We often see our comfort zones as a place we should want to get out of, and the risks and adventure seeking nature of our culture often reinforces that view. We are encouraged to live life to the fullest by trying new things, visiting new places, and experiencing the accompanying adrenaline rush. As a result of all our many experiences, it can be difficult to narrow down what we are really good at, what we enjoy, and what we should focus on. But, a comfort zone isn’t always a bad thing. It may even lead you to exactly where you are supposed to be.
What is my purpose and plan in life? What is my destiny? What is the perfect job? How do I know what I need to go to college to pursue? Where should I live? Should I get married? Have children? Should I go back to college, again? Am I supposed to listen to my head, my heart, or both at the same time?
There are so many questions that we face in life. As you try to figure out the answers to the most important questions, don’t seek counsel from everyone, not even from those you think love you and want what is best for you. The fact is that even those who love you often give advice out of their life experience and personal perspective, and it may not match up with yours. Many people are led away from what they should have done because of advice they never should have taken or even sought out. I can clearly remember asking someone I thought would give me wise advice if I should pursue a master’s degree if I was able to get a scholarship. They told me that I should focus on my family. I don’t even remember if I had a child at that time. If I did, it was just one. I obviously didn’t follow that advice, but it did make me feel deflated. It made me waste time questioning when I shouldn’t have been questioning at all. I’m not saying to only ask people who will agree with you for advice, but choose carefully. Realize that sometimes answers and advice you will be given are not going to be helpful, and they are not always going to be right.
I am from a family of commercial fishermen, even my sister, so fishermen and fisherwoman. My mom didn’t go out in the boat, but she helped with everything else like running the business, hanging and mending the nets, cleaning the fish, taking care of the softshell crabs, etc. When I was a child, my mom would pay me a little for every netting needle I would thread. There’s no telling how many of those things I did. The story goes that I did not like going out in the boat when I was young and whined to go home. But once I was older, I loved going every day for my summer job. I loved the water. I loved the sun. I loved getting a tan. I loved being out there with nobody else around. I loved driving the boat up to the crab pots for my brother, even though sometimes I got the rope caught in the motor and I’d watch him climb and hang upside down on the motor to untangle it while fussing the entire time. I loved working the switch on the net reel to see if any flounder were going to come in. I loved having a summer job, being paid well, and more than anything spending time with my brother I would not have spent otherwise.
My mom cooks the best flounder and softshell crabs and homemade coleslaw and well, everything, and now my sister is carrying on preparing these delicious foods at her very own seafood restaurant. I never realized how lucky I was growing up to eat such good food all the time. There was always fresh seafood around our house. I love that my family has this background, and works so hard. I could never do it as a career like they do. It’s just not what I was created to do. How do I know that?
Well, it wasn’t so bad waking up crazy early or that after each day on the water when I laid down at night and closed my eyes I still felt like I was rocking in the waves. It wasn’t so bad having to pee in a bucket or jump overboard and get pulled back in every time I had to use the bathroom. It wasn’t so bad getting slammed on my fancy cooler seat because my brother drove so fast to get to where we were going. It wasn’t so bad getting caught in storms with nowhere to go and praying you didn’t get struck by lightning (no exaggeration here, literally praying), or getting soaked with rain, or getting those little gnats all in your face, or thinking you might pass out from the heat, or trying to back up in a straight line setting the nets back. Honestly, some things are just too much to ask of me.
I knew it wasn’t the life for me because I can’t even pick up a crab. I know it will pinch me and then I will scream for help and it’s just not what I should do. It’s in everyone’s best interest if I don’t attempt it, not even with gloves on. My brother knew the limit of my ability. On the days we traveled a really long way by boat, I honestly don’t know if I could have found my way back to the boat ramp we left from. My job was clearly defined in practice, not in a written description. I can remember that I would fix sandwiches, drive the boat, wet the bags to put over the crabs, help move the boxes once they were filled with crabs, work the net reel, clean up, but he never made me pick up a crab. If one escaped the box, I would call him for help. When we got home, he never made me grade crabs. Obviously, it wasn’t my comfort zone. My brother must have thought I was ridiculous, but he never said it. He’s a good brother. He overlooked all of my weaknesses and let me find my strengths.
My dad is also a farmer and my younger brother has always had animals around. When I first got married, my husband and I had chicken houses and lived down a long path. In some vision of myself somewhere in my mind, I could still be a farm girl down that dirt path with some sheep, goats, cows, cute miniature horses, and a barn. How do I know that isn’t really the life that’s going to work for me?
