I believe in forcing ourselves out of our comfort zones. It is only when we are facing a new challenge do we see what we are capable of doing. Then we stop procrastinating, stop making excuses and begin thinking “Yes I can” instead of “I’ll do it tomorrow”.
I unexpectedly live in Vietnam right now. I say “unexpectedly” because had I not decided to step outside of my comfort zone I never would have ended up in this wonderful, confusing and sometimes frustrating country. In the summer of 2003, I left the life I had created for myself–a good paying job with benefits and comfortable apartment in Cincinnati to an existence of uncertainty and unemployment in Chicago. I took the summer off and immersed myself in the joy and adventure of exploring a new city. A couple of corporate jobs later and unsatisfied with my career path, I again stepped out of my comfort zone to pursue another career as a teacher. Many of my friends called me “brave”, “bold” even “courageous” for doing what they would never do. I guess in a way they were right, but I never looked at it like that. I had a goal and could only achieve it by stepping outside what was normal behavior for me and most other women my age.
So, at the age of 38 I went to graduate school, worked 2, sometimes 3 jobs at a time to make ends meet and focused on my goal of getting my teaching certificate. At that time I had an image in my mind of getting a job at a public high school in Chicago, having my own place and living back in that comfort zone. I remember the sense of accomplishment and exhilaration I had on my last day of teacher training, realizing that I had achieved my goal. Now, the next step was simple, or so I thought—get a job and get on with a “normal” life. In 2007 the country was well on its way to recession and I did not receive a single call for an interview. My seasonal job was ending, my lease was expiring and I had no job prospects. The thought of a long, cold winter in Chicago as a substitute teacher, not being able to afford my own place and having to sleep on friends’ couches did not appeal to me. With these facts staring me in the face, I chose once more to do the unexpected and moved to Seoul, Korea to teach English for a year. That move was the springboard that began a new way of thinking for me. It led me to another exciting opportunity in Vietnam and countless more on the horizon.
The job I took in Seoul is not what I will remember about that particular year in my life. What I will remember is the friends I made, the experiences I had, the culture I was immersed in and what I learned about myself. I have always been independent, but have become even more so. I learned that I have an incredible ability to adapt to a foreign country in a very short period of time. I learned that I was capable of even more than what I expected of myself. I learned that the life that I live is my own, and that I shouldn’t let others’ expectations affect the way I live it. Seoul will always be a reminder of the beginning of a new life that gave me the confidence that I can do whatever I set out to do. It was the decision that set me down a path of adventure that opened my eyes to the world. It would have been easy to continue what I had been doing, but I would never have been able to meet the people, had the experiences and live and work in the countries that have affected my life in such a positive way. The call to step out of my comfort zone opened so many doors for me and I am grateful that I had the wisdom to listen.