Thoughts on Escaping the Comfort Zone

This week I was challenged in ways I didn’t anticipate: co-lead a classroom discussion followed by an invitation to lead part of an upcoming meeting. The key word here is lead. Though comfortable in small groups and one-on-one, I am often categorically shy, holding back to allow others to seize the reins. We often define ourselves by self-ascribed labels, tossing out terms like “Type B personality” and words like shy to prevent us from living fully.

At heart, I love storytelling. My family still cherishes a speech I gave on my Ukrainian heritage during my church’s fiftieth anniversary dinner years ago. My family also believes I should teach, a thought that has terrified me because, like many, I generally dislike public speaking. I also believe teaching is a calling, not a way to boost ego or pontificate. See what I just did? In two sentences, I allowed my inner censor to stop me from pushing myself. So after toying with the idea of leading a class or workshop, I crushed it with false assumptions: You’re not ready. You’re not experienced enough. And so on.

Dani Shapiro, another self-described shy person, speaks about the inner censor in Still Writing, an excellent meditation on the craft: “My inner censor wants to shut me down. She wants me to close up shop….what I do know is that if I’m not writing, I’m not well. If I’m not writing, the world around me is slowly leached of its color.”

Similarly, when I don’t write—journal, blog, start a personal essay or tinker with a short story or novel—I feel pent-up, frustrated. I also think, “Well, I haven’t been published anywhere big yet. Maybe I’m not as good a writer as I thought.”

Art, of course, imitates life—and vice versa, a cyclical pattern of self-recrimination and doubt. I write in the hopes that others will relate, just as I live life: open and inevitably vulnerable, flawed, human. I also write because I cannot stop—it is how I navigate the world.

Historically, when things don’t work out immediately, I withdraw into my shell. As a result, I have given up opportunities to speak at writing residencies or even attend writers groups. Each time a new prospect comes up, I have made up an excuse: finances, travel time, fatigue, anything.

Dani Shapiro, I should note, travels widely, hosting workshops and leading retreats nationwide and abroad.

Now that I am being pushed in ways that do not allow time to overthink or worry, I am plunging ahead—and the exhilaration of moving forward has never felt so satisfying.

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