When you go into the uncharted sea, there is fear, immense fear, because one never knows what is going to happen. You are leaving the shore of safety. You were perfectly okay, in a way; only one thing was missing—adventure. Going into the unknown gives you a thrill. The heart starts pulsating again; again you are alive, fully alive. Every fiber of your being is alive because you have accepted the challenge of the unknown.
A few weeks ago, I stepped way outside my comfort zone to ride a sled for the first time. Learning to manage the old heavy snowmobile, surrounded by experienced sledders who knew what they were doing, and working to keep my ego in check at being the graceless newbie, I was completely wiped by the end of the day.
Later I realized I wasn’t just tired from wrestling the sled. That day was just the latest in what’s been a full year of living outside my comfort zone, and it’s exhausting.
I learned from my friend Madeleine at Airplane Mode that this space is called the yellow zone. It’s not a bad place to occupy by any means; in fact, it’s the only place where growth happens. In the green zone, things are easy and calm and status quo. In the red zone, we can’t hear ourselves think for the air raid sirens of fear going off in our heads. It’s in the yellow zone, off the deep end of comfort, where the magic happens.
We can push into the yellow zone across different spaces, like in our hearts. In 2017, I put down roots in a whole new place, spending energy creating a community and exploring new landscapes to call home. More importantly, I found somewhere I wanted to actually call home after two straight years of wandering. Creating that community here hasn’t been easy, and I deeply miss being surrounded by the people I know well and who know me inside out. Because at the same time, I left a whole family—both of blood and of my choosing—and I’ve spent energy maintaining those relationships from afar.
We can push it with our bodies. I broke my ankle, learned about stillness, and am still finding my way out of the tunnel to the other side of this injury. I dove into technical mountain biking and whitewater kayaking. I raced a canoe. I’ve spent a lot of time learning new ways to challenge my body, and the growth comes in the humility.
It can be in the head space. I launched a whole new career in writing, hustling myself hard to do it, and stepped back from another that’s defined my life for a decade.
It can also exist in our most raw depths. I put my heart out there a few times over the last year and learned from each. That kind of growth hurts the most. It’s the easiest kind to shut down, but maybe the kind most worth the risk. I can’t imagine lying on my deathbed wishing I would have loved harder, wondering what would have happened if I’d just taken that chance.
In looking back, it’s no wonder I’m exhausted on the threshold of 2018. But I’m addicted to the magic of the yellow zone and the adventure of the unknown. And yes, it’s also where doubt lives, those gremlins that sit on your shoulder and tell you that you can’t do this, what were you thinking, you’re going to crash and burn and regret it all.
But then I remember what my friend Sara Close taught me: those gremlins only come out when you’re on the edge of greatness.
Living in the yellow zone isn’t easy; that’s kind of the point. And just like with any adventure, when we’re tired from trying so hard, we need to take rest days if we’re going to keep pushing forward. I may retreat to the green zone to rest for a while, so that when those gremlins return, I can be ready.
Don’t call it uncertainty—call it wonder.
Don’t call it insecurity—call it freedom.