Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The comfort zone challenge

The other day I was talking with one of the swim coaches at the Oahu Club about my late-in-life foray into triathlon and he paid me a nice compliment. He said he admired people who are willing to go outside their comfort zone and take on something as challenging as multisport. We have all heard comments like that, yet for some reason this time the words hit me.

For years I commuted to work every day on my bike. On Sunday I would drive by the office to drop off a week's worth of clean clothes and pick up the laundry. My route was ten miles one way, easy to do in less than an hour, not much slower than in a car during rush hour traffic. The only reason I stopped was to attend after work activities such as swim practice -- I just can't bring myself to entrust my bike to a lock at the beach. Then there is yoga, and drum lessons, and the British Car Club meetings. As much as I loved my bike I just could not fit in everything I wanted to do without the flexibility a car offers. I do miss it.

A week never passed that someone did not seem amazed that I rode my bike to work every day. It was so far. What about all those cars? What about the rain? What about in winter when it is dark? People treated me like superman, yet to me it was nothing more than a pleasant alternative to sitting in a car.

Obviously our comfort zones did not overlap very much. That is, in the Venn diagram sense.

Now consider the car thing. I have no qualms about tearing apart my Lotus engine. Modern engines are a bit more intimidating due to all the electrical bits, but mechanically they pose no new challenges. Why is it, then, that so many people have no desire to take on a similar challenge?

I am by no means the only person who commutes to work or restores old cars. My point is that some people do such things, while most do not. Why the difference? Why are some of us more willing to step outside our comfort zone while others hold back?

I was a Spoke baby -- my mother treated "Baby and Child Care" as though it was the bible of child raising. As a boy I loved taking things apart. Why? My father was an airplane mechanic, so fixing things seemed perfectly natural to me. Watches, cameras, the Electrolux vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, all got taken apart and put back together. For the most part my parents never discouraged me. There was only one time that my parents got genuinely angry with me, which was in high school when I took apart a guitar amp that belonged to one of the guys in my rock band. They were afraid it was expensive and that I could not put it together. Not only did I reassemble it, I fixed whatever it was that was broken. My dad was a great mechanic, but his comfort zone did not include vacuum tube electronics.

It seems reasonable to me that children are by their nature inquisitive, and that the reluctance to take on something new is the result of overly protective parents. Bounds are good, and part of parenting is setting bounds. The trick is to prevent disasters while giving a child plenty of slack, enough to allow themselves to get into some trouble. I think my parents were very good at that, which is why I am so willing to step outside my comfort zone.

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