Eleven years ago on a warm September afternoon I sat in the back seat of my parents car, bags packed, thoughts racing through my head as we made the big trip. Above all there was a sense of excitement; young, innocent wonder, you could say, about the place I was going and the people I would meet. Part of me was anxious too. Though less so out of fear than simply anticipating the unknown. Growing up in a small coastal village, a couple of hours south of Dublin, I had attended a local primary school of about 100 students and a much bigger secondary school up in the mountains of Kilmacthomas.
Both places had, at one point, been my comfort zone. Somewhere I could feel relatively safe and happy and have my routine that I followed each day. Waterford City too as it was only a short drive away. I knew very little, however, about “the big shmoke,” as we say at home, and the new world that awaited of parties, alcohol, “bright lights” and more. Now, it seems like a ridiculous exaggeration, but to some extent that’s what it felt like at the time.
So on this important day, not least because it was also All-Ireland football final day, we pulled up outside my lodgings at DCU, volume turned up, the commentator’s roar greeting each Kerry score with just as much enthusiasm and vigour as the one previous. And even still, as the Mayo supporters headed for the turnstiles with that familiar feeling that they would experience again. Whether the players were in a comfort zone or not that day, I didn’t have much choice. My new room (or bedsit) on college campus was about the width of a bicycle. It had a small wooden table and a bed which took up most of the space. Even on such a beautiful, bright day it was dark and glib inside, and under-whelming at best. But, for now, it was my home even if it didn’t much feel like it.
Fast forward four years and saying goodbye to the university was almost as difficult. My dingy room, which, I spent a year in, became my own small space that I liked and appreciated. There was my favourite desk on the second floor of the library, the one that always made me leave home just a few minutes earlier to make sure I got. The girls at the deli who always gave me a friendly smile when I ordered my regular chicken fillet roll at about the same time each day. And the familiar feeling of going to the shop or walking home from class and bumping into someone you know.
Becoming comfortable with Dublin undoubtedly made it easier for me to make that jump when I moved abroad to Boston for four months, which, helped again when I left for Korea a year later. Each small step outside my comfort zone made it easier to push the boundaries just that little bit further the next time.
Whether going to the other end of the world was brave or crazy might depend on your perspective. To some it may even be normal. Ultimately, we all have different boundaries and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone if that’s what makes you happy and content. I don’t believe in change just for the sake of change. Sometimes, though, I do think it is necessary or at least worth the risk.
When I got on the plane for Abu Dhabi in March this year the feeling wasn’t too dissimilar to my first night in Dublin on my own. That sense of heading into the unknown. Thoughts and questions going through my head as I anticipated what awaited.
Now, three months later, what was new and strange at the beginning has become somewhat of a comfort zone too. I am still adapting, but I have my routine of getting up at the same time each day, getting a taxi to work, sitting at my same desk, going to the same classroom and having my nap or workout (or sometimes both) when I get home. It doesn’t mean I’m in love with the place but it does mean I’m content and secure.
There are still things I would love to experience, like scuba diving perhaps, but haven’t yet because I didn’t feel comfortable enough under water. Even driving over here would be out of my comfort zone at the beginning. I think some things are worth pushing the boundaries for, once more, and some things perhaps not. What are your boundaries, if any? Have you had to go outside your comfort zone? Was it worth it? One thing I can assure you is, I won’t be jumping out of planes anytime soon. Right now, I’ll leave that to all you crazy people out there. I’m quite happy where I am with my feet on the ground.
Last week, I received the earth shattering news that my mum drove in Dublin for the first time.
I await with patience her first plane trip too.
Now that will be the day.