I am between seders. We had three major events this weekend to get through and I am in the eye of the third one. I will write more about them later, but it brought up this idea of what we push ourselves to do--what we want to do, but dread doing. And what we gain when we push ourselves outside our comfort zone. I admittedly have a very small, cozy comfort zone.
During our recent IKEA run, which resulted in two return trips to IKEA for broken parts (what is it about IKEA that you can always forgive it? Two broken parts and yet I was speaking this morning about returning to IKEA for bathroom storage in a few weeks), Josh noted the similarities between the design of the store and Disney World. Both places are constructed to give you a sense of irreality--you lose track of time and it's easy to get lost. Lost isn't even the right word. It's this low-stakes version of lost where you know that you'll find your way out of the store or to the right showroom eventually in the same way that you know that Tomorrowland is somewhere over in that direction and if you pass the Haunted Mansion, you're going the right way. We entered at 5:15 and didn't leave until after 8, ending up with a plane grater and new lamp that we didn't even know we needed until we saw it.
It is not the type of place one should if they're feeling...let's say...anxious. It's not a good place for anxious people. You can tell as you're walking around the store who ate beforehand and who thought they'd be in and out in under a half hour. I spend equal amounts of time watching my fellow shoppers as I do testing out the drawers on the Leksvik.
I walked in anxious this time.
This was my mistake: I spent the car ride out to the store detailing all of the things that are currently making me anxious from things that must happen to things that I am pushing myself to do even though I'm not exactly sure why I'm pushing myself.
Like I said, I have a small, cozy comfort zone. I would probably end up never leaving the living room if it were up to me. Josh always describes me as "an anxious sort" and though I am usually excited as I make plans to do something new, as the designated time approaches, I become more and more anxious until I am walking out the door asking myself why I've placed myself in this situation. Sometimes I go and have a great time and other times I don't. This is true with small things--lunch date with a person I've never met--and big things--graduate school. I am an equal-opportunity neurotic.
Once I have done something once or twice, I am usually fine to keep repeating it indefinitely without anxiety. The first TOOTPU (The Order of the Plastic Uterus) outing required an internal pep talk. By this point, I just jump in car and start driving, looking forward to catching up with everyone and secretly licking all brownies I will be giving Leah. I like to call it "breaking the pee seal."
You know exactly what I'm talking about--if you're drinking beer, the second you go to the bathroom the first time, you will need to go to the bathroom 10 more times before you leave the bar. Knowing that, you wait and wait to go the first time because once you go, it's like telling your bladder, "let's just hang in here all night." My cousin and I use the term to refer to the cousin who black sheeps themselves and paves the path for the rest of us to follow. For instance, who will break the pee seal and move to Australia so the rest of us can follow suit?
Breaking the pee seal is something you dread doing but afterwards, it makes all future urinations feel like nothing. Some of the stuff I'm anxious about doing is pee-seal-like. I just need to get through the first time and all future occurrences will be fine. But other things are...they're one-shot deals. And that's the thought that emerged in the IKEA parking lot--before I had even gotten under the bright white lights of the showrooms or found myself wedged between a Flärke and a Grevbäck.
What is the purpose to pushing yourself to do something you're scared or uncomfortable doing when you don't need to do it?
There was a Real World episode--Real World London (where people stop being polite and start getting real)--where the 7 roommates had to complete an Outward Bound-like course. One of the activities was jumping from a platform to catch a pole/branch--a trapeez-like move. It was a psychological thing because you were rigged up with ropes and you wouldn't actually fall to the ground. But it was nerve-wracking to jump forward off the platform, even knowing you couldn't get hurt.
Person after person got up on the platform and jumped. Finally, it was Sharon's turn and even though she had seen person after person jump and not get hurt (even when they missed the branch), she couldn't do it. She got up there and cried and they cut to all of the roommates talking about her behind her back in the "Confession" room and then back to them cheering her on and finally, after many minutes of screen time and cajoling, she jumped, missed the branch, was fine, and it was time for the next person to go.
Neil was sitting below the tree and looked up at the platform and said something to the effect of "Nah, I'm not going to do it. I don't like heights and I gain nothing at the end of this activity except to say that I conquered a fear I didn't need to conquer. Think I'll sit this one out."
And everyone was pissed at him, but he calmly shrugged in a way that said that he wasn't going to budge or be bullied into trying something he didn't want to do. And I have to admit that this Real World scene has played over and over again in my head since 1994, always there in the background when I am pushing myself to do something I don't want to do "just because."
It is, of course, cowardly. We're taught brave is good and cowardly is bad. But why? Really--do we need to always push ourselves and work through fears? It would be great if we could all grab life by the balls and never let fear get in our way, but so many other things get in our way, why not fear too? I mean, yes, I can knock fear aside, but I still need to contend with finances, time, and physics.
This post is not meant to transport us all back to our slacker, flannel-wearing days, and certainly, not facing fears is much easier and requires less energy/work than actually overcoming anxiety and accomplishing something (even if that accomplishment is simply jumping off a platform and grabbing a stick). But what is the purpose to conquering fear when so little is gained on the other end except the fact that you conquered fear? I really do want to know--it will give my more to ponder during our next IKEA run as well as perhaps help me put into words the broken pee seal on this weekend's commitments.
And now back to the living room where we are doing the pre-seder newspaper read.