Comfort Zones: we all have them, and often I feel like we’re conditioned to do everything in our power to not to step out of them. It takes a conscious effort, courage, and usually a great deal of time convincing others that what you’re doing is worth it. That it’s important. That it’s something you feel compelled to do.
For years I have had the desire to contribute to the community in a meaningful way and find a way to help others. And for years I have made every excuse to not act on that desire. “I have a full-time job,” “Maybe when life settles down,” “I’m already too busy and tired”… the list goes on. I think the real reason was this: I was scared.
Not only was I scared because I am an introvert, so the thought alone of building new relationships makes me feel anxious and drained, but I was also scared because I have spent my entire life trying to ignore social inequalities. I know they’re there, but I just didn’t want to truly see them.
Sure, when I was in highschool I would send money every month to a sponsor child in Africa, and I would donate my used clothes to the Good Neighbour Store and make monthly donations to United Way, with hopes that it would help make a difference. But I would also walk quickly by someone pan-handling. I’d park strategically as to not have to walk by them at all. I would try my hardest not to make eye contact, and if I did, I would smile, say, “No, sorry,” and turn my gaze back to the ground.
One of the most confusing things for me is that I can’t even explain this behaviour. Am I scared of them? Am I scared of the feelings they may insight: pity, anger, sadness, hopelessness? Did society condition me to be this way? And I think, most importantly, is how do I stop this and ensure that when I have kids, they have an open compassion and love for everyone, despite their life circumstances and challenges?
So I made the first step – I challenged my comfort zone. Last night was my first night volunteering at the Warming Room. Today, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience. I would be a liar if I said it was easy. It wasn’t. I experienced fear and frustration. There was a moment that I thought I had made a mistake and was going to go home – to safety and comfort – with the reality and challenges of this ignored and marginalized population left behind me. Let me tell you, I am so glad I didn’t.
I saw companionship, gratitude, and hope. I saw dreams come to life on paper, heard laughter, and felt humbled from being a part of this space that provides safety and warmth to those who otherwise would not have that. Yes, there were times I had to remind myself of Rev. Christian Harvey’s words, “What can I do to show this person love?” but then there were the other times – like gathering around the table playing cards, or watching the guests and volunteers take pencil to paper and create beauty – that made me so grateful. I was even fortunate enough to be gifted an amazing sketched portrait that a talented guest did for me, which is now proudly displayed right next to me as I write this.
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. ”
Take the leap and do something that is out of your comfort zone this week. The world will be a better place because of it.