Surely you’ve seen the diagram of “Your comfort zone,” and, “Where the magic happens.”
If you haven’t, I’ll wait while you go Google it. Or just know that the two spheres in the illustration do not overlap AT ALL. There’s a reason for that:
Comfort zone = Feeling safe.
Feeling safe = Low risk-taking.
Low risk-taking = Less magic.
It’s kind of along the lines of one of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes that sounds something like. “If you do what you always did, you will get what you always got.” However, many of us were taught to be risk-averse as we were growing up. We got very clear messages:
“Get down from there.”
Those commands, which were aimed at our physical safety, are pretty easy to identify. Others, the ones that most often drive perfectionism and anxiety, are more subtle:
“She looks terrible in that outfit.”
“How could his parents let him do that?”
“Who told her she could sing?”
Criticism, even when aimed at others in front of us, can have a serious impact on just how far outside our comfort zone we’re willing to go. When we worry excessively about “fitting in” instead of feeling like we belong (an important distinction Brené Brown makes), we’ve got problems. I tell parents to step out of their comfort zones for so many reasons. Here’s a short list of personal risks I took as an adult, that quite frankly, were totally uncomfortable:
- Raising my hand in class.
- Going on any job interview, ever.
- Submitting my writing for publishing.
- Getting in front of a room full of people to speak.
And don’t even get me started on what a HUGE risk it is to create a new human and then raise them! You have now added the following surefire discomforts to your future:
- Debating choices around the healthcare, education, and religion for another human being for 18 years.
- Witnessing pain, frustration, and fear in your offspring (it’s unavoidable).
- Holding space for your son or daughter after their heart is broken, or they fail.
- Waiting up at night when they are out as teenagers.
You know that really IS a short list. I probably don’t have to tell you that life is inherently risky.
Just to be clear, I am NOT recommending zero limits and no safety measures or guidance for young children. Encouraging children to accurately assess and take risks is imperative. Trusting them, as we slowly move through the process of transferring power, is likely to be a slow, messy, imperfect, and downright uncomfortable experience.
Go slow. Check in with yourself. Pay attention to your child/ren.
Also, please to not misunderstand my intention for children to get chances to engage in healthy risk-taking to mean that we should let them fall flat on their faces and “grow from the experience.” We can allow our children to learn from natural consequences, but the messages we send as they experience those consequences vary widely, as does their impact. It feels really different to stumble, and have your parents say:
“That was a tough one,”
“I’m sorry you’re going through this,” or,
“You’re not alone, I’m right here with you.”
“I told you that would happen,”
“You just had to learn the hard way,” or,
“That’ll teach you!”
When embarrassment, failure, or poor-judgement are shamed, we stop putting ourselves out there. We shrink. We play small. We stay inside our comfort zones.
DON’T. Don’t do it. Don’t model it, and don’t teach it.
Instead, offer your growing people support, kindness, guidance, and empathy. Model understanding, graciousness, and love.
The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong, by Brené Brown
Originally published in the January/February issue of Parent & Family