This week marks five years since I went to Kenya with Free The Children. Its one of those things that I still can’t believe happened sometimes and it makes me feel old when I think about how much time has passed since I embarked on that adventure.
Get Your Butt On The Plane
As excited as I was to go to Kenya and build a school I was also very nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, I wouldn’t have contact with my family for almost a month, I didn’t know the people I was going with very well, or if I would be able to communicate with the people in the community we were visiting. To say it pushed me out of my comfort zone is an understatement. How does this relate to wellness? An integral aspect of emotional and relational wellness is learning to face fears and pushing your boundaries to achieve personal growth.
The thing about being vulnerable and stretching your comfort zone is that once you get on the other side of that fear you realize it wasn’t as scary as you thought and you’re more capable than you imagined. It requires vulnerability to put yourself out there but once you know you can succeed you’re inspired to keep moving forward. Getting on the flight to Kenya was so nerve-wracking, but once I got myself on the plane and arrived I was jumping at the chance to try even more new things and push myself further. When you expand your comfort zone you create room in your life to keep growing and you realize those things you were nervous to try aren’t as intimidating as they seemed.
I was reading the journal I took with me recently, reminiscing about the trip, and laughed when I read this line “I conquered using an airplane toilet so now I’m confident I can be a world traveler”. I was already so self-assured and it was only the second day, if only I would have known that I would eventually travel to places that didn’t even have toilets.
Shed Your Zebra Stripes
There were lots of ways the trip challenged me to expand my comfort zone. On the second day in Kenya we were invited to sing in front of the group because, as my facilitator put it “the best way to get to know someone is to see them sing”. I enjoy singing but I’m well aware that I’m pitchy at best, and I really wanted to make a good impression, so this was terrifying. I stood up in front of 24+ people, future friends who I still didn’t know very well yet, and I sang. I was surprised that it wasn’t that bad to sing in front of people, which is how I think a lot of us feel when we get up the courage to do something that scares us.
Later in the trip we had an activity called “The Hot Seat” where each of us was invited to stand up and get asked questions in front of the group so people could get to know us better. This activity is the definition to me of extreme vulnerability, yet we volunteered to do it because we wanted people to know us. It was emotional because most people ended up telling personal stories but I learned to be willing to share my story, to open up and be seen.
When they are in large groups, zebra’s stripes act as camouflage because the pattern of their collective stripes blends in with the stripes of the zebras around it. When you open up and tell your story you’re making the choice to be seen, heard and shed the protection of your zebra stripes. It is a life lesson that has helped me so much since then in developing meaningful friendships and embracing vulnerability. If extreme vulnerability was sport, maybe I would actually like sports.
Lions, Tigers, and more relatable experiences, Oh My!
Not everyone has been to the other side of the world and I don’t think you need to get on a plane to know that life if full of experiences that challenge us to grow. Moving into residence was another one of those things where I constantly tried new things, got pushed to new limits and, again, expanded my comfort zone. It’s those times when you’re stretched that you learn some of the most important life lessons.
Do you remember how amazing and empowering it felt to learn to swim or ride a bike for the firs time? When you learned a complicated sports maneuver (is that what they call it?), or a dance technique? We’ve been learning new things since we learned to play, talk and walk but somewhere along the way we also learned to feel insecure, self-conscious, and it’s harder to put yourself out there and try new things.
What’s a good response to something you don’t know how to do? Be nervous that you don’t know if you can do it or run head first into it with a “I can’t wait to learn how to” attitude? Letting yourself be vulnerable and embrace the opportunities life throws at you isn’t always easy. It might mean packing your bags for a residence room or your first apartment, it might mean testing the waters in your dream career, trying to make new friends, reaching for a new level of independence in your life, or using an airplane washroom.
I hope you find that you are surprised by the empowerment you feel when you try new things and realize how capable you truly are.