I like to think that I’m pretty good at cooking, staging public events, connecting with young children, running projects large and small. If you want a great fund raising activity or you need an intergenerational musical theatre event staged and directed, call me. If you want to knock someone’s socks off with a great party, the legendary “Hostess With the Mostess,” Perle Mesta, lives on in my shoes. However I think of myself as being less good at venturing into places I don’t know well, or doing things I’ve never ever done before.
Nevertheless, there I was a few weeks ago, getting ready to preach a sermon on what it has taken for me to be comfortable going to a part of Boston that, in recent years, has been subject to crime and a middle class exodus to the suburbs. It wasn’t the preaching that got me — I had plenty of experience with that. It was talking about what it took to get me to do something both frightening and unfamiliar. It required me to be honest with myself at a level that I don’t like to go to every day.
And I was, at the same time, leading a Coming of Age class for the third time in six years, loving every second that I spent with nineteen 15- and 16-year-olds, despite the fact that my relationship with my own teenager is a bit rocky (too) much of the time.
And now I have found myself trying new physical challenges: like jumping into a Zumba class (a fusion of Latin and international dance and movement that gives you one heck of a cardio workout) despite the fact that I am a dance maven only in my mind and something of a klutz, with a bad right knee and lousy left foot.
It makes no sense, really.
Frequently when I’m in the middle of doing one of these new things I am hit by that feeling that I once heard psychologists describe as the “Cinderella syndrome,” that feeling that many women have, that someone will surely find out that I can not do the things I’m trying to pull off. I will be found to be an imposter, and I will be thrown out of the palace…and the coach will turn back into a pumpkin. Even so, I keep trying. Not things that feel downright dangerous (you will not, for instance, find me bungee jumping, not ever) but yes, I will be lured to try things that feel like they would be good for me to attempt.
We live, most of us, in the comfort zone of our existence…doing the things that are familiar, and perhaps boring, because they have unrelenting sameness to speak for them. These are the humdrum elements of our lives. Going to another place can be terrifying, but it can also offer a journey of discovery. While I don’t want too much in my life that is unfamiliar — routine and dependability offer a blessing and comfort — I’m trying to pick enough challenges to provide variety for the journey.
My husband and I have a little saying that we offer to one another when we’ve done something unfamiliar that has come off well. Not perfectly, perhaps, but well enough to provide a positive outcome and what feels like success. “Fooled them again,” one of us will say to the other. As if we’ve convinced folks that we really can pull off the impossible or the unfamiliar or untested. Of course, the people we’ve really fooled are ourselves. We didn’t let ourselves get stopped by the ‘what if’ or the ‘I don’t know how’ virus. We tried to do what doesn’t come naturally, and found out that doing it wasn’t so bad after all.
Today, for me, it’s Zumba and operating my own business. Tomorrow, for Ben, it will be driving to West Virginia, to an unfamiliar place, to offer his carpentry and contracting services to an economically challenged community, along with 25 of our congregation’s high school-aged youth.
Doing what doesn’t come naturally has its rewards. And, at the end of the day, we might be able to say once more, “Fooled them again.”