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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Deep Thoughts and Deep Sofas at IKEA

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.


Denise said...

Maybe some people get a rush or a sense of accomplishment just from the act of conquering a fear. Or maybe it is a matter of achieving personal growth. Even though you didn't need that growth to continue living, it has made you a more well rounded, enriched person. Or maybe this is just what we are taught to believe. Sorry, that was a lot of maybes.

I_Sell_Books said...

Why conquer fear? Because sometimes you have to know that you can. The old adage about getting back up on the horse is true, remounting preferably as soon as possible, otherwise that fear can hold you back from ever trying to ride again.

And that would be a pity.


HereWeGoAJen said...

I say only bother to conquer fear if it gets you something. I used to be so terrified of snakes that it interfered with stuff. So, I got enough over that fear that it no longer interferes with stuff, but I am still scared of snakes. I'm not going to go out and get myself a pet snake to get totally over it. I can now walk into a pet store that has snakes, that is good enough.

BigP's Heather said...

It gives me a sense of power when I overcome something. Like when I gave myself the first shot. I never minded needles - but I never had to shoot myself either. I was scared but I had to do it. I was on a high for days afterwards, I felt such a surge of power and accomplishment.

Leah said...

Oh Snatch, you warm the cockles of my tiny little heart when you refer to me in the same paragraph as "breaking the pee seal" and taunt me with promises of Mel-licked brownies. I'll sleep well tonight knowing I am loved. :-)

Linda said...

I had to conquer so many fears in the early days of Sarge's illness that it wasn't even funny. It was an almost hourly event: I would say "I can't do this!" to God and then I'd go and do it. Because I had to.

I think that there's a cumulative effect to conquering fear. You get in the habit of it, so that it gets easier as new fears come along and you feel that adrenaline rush that tells you to RUN or FIGHT, to say to yourself "Oh, I know this feeling." You become detached from it, almost. You still feel the fear; it's real and it's jerking your chain as hard as it can. But the difference is, after a while you just haul up on the other end and say: "Enough jerking, let's get on with it then." And you plow through. Another fear conquered. You start to do it daily. People start say how strong you are. But really you know that Fear is down there, jerking your chain daily. You're just jerking back because you're tired of being ruled by One. More. Thing.

Sam said...

Ikea + earplugs = win.

Paula Keller said...

...because when you concuer a fear, you become more confident and able to tackle other fears. What doesn't kill ya, makes ya stronger?

I love IKEA. It's a two hour trip to DC for us, but we go a couple of times a year--always making sure to wear good shoes because we are there forever!

Lori Lavender Luz said...

I probably wouldn't do the trapeze thing because my fear of heights doesn't really keep me from doing something I'd like to.

But I DO wish I could get over my fear of depth and make it through Scuba Diving classes. It IS something I'd like to do.

For me, moving through fear brings freedom.

And at least you only lick Leah's brownies. Lotsa bodily fluids in that paragraph.

Shelby said...

I think that some times I force through and conquer a fear to help boost my self confidence. I used to have very little, and now, when I can stare a fear in the face and beat it over the head, it helps me feel like I can do anything. Which is good when I used to feel like I could do nothing. And that strength is something that I can look back on and know how much I've grown.

And I have to say how much I agree with your IKEA and Disney comparison. SO similar! And that reminds me, I really need to go to IKEA one of these days! I haven't been there in at least 2 years, and that's a problem. I heart IKEA.

..Soo.See.. said...

Doing something that I'd probably wouldn't do or wouldn't want to do, gives me a little boost. But that's just me. I like to try new things that make me curious or intrigue me. Little things (to me), like trying a different dish when I go to a familiar restuarant, where to some that's definitely not something they'd ever do.

There are a couple occassions, I think and wonder, why didn't I push myself a little harder, but mostly out of curiousity. I don't think I push myself to conquer fear, but to grow a bit more.

..Soo.See.. said...

Doing something that I'd probably wouldn't do or wouldn't want to do, gives me a little boost. But that's just me. I like to try new things that make me curious or intrigue me. Little things (to me), like trying a different dish when I go to a familiar restuarant, where to some that's definitely not something they'd ever do.

There are a couple occassions, I think and wonder, why didn't I push myself a little harder, but mostly out of curiousity. I don't think I push myself to conquer fear, but to grow a bit more.

