MidLife

Imprisoned by Our Comfort Zones

Recently I wrote a guest blog post, Thriving Requires Letting Go of the Lies, for Sue’s Over Fifty and Thriving series. The idea for that post was inspired by the book, Girl, Wash Your Face, by Rachel Hollis (my review here). I have since decided to turn the subject into a new blog series: The Lies I’ve Believed. 

In the original guest post, I introduced Delilah, my harsh inner critic who constantly reminds me I am not good enough, brave enough or smart enough. Her loud, commanding voice tells me I am better off alone than out in the world pursuing my dreams. She is quite convincing.

But I’m tired of living this way. I’m merely existing rather than embracing an abundant life. It is time to replace Delilah’s lies with the truth.

This week’s lie: Comfort zones are comfortable.

Let me take you on a short journey of my adult life.

In 1986 I married my college sweetheart. I wanted to start a family right away; he wanted to enjoy the DINK life a little longer (Dual Income No Kids). We compromised and moved to a one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village.

I worked as a market research analyst for one of the city’s top financial institutions, and Geoff started Citibank’s Tax Shelter Center. While living in the Big Apple was fun and exciting, I disliked my job. Corporate America rewarded mediocrity. I am an academic who always strives for the A. Four years later our first child was born, and I willingly settled into the Stay-At-Home-Mom roll.

I enjoyed being the primary caregiver of my children. I enjoyed taking care of our house and making it a home. As an introvert, I relished my time alone during naptime. I did not have to divide my loyalties. I could devote 100% attention to family.

In 1997 I attended a Creative Memories gathering. Like many other families, we kept our treasured photos in plastic tubs under the bed. I yearned for a system that would allow us to enjoy the memories, and this company offered the perfect solution. Over the next several months, I fully embraced their mission statement: Enrich the Past – Inspire the Present – Provide Hope for the Future. I eventually became a consultant.

This decision required me to confront my comfort zone for the first time.

Public speaking was one of my greatest fears. I am not a salesman. But I believed in the mission. So I risked taking a small step outside that comfort zone to help spread the message.

My first several shows were small – maybe two or three women in attendance. Even though my knees shook and my throat parched, I managed to complete the presentation and answer all questions. Over the next several months my fears transformed to joy. I wasn’t selling a product, I was demonstrating how to leave a legacy.

I maintained this lifestyle for about three years: full-time SAHM with a part-time direct sales business. I settled nicely into a new comfort zone.

All that changed in 2001 when I was asked to teach sixth grade. I did not have the skills nor qualifications. I certainly did not have the patience. But I had the desire to send my eldest to the school of her choice. By accepting this position, she could attend for half price.

For the first three months, I barely kept two steps ahead of the class. I was angry, frustrated, and resented God. Why did He take me out of my home? Wasn’t motherhood a noble profession? I was constantly exhausted and overwhelmed.

The Tuesday before Thanksgiving transformed my attitude. Instead of following my prepared lesson plan, I decided to stop by the local grocery store and pick up the weekly circular. As a class, we decided how much food to prepare for a fictitious family of sixteen. We created the menu, developed the recipes, and listed all the necessary ingredients. Then we used the circular to make a shopping list. Math skills were essential in deciding how much food to buy and how to maximize finances. They estimated the cost of the meal and the cost per person.

We had a blast – and I realized perhaps I could teach after all. My comfort zone increased.

That sixth-grade class led to a dozen years teaching a variety of classes: elementary writing and grammar, computer apps, 7th – 9th grade English, British Literature, yearbook, and dual-credit English Comp. Each additional course offering expanded my comfort zone a bit more.

Teaching all those English classes eventually awakened a latent desire to write. I enrolled in a Masters program where I attended class with students young enough to be my children. Comfortable? Not on your life! But the benefits were priceless.

I wrote and published three books in 2017. Currently, I am working on book two of the middle-grade Travel through Art series and a companion book for Journaling toward Wholeness. I have ideas for several more middle-grade novels, a half-dozen journaling prompt publications, and eventually, I will write Delilah’s story.

I have traveled so far down the path from my original SAHM life that I don’t recognize the old me. What if I never confronted my fear and became a Creative Memories consultant? Where would I be if I said “no” to growth and chose to remain cocooned? It is well worth the effort to break free and become the butterfly.

The truth: Comfort zones are prisons.

18 Comments

  • Min @ Write of the Middle

    What a wonderful read Molly! Well done on those three books – wow! I’d love to write a book but I’m waiting for a genius idea to strike me! I recently stepped out of my comfort zone by flying to another State and attending an awards evening that required me to walk in alone and not know anyone. I had terrible anxiety beforehand but I didn’t let it stop me. By doing this I now have wonderful opportunities ahead of me in 2019 , So yes – Comfort zones are prisons! xo

    • Molly Totoro

      Walking alone into a large gathering where I don’t know a soul is terrifying, Min. I’d say you stepped WAY outside your comfort zone and survived to celebrate the victory. Congratulations!
      I strongly believe everyone has at least one book inside waiting for release. And I also believe others need to hear that message. If you ever need a bit of encouragement to write that book, you know where to find me 🙂

  • Janet Mary Cobb

    Molly – I love the way you’ve pushed against your comfort zone and not let it hold you in. And as much as you were angry at God way back when — in hindsight — look where it has brought you! Keep pushing!

