Everything you want is on the other side of your comfort zone.
– SHANITA HUBBARD
I started 2019 exhausted, lonely, and two unexpected flat tires away from being broke. I’m a single mom, a professor, and a freelance journalist, [which means] I spend most days running on fumes while juggling parenting obligations, speaking engagements, writing projects, and teaching responsibilities. I had very little time for my relationships, let alone my damn self, and I operated with the understanding that any unforeseen financial emergency could cause my world to fall apart.
I desperately needed to make changes in my life. I craved a healthier life with more financial freedom. But my fear of change prevented the former and professional setbacks deterred the latter. I felt stuck and lost, in need of rescue from the stifling comfort zone I found myself trapped in. Everything I needed to transform was on the other side of this comfort zone, but getting to the other side was a whole other story. Steadily gathering the strength of mind and body to snatch myself out of the dangerous grasp of my own complacency turned out to be my superpower, and when I discovered the power of my faith, consistency, and determination, I became my own superhero and rescued myself.
By the end of January 2019, I already felt like I was off to a bad start. I had left a really prestigious literary agency and was getting adjusted to the feel of a new one. Change, even when it’s in my best interest, has always made me nervous. And this new move was no exception. In fact, it was a lot more anxiety-producing than I expected.
I wondered if leaving such a large company for a boutique agency would slow down my publishing dreams. Would my book idea and proposal be good enough? Would this smaller and lesser-known agency be able to help me land a “good” book deal? Was leaving the right decision? Those questions constantly pushed their way to the center of my thoughts and consumed what little writing time I had. Even the simple act of opening my laptop was all I needed to slip into panic mode. Exhausted from fighting anxiety, I’d eventually collapse into a sleep that would be broken by an immense feeling of disappointment in myself for not doing enough. Wash, rinse, and repeat the next day.
You have to change your mind to change your life. And this sometimes requires super strength.
That’s the thing about the comfort zone, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a healthy and inviting space; sometimes it’s a harmful routine that you’ve done for so long that it simply becomes all you know. My comfort zone was built in complacency [and] a fear of change, even if I knew it would make me better. In my comfort zone were voices telling me that the worst was on the horizon, so I’m better off not even bothering. I was comfortable with my daily routine of procrastination, self-deprecation, and fear — despite how unhealthy it was. This continued for months until one day I pushed myself to imagine what a more healthy day would entail.
I replaced all-nighters with good sleep so I could wake up with more energy. I reached further outside of my comfort zone and started my day with several minutes of saying words of affirmation and mentally recalling every time trusting my decisions worked in my favor. I eventually graduated to writing these affirmations on post-it notes and placing them around my house. Wash, rinse, and remix. A new habit was formed, a new power was realized.
By the summer of 2019, my writing skills were strong. I not only covered my house in my own words, but finished the words in my proposal and landed a book deal with the publisher I wanted [and] an attractive contract I was now brave enough to fight for. The view flying high above my comfort zone is amazing. But, a person can be completely thrilled about achieving a bucket list goal while still struggling emotionally in other areas.
The professional satisfaction and greater financial freedom I received from the book deal didn’t mitigate the personal loneliness I was feeling. In the midst of all the celebratory screams with my squad — the “yasssss girls” and “look at God” — I was still wondering what this moment would feel like if I had a significant other with whom to commemorate it. As the old saying goes, whatever you think of constantly begins to grow. I was making myself hyper-aware of what was missing in my life, and that awareness eventually grew large enough to almost mask the beauty in my world and sink me right back into the complacent place I was in earlier this year. I deserved more. My daughter, close family, and friends all deserved more; so the superwoman within me sprang into action.
Just as I had done with my affirmations, I began making a conscious effort to spend the first few minutes of my morning mentally reflecting on all the love I had. I would pray and thank God for each person individually and meditate on what they brought to my life. Some days, I would take it a step further and send them a random text telling my family and friends what they mean to me. This shifted my focus away from my loneliness and toward gratitude.
Training my body to do something I once believed was inconceivable is a reminder that I can do the same thing for my mind.
I spent the last two years sort of just surviving, but thanks to my newly discovered power, I was reminded of what it feels like to be thriving. I gave myself permission to try new experiences. And to my surprise, having long-term running goals became one of my favorite things. At the beginning of 2019, I couldn’t run for a consecutive two minutes. If you would have told me then that I would end the year with completing three 5K races and one 10K, I never would’ve believed you. And even though I can now fit into my “I’m feeling myself” jeans again, weight loss wasn’t ever the goal. Training my body to do something I once believed was inconceivable is a reminder that I can do the same thing for my mind.
Stepping out of your comfort zone is more than just forcing yourself to tackle a task you’ve been putting off or pressuring yourself to try something new. It’s about changing your mind to change your life. And this sometimes requires super strength.
A friend of mine once wrote, “Every good superhero origin story starts with trauma.” When he wrote this he had no clue that line would help me put my entire year into perspective. It reinforced the notion that despite the trauma, drama, and stress in my life, I’ve always had the inner power to guide me back to myself.
That year, I was both the damsel in distress and superhero in my own story. I may not have leaped tall buildings, but I damn sure took some leaps in the faith I had for myself and my future. I now have super strength to overpower any obstacle in my way. I can move mountains with my mind.
This essay previously appeared on Zora.