It Pays to Expand Your Comfort Zone

Kirsten - Baker City, Oregon
Entered on May 12, 2008
Age Group: 65+

A failing on my part at fourteen was one I vowed not to repeat, namely not to let timidity and fear make me loose out on something I really wanted.

As a girl scout in Denmark I led a patrol, a small unit of six girls. All winter we had worked on projects for a competition among a few hundred patrols. The final tests would be at the big division summer-camp held every four years. These would include scouting skills, like using map and compas; Morse-code; first aid; etc. All that was no problem. BUT the very last item we would be judged on was FIVE MINUTES OF CAMPFIRE ENTERTAINMENT in front of a thousand girls.

We were void of ideas. The day before departure for camp I developed a stomac ache so bad it convinced myself and my parents that I could not go.

The stomach ache subsided, but was replaced by regret, when I received a wire that my patrol had won first place, led by my assistant; and remorse over having left my best friend stuck with a task I could not face myself.

This memory spurred me on many times, and has led to a much more interesting life than a girl from a small-city middle-class family in Denmark was expected to have.

Coming from a background of tradesmen married to housewives I enrolled — in spite of family scepticism — at the Technical University to get a Masters Degree in Chemical Engineering.

After paying off my student debt I emigrated to the U.S. “to try it for a year or two.” That was the scariest move ever. After six weeks at a cheap hotel in San Francisco’s tenderloin district I had discovered that there was a surplus of chemical engineers, and that nobody thought a woman could be an engineer. I had also reached the point, where I had to decide whether to hang on and hope for the best, or use my remaining savings for a return ticket. The stomach ache was back!

I decided to chance it and was rewarded with a job — as a technician, which I had been before my six years of college. That hurt my pride, but it would pay the bills. It also prepared me for accepting jobs far from my field later on. And I loved California!

A year later I met my husband and embarked on an unconventional life that would involve a lot of moving and taking whatever job was available, such as clerk, cleaning woman, draftsman, firearms dealer, to mention some. At the same time we had great adventures living from the Texas Gulf Coast to Central Alaska — and in the end I actually did work as an engineer.

Without facing my covardice and learning from it, I believe I would have remained inside a rather narrow comfort zone instead of having plenty of material for my memoirs.