In My Own Write: Of courage and comfort

Suppose you never believed you had real control of your life?

Bunjee jumping 390 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Bunjee jumping 390
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Men and communities in this world are often in the position of Arctic explorers who are making great speed in a given direction, while the ice-floe beneath them is making greater speed in the opposite direction – Naturalist and philosopher John Burroughs (1837-1921)
If you type the words “be in control of your life” into the Google search engine, you get 24,700,000 hits – and that’s pretty ironic. Allowing for a number of sites that exhort you to let God or Jesus direct your every act, that still leaves an awful lot of people and groups who appear to believe you can stage-manage your life, when you patently can’t. Ask the passengers on the Costa Concordia.
Yet in a sophisticated Western world that has seen unprecedented man-developed life-style changes even over the last decade or two – think cell phone invasion and the Internet – being “in control” of one’s life has in many ways become the mark of the successful modern man or woman. Consequently, the prospect of losing that control can seem terrifying.
But suppose you never believed you had real control in the first place? Would that, paradoxically, confer a new kind of courage to plough ahead? Would it diminish the fear of change so many of us harbor? THESE THOUGHTS were prompted by an email from a European friend who is about to make a dramatic change in her life.
This friend, in her early sixties, has just retired from her demanding job as a schoolteacher. She rents a lovely apartment, has grown children and a variety of interests, and can now relax and enjoy them more fully.
So what is she doing? She’s given up her apartment, put her belongings in storage, and is arriving next month to begin a year-long sojourn as a volunteer at a Jerusalem landmark. She has friends here, but, essentially, is taking a step into the unknown, exchanging the familiar and comfortable for the unknown and untried.
“I have been planning this year for a long time,” she wrote “[but] even though I want and will come, I have had to endure states of mind when I would feel like a small child who doesn’t want to go out into the cold… “Here [in Europe] there is a beautiful and comfortable flat that will no longer be my home and a nest for my children and friends, and [over] there is Mount Zion with the abbey, and I do not have the slightest idea of how it will all turn out, even though there is that lovely warm thought of friends a few kilometers away from the Old City.”
She is honest in admitting that while the thought of her friends here is warming, the notion of leaving her “comfort zone” is giving her some chilling moments.
Still, she is determined. And she is aware that she is not in full “control” of her life.
“You never know what is coming up the next moment [anywhere you are],” she reflected in her email, “so why should I know?” What she wrote next could be valuable for anyone contemplating a dive into untried waters: “I’ve been working on an inner picture: an empty flat and two suitcases, plus rucksack, standing on the floor, waiting for me to leave, and live, and move on – which I am going to do!” In other words, when you are about to attempt something momentous, hold a “dress rehearsal” in your mind – with real props, if possible! “It is all symbolic,” she concluded, “and I feel close to all those who dared do something similar.”
PSYCHOLOGISTS believe that fear of change stems from the perception that we will lose control. But accepting that our control is anyway limited, and that change is a fact of human existence – even if we sit tight and never budge – can help corral that fear and stop it from blocking our path to new experiences.
One useful suggestion I came across is to substitute other terms for “change”: growth, renewal, transformation or evolution – all of which incorporate the idea of change, but feel more user-friendly.
In the context of daring to change, it’s worth mentioning a seminar I took some years ago that focused on the topic of risk. After asking participants what kind of eventualities they feared and collecting an impressive range of calamities, the group leader drew a horizontal line on the blackboard. He labeled one end “Total Risk,” and the other “Zero Risk.”
“Think about it,” he said. “Both these extremes are irrational. Life is never totally risky; nor is it totally risk-free.”
Marking an X somewhere mid-line, he pointed out that this was a truer reflection of reality, and advised: “Some risk – with possible bad outcome – is inevitable, but that risk shouldn’t be exaggerated."
“When you start thinking about all the terrible things that could happen when you step outside your front door,” – or, one might say, when you’re afraid to venture outside your comfort zone –“imagine this continuum with the ‘risk meter’ hovering in the middle, and get on with the business of living.”
SETH GODIN, author, entrepreneur and “agent of change,” recognizes how hard it is for people to change. For this reason, he recommends that we get into the habit of making frequent small changes, then gradually moving on to bigger things.
Godin’s term for this is “zooming” – slowly stretching one’s limits by adapting to new ideas, challenges and opportunities without triggering that pesky change-avoidance reflex. He proposes these simple things:
• For dinner, eat a food you’ve never tasted. Then try another one the following night.
• On your way to work, listen to a CD from a musical genre that you hate, or that’s new to you.
• Once a week, meet with someone from outside your area of expertise. Go to a trade show on a topic in which you have no interest whatsoever.
• Read a magazine you’ve never read before.
• Change the layout of your office.
Or, he says, just do something for the first time. After a while, you will be much more likely to look for other new things to do, and to view every change as an opportunity.
ALL IMMIGRANTS to Israel throughout the decades have had to cope with remaking their lives in a new and highly challenging environment. There is no shortage of documented aliya stories – many of which have appeared in The Jerusalem Post – detailing the ways in which olim have dealt with this daunting life change. Many of these stories inspire admiration, even awe at what their subjects have achieved, often against great odds.
In contrast to immigrants who left inhospitable or even dangerous environments, olim from the West have generally abandoned zones of considerable material comfort.
Some did so at an advanced age, when life changes are recognizably harder.
My husband, who married for the first time last year at the age of 67 – having made aliya not long before – wasn’t much help when I asked if he could explain how he had been able to make these enormous changes after avoiding them all his life.
All he would answer was: “Change is always difficult. But there are times when what you are doing seems so right that you overcome the barriers that stood in the way before.”