shots, I will probably have an allergic reaction, and DIE.

How will I afford it? I was self-employed and would lose 2 weeks of Income (did I mention I have 3 kids)

What if I contract a horrible disease?

What if I got eaten by a wild animal? For some reason, people kept reminding me of this one!

Oh…and yes …I could DIE!

But …in spite of all this…I didn’t die. In fact, I became more alive than I had ever been. That one YES, that one toe in the water, opened an entire door in my life that would have forever remained locked if I had let fear win out. I cannot imagine my life without saying yes to that moment. Because of that yes, an entire sequence of events unfolded that I never could have dreamed.  I see the whole world in new ways and found my truest self and calling.

I can’t imagine my life without Kenya, without ZOE EMPOWERS , without the stories of despair to prosperity tenderly shared with me by orphans, without meeting Stella, without writing a book, without my public health school experience (GO PIRATES!), without Guatemala. without Days for Girls, without Unearth Hope , and not to mention the amazing people I have met along the way, many which are now dear friends. Look at all I would have missed if I had allowed fear to win out.

Sure, it is true, there are certain personality types that are more likely to take the risks. Perhaps you are one of those or you know one of them. These individuals were likely the toddlers who constantly wandered off, the elementary kid who took everything apart to just see how it works, and the teen that challenged the parental rules to the limit. Full disclosure, I own all of those!

However, the most common way that people finally get outside their comfort zone is not by choice but by circumstances. Things happen that force us to not be able to stay. Our proverbial ‘safe house” no longer exists or burned up and we are left standing wondering what to do.

Enter year 2020 and a pandemic. We are all feeling less safe. Not only physically but the world paradigm as we knew it is shaken to the core. For many of us, even though we grumbled about our busy schedules, kids, jobs, even churches, we liked that routine and we were “content” with this rhythm.

We are all reevaluating so many things that if we are honest, we never would have without the pandemic or whatever additional life shattering event we have recently walked through.  Who we are… what is important to us…and where we want to go moving forward have all been questioned sometimes hourly.   We may be forced to enter new waters because of job changes, loss, or family changes.

 Whatever the reason for many of us, life will never be the same.

Initially the statement seems sad, daunting, and just plain not fair, but does it have to be? There is the potential that you have been given an opportunity to stretch, to grow, in ways you never would have if your safe house had not been rattled.

I guess the reality is that there really are not two groups of people…risk takers and non risk takers. We are all on a continuum and stretching our ability to challenge who we are and what we can do. This pertains to many areas of our lives: should I change majors? Change jobs? Have a child? Have more children? Stay at home? Go back to work? Move? End a relationship? Start a relationship? And the hits go on.

Today, just like you, I harbor new desires in my heart.  New experiences that call to me but once again, I am paralyzed by that fear to get out of the boat. Here go the racing thoughts…Can I risk it? Will I get hurt? What will I have to release to get what I want? Can I do it? What if I fail?

Even when we have stepped out of the boat once, it is a daily process of calming those fears. As I wrestle with these thoughts of impending doom, I begin to sense a peace wash over me.  This peace arises out of thinking about what I might miss if I do not at least try to brave it out. I don’t want to miss the blessings for the fear.

So how do you start when you are holding on with white knuckles to the side of the boat? My friend, simply one toe at a time.  If it is too scary…close your eyes tight, and just dip your toe in. I love this quote by Ambrose Redmoon, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear.”

My hope for you today is that you reflect on that thing that is more important than fear in your life. You know… the thing that stays on your heart. Just go for it… one toe at a time, and get ready because it will likely be more than you could have ever imagined!

As always, may you be well, may you be loved, and may you know true peace.

Read more about Melissa C. Harrell and her work. Like Resiliency Counseling and Consulting, PLLC

The purpose of this blog is to offer educational information related to mental wellness. Resiliency Counseling & Consulting, PLLC and Melissa Harrell do not offer diagnosis or treatment through this medium. If you feel that you or a family member needs to access mental health services, first contact your primary care physician for assessment and direction in your area. If you need immediate help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.