    • Molly Totoro

      Yes, Janet, God obviously saw far more possibility in me than I recognized myself. I’m so glad my “you-can’t-make-me” attitude did not rule the day. I can’t imagine the blessings, not to mention the fulfilling career, I would have missed.

  • Pat

    Molly, It’s interesting to see how many folks wrote about comfort zones this week… including me! My most recent pushing out of the comfort zone was challenging…more like the knees shaking of your first Creative Memories experience. But your reflections on other things that are out of your comfort zone (and then Min’ comments as well) made me realize that I am doing things out of comfort zone as well, if not as traumatic as learning to ride a motorcycle. I’m setting up appointments to talk about publishing my book. I’m planning to go to the Library or local book store and join a book club. I’ m planning a snow birding trip for January/February. Hey, last summer, I took swimming lessons and then last fall I joined a woman’s philanthropic organization by myself. Yeah, walking into a room of 300 women knowing no-one was out of my comfort zone for sure. Thanks for making me realize that like you, I am pushing beyond in many ways.

    • Molly Totoro

      Pat – you are such an encouragement! I would say retirement has unlocked the comfort zone and allowed you to fly.
      I think I am like you in that I discount my successes. For example, I tell myself it is no big deal to make a phone call. Picking up the phone is hardly an insurmountable obstacle. Unless of course, that phone call puts me in a place of vulnerability and possible rejection. Then the phone might as well be a 100-lb barbell. Quite frankly, Pat, I never did overcome that fear of rejection. I feared the rejection of agents, publishers, and others in the profession. So rather than pursue a traditional book contract, I chose to self-publish.

      So celebrate ALL the victories – perhaps especially the seemingly small ones. They will all lead you toward the prize.

  • Sue from Sizzling Towards 60 & Beyond

    I so admire people who can write and you have accomplished 3 books in one year! I would love to write a book however it would be more about self-awareness and living your best life. I’m inspired by your efforts Molly and hopefully I can step outside my comfort zone and write the book without worrying whether people will read it or not! Thank you for sharing with us at #MLSTL and have a beautiful week. xx

    • Molly Totoro

      Let me be the first to say, Sue, that I will definitely read that book! And I know there are many others in this #mlstl community who will read the book as well. And they will recommend the book to others who also need to hear your message. I strongly encourage to take that first step outside the zone and start an outline of the book. Then come back here and I will encourage you to take that next step toward publication 🙂

  • Leanne | www.crestingthehill.com.au

    Molly there are so many parallels with my work journey here. I was going to be a SAHM but my husband stops and starts jobs all over the place. The randomness of our income meant I went back to work part-time. I even sold Tupperware for a while (standing up and doing demos at parties – scary stuff!) I returned to my original profession, then changed career paths a couple of times to end up where I am now – in the process I was secretary for the P&C at our kids’ school and for our church – both stretches but in a good way too. I’ve taught Sunday School for decades and helped my husband run youth groups. It’s always great to look back at those stretches and to realize what we’re capable of if we set our minds to it.
    MLST and I’ve shared on my SM 🙂

    • Molly Totoro

      I think I’ve said this before, Leanne, but I’m going to say it again 🙂 How I wish we lived closer. I’d love to meet at a local cafe and share life stories over a cup of tea and a pastry. Not only are our work lives similar, but so are the work lives of our husbands! And I think we are both crafting a similar future – one that finally releases the baggage of the past so we can embrace the abundant life. Knowing that I am not alone in this journey is such a blessing. I am truly thanking for the blogging opportunity and these #mlstl relationships.

    • Molly Totoro

      Thank you so much for the encouragement, Christie:)
      I guess one aspect of this journey I forgot to mention is the fact that we must learn to rest in our new zone before pushing again. I have found that constant stretching leads to exhaustion. Life is a marathon and not a sprint. I am still trying to find that elusive balance.

  • Donna McNicol

    What a wonderful story of real life and living it the way it was intended. I’ve had to face a lot of fears over the years, now that I look back. Thank you for taking me along with you and stirring up my memories.

    #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      “Living life the way it was intended” … How I LOVE that, Donna! I spent the first half (probably more than half) of my life living with the fear of the unknown. I wasted countless hours worrying about things that never came to fruition. I hope to live the rest of life embracing each new day as a blessing – living it to the fullest and not worrying about things that really don’t matter.

  • 1010ParkPlace

    Brava, Molly! Stepping outside our comfort zone is one of the bravest and hardest things we can do. Last week I wrote about one of the ultimate outside our comfort zones: my friends Essie and David who are spending a year bicycling from Turkey to Singapore! Amazing!! Brenda #MLSTL

    • Molly Totoro

      WOW … I’m not sure I’m ready to step that far outside my comfort zone 🙂 Although I would like to add more physical activity and travel to my life.

  • Suzanne

    Molly, it is so encouraging to hear from someone who has faced fears with successful outcomes. Kudos to you for getting out of your comfort zone and for all your accomplishments. With your focus and determination, I am sure there are more to come.

    • Molly Totoro

      Thank you so much, Suzanne. I must admit, there are times that I miss the ole zone 🙂 but I know I would have missed many blessings and fabulous experiences had I chosen to stay.

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