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  • Writer's pictureShirley Larson

Stretch your tent

I was on my way to dig out an electrical box out of the snow with a back hoe and all I could think was, "Can I really do this?" I often find myself in similar situations, particularly when adjusting to new things or training in a new job. This particular job sent me down a rabbit hole of thinking about doing things that are uncomfortable that stretch you, and things that are uncomfortable that act as a silent alarm or gut check to actually protect you from harm. How do you discern the difference?

I assessed the situation, I had all the tools to do the job physically and mentally, it was just one I had never done before. Conclusion...this wasn't going to hurt me, the only fear was breaking something and if I was careful then it would be fine. In the end I failed at the task...I couldn't find the box, I got the back hoe stuck and slightly moved a permanently situated object. Was my discomfort a warning? No, I think it stretched me to grow and become more competent even though I didn't find the electrical box. It helped me realize that even when I screw up, get stuck and ultimately fail I can still get unstuck, and try again later. (Or wait for the snow to melt)

In a different situation I had a similar uncomfortable feeling and just couldn't shake it. I was going to go forward with the discomfort as I talked myself into it, by saying that I was overthinking it, but in the end I couldn't do it. Did it protect me, I'll never really know. Was I being ridiculous? Maybe. Was there a simple solution, that didn't compromise my own gut check...yes.

When assessing my own comfort zone, there are times to stretch and times to protect, and discerning that can be complex and/or simple in depending on the situation. In the bible Isaiah 54:2 says this, "Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes.” If I stay safely in my small tent and never try new things or expand on the things I know and do I will never grow. Stretching isn't easy, it's not the road most travelled but when I do it I often look back puffy chested and proud, giving myself a pat on the back. Other times I look back and think Im never doing that again, that just wasn't worth it. So is the thing that is making you uncomfortable going to help build your character or ability or stunt you? I'll give you another example: I could hold a tarantula or snake, elevating all the distress signals in my brain. It would be out of my comfort zone...but what is doing for me? Getting over a fear? Not really...I'm still not going to like them afterward. So is this stretching worth the effort. Let me answer that for you with a whole hearted...Nope. So if asked to hold a tarantula or snake my answer is "Has Hell frozen over?" EVERY TIME. However, there is this ladder at one of my jobs...its high, at some point I may have to endure the discomfort of getting up it. Again will it help me get over my fear...maybe. But it will help me be a more effective team member and able to more effectively do my job? Yes. I will tell you the last time I tried, I froze and shook. The ladder rattled and I thought for sure it was going to fall backwards from all the rattling. (so logical I know) So I've adapted and kindly ask my co-workers to help compensate for my own discomfort. Is anything bad going to happen on the ladder?..well...logically I can say probably not, but sometimes fear is not rational. Even when I get up the ladder I cant get off it onto the platform, my body freezes. Is it stretching me to endure the level of vexation? Maybe. Is it protection? My body thinks so. Is there a simple answer It's more complex than the spider and snake. I also need to be weary that going too far into discomfort could actually stunt growth as you cannot thrive and survive, when your brain goes into survival mode there is no growth happening. You are stuck at mid brain and cannot access the frontal lobe, (the thinking part). For now avoiding the ladder is working for me, but that doesn't mean I stop stretching or going out of my comfort zone in other areas.

I encourage you reader to keep expanding your knowledge and abilities. Grow and become a better you as you enlarge your tent and don't hold back, but also check in with that still small voice that is telling you this is a bad idea. Get out of your comfort zone, try new things, pick up a new hobby, take a risk, but live in the tension that there are warnings for hazards and the unsafe. (I could also take this advice for dating :) Assess if you are thriving or surviving? In the pandemic most of us have been in survival, but I exhort you to thrive again by stretching your tent in the ways that help you grow and not wither back.

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