Because farm animals are so cute when they are babies, but then they grow up. And true story – I once called for help in the chicken house because I was surrounded by chickens and they were all trying to peck me. Don’t let my husband tell the story. It happened just like that. Chicken attack. Thousands of them. And I remember looking over and seeing a mouse climbing the wall in there….get me out! I have some good memories from that time, like shoveling up feed with my husband when a feed line broke. That was bad, and frustrating for him I’m sure, but that’s not what I remember now. I just remember spending time with him and my goodness, we had no idea how much our lives would later change! Sometimes I miss those days and wonder how our lives would be if we were still there but one more way I know farm life isn’t going to work for me…the 4-H Livestock Show that scarred me forever. I had a steer straight from hell one year and promised myself I’d never put my children through risking their lives like that. I also almost passed out once pulling cantaloupes, another summer job. I was seeing black spots. I tried but farm life was not my comfort zone either.
I found what I was good at because it was a combination of talents and interests, and guidance from those who helped me magnify those skills. My comfort zone, what I was best at, became my career path. I liked to talk, to be kind to people no matter who they were or what their background was, to read, and to write. I wanted to be Barbara Walters after watching 20/20 with my mom every Friday night, but I wasn’t ready to move that far away to pursue a dream. I used to ride my bike down the road and sit under a tree in someone else’s yard to read. My family thought I was pretty strange but in my defense, no one lived at that house and the tree was the perfect tree so it just seemed like a good idea. I was young. No one told me about the rules of real estate. I don’t think I really knew I was good at reading and writing and could actually use it in my life until my senior year in high school. When that year started, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. I knew I wanted to go to college but I didn’t want to be a financial burden on my family. I had an AP English teacher who didn’t give any slack and had high expectations. I worked really hard, did well, and it solidified my future. I received the N.C. Teaching Fellows Scholarship and majored in English Education.
Fast forward quite a few years and I can remember praying to ask God for guidance as to what I should do next and never feeling like I got any answers, but He had already planted the abilities in me that I could use to guide my choices. There were amazing people in my life who saw skills in me that I didn’t think I had and they encouraged me to move in a direction professionally that I just didn’t feel fit me. Just like the fishing and the farming, instructional coaching and administration just were not what I loved completely. There were parts of those jobs that I would love but overall, I knew it wasn’t right for my life. After years of not being sure and trying to decide, I just went ahead and got my Master of Arts degree in English. Initially, it was my retirement plan because I knew I needed it or at least 18 hours of advanced English credit to teach at the community college. I would teach in public school for 20 or 30 years and then try to work at the community college once I retired.
When I presented my dissertation, one of the professors said to me, “This research will be good to continue as you are working on your doctorate degree.” And I responded, “What made you think I was pursuing a doctorate? “ I had zero thought or intention at the time of doing that. I was tired. I didn’t think I could do it. The mention gave me heartburn and his words fell heavy on me. But when someone believes in you, it makes a difference. While that professor was one I had recently met during my program, one of the other professors I had known for almost 18 years. He had been one of my very first English professors when I started my undergraduate degree, continued to be my professor for my master’s degree, sat on my dissertation committee, and wrote a recommendation for me to pursue that doctorate I never imagined I would obtain. Relationships matter. They bend and mold our lives.
I was planning to procrastinate but I had a husband and a cousin who told me to go for it, I knew I wasn’t getting any younger, and I found out one of the professors on my committee was retiring. I had 3 committee members as a distance education student. I needed 3 recommendation letters and I was afraid I might lose touch with the professor who was retiring. Maybe that timing was a part of God’s plan and a push after all, because I loved what I was doing and I was hesitant to change. I even tried to go part time only to avoid making huge alterations to my life, but God had different plans. So I start in the fall, full time, back in my original comfort zone.
Whatever your comfort zone is, don’t believe that you have to get out of it. Maybe there’s a reason for it. Maybe there’s more to it that you haven’t explored yet. Maybe it’s your key to being successful and finding the perfect fit for your life. If you followed a different path, it’s not too late to get back on the old one. Seek counsel with discernment and don’t sit still, at least not until you have found the perfect place for you. Along the way and at your final destination, remember those who believed in your ability and gave you the freedom to find or stay in your comfort zone, even if it wasn’t the same as their own.