As a woman, particularly as a white woman, I have been socialized to get along with others. I learned this from my parents, from my teachers, from friends and family, and from the media. Women are supposed to be supportive caregivers. The idea that we must go along to get along is the first bar of the comfort zone cage.
I get physically ill when I say or do something that stirs any type of controversy. My stomach does roller coasters and I worry about the ramifications for hours, days, months!
· What if I alienate someone? Or hurt their feelings?
· What if I lose followers?
· What if I lose a job or a job opportunity?
· What if I lose friends?
This illness spills into my writing, which causes me to dilute the point so much that the piece loses its power. These thoughts cripple my fingers and stop the flow of words to the page. Even now my hands betray me, and I must force them to type each letter. Another bar in the cage.
It sickens me more to know that I am not living at my full potential as a writer, as a woman, or as a human being. I am staying silent or whispering my beliefs only to trusted confidants. I will never be comfortable with making others uncomfortable, but I cannot be true to my beliefs if I do not speak up. My voice has power and I am giving my power to others by default.
I must break free from the confines of my comfort zone, especially because I am a woman. Privilege has allowed me to stay there for too long. If I want to be the person I thought I would be when I was ten, I cannot live in my comfort zone anymore. It is time to become the woman I looked up to as a kid before I allowed society to dictate how I should live.
While I lament about living in my comfort zone, it is important to acknowledge I have not always lived here. I spent years facilitating discussions about gender inequality, racism, suicide, and other topics of concern. It was easy to discuss those topics because I wan’t taking a stance on anything. I brought information to the discussion and provided the space for my students to come to their own conclusions. In reality, I may have been out of the cage, but I was standing just outside the door.
The topics I discussed freely for years are topics I shy away from now even though I continue to study them and know they need voices. I slid easily into a place where there is no conflict or fear. It is a façade. The comfort zone is a cage made entirely out of fear.
Talking about leaving my comfort zone and doing it are two different things, but here are a few things I know:
· My comfort zone is not going to give me the space I need to grow.
· My sense of self is suffering because I am not living up to my full potential.
· My writing is suffering, both in quality and quantity, because I am not true to myself.
If you are reading this, I have made the first step to escape my self-imposed cage. Hitting “publish” on this article is a commitment, to myself and to you, that I will use my ability to string together words to start a discourse. I was reminded recently that the writer’s job is not to be an expert, but to provoke thought.
I kept telling myself I needed to be more knowledgeable about the subjects of my articles and essays, that I don’t know enough. But, I am knowledgeable and what I don’t know, I can research. I understand how to select credible sources to present as evidence. If my role as a writer is to provoke thought, I have years of experience. What was really happening was my mind was pushing me back into my cage. A cage created by privilege and fear.
Fear is probably the greatest motivator, more so than love or passion. As I emerge from the confines of my comfort zone once again, I invite you to do the same. Trust yourself to know what you know, and know there is infinitely more you don’t know, and build on it. Don’t let fear stop you. Let fear push you forward.