A beautiful morning. My husband, dogs, and I step outside to begin our morning walk, excited about stretching our legs and taking in the fresh, early air. As we walk down our lengthy driveway, the dogs see them first. Then, as our eyes catch up with their noses, we humans see them as well: a dozen or so tiny, baby turtles crossing just in front of us and making a bee-line (or, in this case, a turtle-line) for the wetlands that abut our property.
They’re nearly encased in still-wet mud, wobbly legged, and determined, seemingly following an instinctual path toward their futures. The fact that they are covered in mud suggests that they had recently hatched, only just emerging from their warm, sloppy environment to begin their instinctually compelling journey. The blacktop and grass ahead of them, though unknown, provides no deterrence. Our presence, however, stops them, particularly when I bend over one specimen, compelled myself to record its efforts on my iPhone.
We look around, but don’t see their mom (a large, mean-looking snapper to which our neighbor had jokingly attached the moniker, “Soup”). No doubt she had left her eggs weeks earlier to return to the shallow muddy waters where the hatchlings were now headed. Meanwhile, we stand there for quite some time (they were pretty slow, as you can imagine) and watch them make their way, one step at a time, toward their destination. Even the dogs settle down and watch quietly.
After a few more minutes we resume our walk, hoping that the turtles will safely finish their journey and not take a sharp left onto the road.
Watching the baby turtles made me think about the comfortable places we often settle into, both as leaders and employees. Much like the baby turtles’ mud-bed, all warm, dark, and safe, we can settle into a rhythm of sameness and familiarity. Our so-called “comfort zones” become our safe place and, although they are good to have and great to access when we need it, they can just as easily become a barricade that blocks us from a new way of being, of growing, of learning.
Here are four ways to reach beyond our comfort zones and enter into a new realm of learning:
- Shake off the mud: When we settle into a routine that might not serve us as well as it did in the past, it’s time to shake it off and try something new. Like the drying mud that slowly flaked from the backs of those baby turtles as they migrated to their new home, we too can shake off what encases us, what might feel warm and comforting but might actually be the extra weight we are better off leaving behind. A question we might ask ourselves is: “What isn’t serving me well that I might let go of?”
- Take one step at a time: Small steps are often simpler and safer than dramatic changes, particularly when we’re looking for new destinations. There’s no need to take a sharp left and cause yourself any unwarranted stress. Try something new that you see as attainable, reachable. Is there a new project that you’d like to be part of? Volunteer your time so you can partner with others who may have more experience and from whom you can learn. Is there a new way of being that you’d like to try? Start practicing one new habit at a time and practice it until it feels comfortable. Slow and steady can reap huge rewards.
- Visualize your new future: We’ve all heard the adage, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Access a picture in your mind’s eye of what you’d like to see happen. A new job? A fit body? A different place to live? Use that picture as your innate roadmap as you take the steps towards the change you’d like to see for yourself.
- Choose: We live in choice; it’s really all up to us. We all get one “go” at this event called life; choose the living that will serve you best.
We returned from our walk and, as we headed back up our driveway we saw the last tiny straggler making his way onto the grass before taking the plunge into the murky waters where his brothers and sisters waited. It was a wonder of nature that we observed that morning, one that will stay with us for a time and one that we can think about when we see ourselves getting stuck in the mud that is our own comfort zone.
What strategies help you when you wish to break free from your comfort zone?