Piccinigirl said...

well I guess I try to conquer things that I fear because it makes me a better version of myself. In almost case, something I thought would be awful are actually quite nice once I am over my fear of doing them. I meet a new person, learn a new skill or just plain know at the end of the day that even though I really didn't want to do something, I did it and lived through it and am here to tell the story.

SarahSews said...

I would have been the person on the real world who just didn't feel like I had to do something fake like "face" a fear of heights when there is no real danger. I always fast forward through those parts on Amazing Race when teams are forced to do something that in theory sounds scary but in reality couldn't really be that dangerous since it is being produced for TV.

Having said that, there are not many things I'm afraid of other than water. On our honeymoon, when DH wanted to go kayaking and snorkling, I went with him. I was anxious and nervous but I climbed in and paddled in the open ocean water with him and even got in the water with turtles and sharks just because I wasn't going to let a little fear of drowning stop me from what looked like fun. Would I scuba just to say I could? Hell no. But do something to meet the needs of my partner? Yes.

Laura said...

Word. I think that the concept of overcoming fears promotes the idea of conquering something, which I do not think is truly helpful in the long run. I think it is more productive to work on loving something in a situation and fear loses it's power to control your mood and the situation itself. Does that make sense?

nancy said...

A few things -

1. I am learning so much about the Jewish faith through you. I never knew about what all these things entailed, just seeing some on the calendar. You've opened my eyes to a faith so rich and seeped in tradition. It's just amazing.

2. IKEA. We don't have one. And I want one SO badly.

3. This post. I feel the same way about some things too. Very anxious. But what bothers me even more is when I let the fear conquer me. Not that it ~needs~ to be conquered, but if there is something I won't do, because of fear, it'll become something I need to do. I'll start thinking about it more and more until I do it.

Maybe it's because I feel like I've lost some sort of control if I pass on it. Who knows. But I could never ever be like Neil.

battynurse said...

How do you do this? How do you put into words pretty much exactly what I'm thinking or feeling. Especially since I totally can't. My big "fear" comes in making decisions. The bigger they are the worse they are. I'm totally freaked out about this whole renting my house out thing and all the steps etc involved. I'd rather just sit this one out but financially it no longer feels like an option. As far as the little fears like spiders (year right that's not so little) I'm pretty much prepared to live with that.

JW Moxie said...

I think it depends on how breaking through that particular pee seal will affect your life afterwards. I remember that particular episode of Real World (they don't make 'em like they used to). Neil would have gained nothing. He had nothing personal internally that he wanted to prove to himself. Jumping off that platform would not have given him a sense of accomplishment. It did not hold the same intrinsic value that it did to Sharon.

You know that by going to that first (or any) Plastic Uterus meetings enriches your life by meeting with friends and sharing common experiences. Going to that first one to break the pee seal was worth it to you on an intrinsic level. The result of the risk outweighed the benefits that the comforts of home provided.

Why conquer fear? Just because you can. Some fears don't NEED to be conquered, per se, but sometimes it's better to beat it down than BE beat down.

The slacker, flannel phases is over? Oh. Pardon me while I switch out my Nirvana CD.

Bea said...

Mainly, the purpose of conquering fear should be to... achieve some purpose. But there is value in just "practising". Sense of achievement, for a start, building the self-esteem needed to go into "real" scenarios, plus you learn practical things about how to get yourself to step off that metaphorical platform. Of course, there's a limit beyond which more practice is kind of empty.


Julia said...

Unsurprisingly, there have been many things in the last almost 15 months that I had to pep talk myself into doing. Being seen pregnant right now is one of them.
I have come to believe that there are things that are worth it and things that are not. Going to see people who are important to me, even if seeing them will hurt is worth a pep talk. Going to see people who I "have" to see because they feel bad that I am avoiding them? Not so much. Because see, it's all about them, them feeling bad, and me needing to make them feel better. Screw that. I have enough on my plate. So no, not everything is worth it, and I draw the line at "important to me." Important could be different things-- people I like, people who are connected to people my daughter likes, etc. Work related, household chore related, anything. But it has to be because there is a reason other than checking it off.

Antigone said...

You lost me at TOOTPU. I keep saying it outloud and giggling.