For years I was bullied by a kid in school and at church. It was a defining series of events in my life that still (unfortunately) impacts me today. It determined — for some years at least — how I saw myself and what I thought I was capable of. By college, the burden of this skewed lack of esteem — absolutely none for myself and an outrageous amount handed over to a mean boy who knew nothing about my heart — made me almost desperate for a sign that I was, indeed, valuable, lovable, worthwhile.
Sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, that desperation drove me to do things far outside what I would have rationally chosen. One such means of finding some kind of general social acceptance, was to compete in beauty pageants. Somehow it seemed that if I were to be found acceptable based on the most superficial grounds — which were, after all, the grounds upon which I’d been dismissed and rejected — I would prove that the bully was wrong and I could gain a sense of peace.
Unfortunately, my pageant days didn’t accomplish that goal. They did, however, provide some much needed college funding, some dear lifelong friends, a handful of tiaras, and a few good lessons.
One of the most important lessons was that doing things outside of my comfort zone — whatever they were — was empowering. Whether they resulted in success or failure, the mere act of choosing boldness and audacity by doing something difficult expanded the circle in which I felt familiar, comfortable, and capable.
One of the best books I’ve read on this topic (now, sadly, out of print) is Kissing a Frog: Four Steps to Finding Comfort Outside Your Comfort Zone. It was written a decade ago by a woman named Sharlene Wells Hawkes and her premise is that our greatest successes in life will come in the moments we are outside of our comfort zones.
In 1984 Sharlene was Miss America. Before that she was Miss Utah. And her path to Miss Utah began at the Miss Utah Valley Pageant, where I was her attendant. I had the opportunity to see Sharlene up close and personal — as a competitor. She was confident and poised, but gracious and warm as well. And for nearly 30 years since (holy cow, we are old!) she has continued to be an example to me of someone who refuses to live life where it is easy. Rather, she looks for ways to serve and do good for her family and community without fear. (Or maybe with fear, but without letting fear stop her.)
When I watched today’s lesson about boldness and audacity, I thought of all those people in my life who do things far outside their comfort zones.
Boldness is the act of responding to a situation in a manner that may be viewed as daring to some, but is essential to effectively address the issue at hand.
For some of those I know, that boldness has been competing in the Miss American Pageant, starting a scrapbooking magazine with a second mortgage, or writing and marketing a top-selling book. For others, it’s looking someone in the eye, speaking up in a group, or scheduling another job interview.
Wherever your comfort zone lies today, realize that taking a bold step each day can expand that comfort zone tomorrow. And that continual movement can take you places you never imagined you could go.
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