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Conquering the discomfort zone

IMG_1567_1024It is almost a year since Keith, Lucas and I left our home to spend three months in America. We had taken the decision to start our new self-directed life with a trip back to the summer camp Keith had worked at for four summers during his early twenties. The promise of living in one of the most beautiful places we have experienced, surrounded by like-minded people who love music, nature and living a little differently, inspired us to take all the steps necessary so that the three of us could board a plane and live out a mini adventure.

And what an adventure! Thinking back to last summer immediately brings a flood of good memories – cook outs on the lake beach, our rustic cabin home on the shores of Stearns Pond, swimming in the crystal clear waters, the sound of the orchestra rehearsing their John Williams repertoire drifting through the pine trees, ping pong on the office porch, loons calling across the pond at dusk, not to mention Lucas exploring his surroundings with enthusiasm, loving the barefoot grubbiness of his day to day life and making friends at every turn as he literally crawled his way into everyone’s hearts!

But while all of the above is a beautiful snapshot of the summer we spent in that little part of Maine, New England, what I wanted to share here was how last summer was anything but a walk in the park, and why now, looking back, I will always be grateful for the fact that it didn’t come easy.

For those of you who know me and Keith well, you will know Keith as the bubbling over with enthusiasm, glass half full, life is there for the making one. I, on the other hand, while (generally) optimistic, am much more of a cautious, think it through (again and again!), consider the realities type of person. A classic case of opposites attract! What this means in life is that Keith and I have both learnt the art of compromise. We practice it daily and it really does work, helping us to both find the best in ourselves. What it also inevitably means for me is that I am quite regularly challenged to go beyond my comfort zone, as Keith dreams up his latest scheme.… This, I am learning, is a very good thing – and here’s why:

Unless you try, you have no idea what you are capable of.

Left to my own devices, I would never have taken on the challenge of living at a remote summer camp, with a 9 month old non-sleeping, eczema-sufferer of a baby, with family and friends thousands of miles away, while Keith worked a responsible position as Head Counsellor each day from dawn til dusk.

My fearful mind said ‘No. Don’t do this. You will never cope’. But luckily for Keith, my more open minded heart said ‘Give it a shot. Keith loves that place and so will you and Lucas’.

And so we went. All of our belongings into one large rucksack (yes, really!) for three months.

But it is not dramatic to admit that by the end of the first week, I wanted to come home. I had no idea just how isolated I would feel away from family and friends, with no means of independence and everyone else on Camp having responsible work duties. I also had Lucas to entertain, feed and manage – all from a basic cabin by a lake. In the early weeks I was so deep in my discomfort zone, and the isolation felt so suffocating to me as a sleep-deprived, anxious new mum, that I almost bought a plane ticket home for me and Lucas.

Here is where the story changes. Realising that this was an opportunity that would probably never come again, and that Lucas was already showing signs of loving his new environment, I chose to stay. To persevere and to try with every ounce of my being to make it the summer that Keith, Lucas and I had dreamed of. It involved some serious bloody-mindedness and a few tears, but the end result?

I made connections with some truly wonderful people who got me through the tougher days by offering friendship, support with Lucas, and a gentle smile or joke when my cheery mask cracked after yet another sleepless night. My life is richer for the people I met last summer.

I discovered an ability to manage and conquer situations that at first looked insurmountable. Only when you are pushed to your breaking limit, do you realise you really only have two choices – give in, or keep going. And just by choosing the ‘keep going’ mindset, I realised that I really am stronger than I believed possible. Which means you are too. And once you realise that, suddenly life IS there for the making.

Unplug yourself to remember who you are
I remembered the wonder of a world without wifi or technology on tap. Peaceful evenings spent reading under starry skies on the cabin porch, watching fireflies dance while listening to the sounds of the counsellors singing around the campfire drifting across the water. We played cards with new friends, drinking tea and laughing until our faces hurt. I got re-inspired by some of my first loves – nature and music – and loved introducing Lucas to them in an environment that was completely tech-distraction free.

One of my favourite quotes is ‘almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes….including you’ (Anne Lamott) and this was proven so true during that summer at Camp. By literally disconnecting from the busy-ness of the technological world around you, even for a day, you can feel calmed, centred and ready to face the world. Ever since last summer, I have tried much harder to not let technology overtake my daily life. Step away from the screen and life is out there, waiting for you to take it all in.

If you are not living on the edge, you are taking up too much room
While my perfectionist nature is to stay on a path that is well trodden, more predictable and with a higher chance of ‘success’, I am learning again and again that it is only by taking on new challenges beyond our comfort zone that we learn more about who we are, why we are here and what it is that we can really give to this world.

Every day we face struggles – small ones, bigger ones, and how we choose to deal with all of them determines our next move, our next opportunity and our future potential.

Becoming a mum has tested me more than I ever believed possible. Starting our own business has been nerve-wracking and hard work. On both fronts I still have days when I feel as though I know nothing, have learned nothing and have nothing left to give. But then I remember last summer, how we toughed it out, gave it everything we’d got and came through it in one piece with a stack of incredible memories and friendships that will last a lifetime.

And I smile. And then I start to climb up that hill and out of the comfort zone one more time.

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