“The first step is always the hardest”
― Sarah Dessen,
There is just nothing quite like a new journal. If you’ve never been a journaler, maybe it’s easier for you to appreciate the feeling of a new package of notebook paper — opening the plastic, straightening the pieces of paper, and clasping them into the rings of a binder. They sit there waiting, and it is, for someone like me, incredibly gratifying to look upon that clean piece of paper. The paper is no good, though, if it isn’t written upon, is it? The pages of the journal might remain pristine, but their value is realized only when the ink begins to fill the space. It’s just taking the step to make that first mark that is so difficult. Dessen’s words are surely true for me, the first step really is the hardest.
It was probably a year ago when I first considered leaving the newspaper where I was writing. Leaving was tempting, but like many other things in life, the comfort of staying was easier than confronting my fear of beginning again. I’m guessing you understand — you consider moving but settle on the comfort of the home you’ve always known, or maybe it’s as simple as choosing to sit on the couch instead of joining friends for an activity. Some of you thrive on change, but many are just like I am and avoid altering your routine as much as possible. And then, something happens, and the need for change finds you picking up your foot to take a step, that first step. So it was with me and leaving the paper where I’ve shared my writing for several years. I wiggled my toes, picked up my foot, and before I knew it I landed right here with you. What’s hard about that, you ask? Oh, nothing, and everything.
I’m going to ask you to think for a minute about times in life that you’ve known you should probably consider a change — a new job, a new group of friends, a move to a new town, a different church, or maybe just a change of coffee shop. If it isn’t broken, we aren’t supposed to want to fix it, right? So you stay right where you are. I stayed where I was because it was comfortable and people knew where to find me. Relocating to a new paper and a new page is awfully scary — what if my readers don’t find me, what if my new readers don’t love me — but research says it’s exactly what I should be doing.
It was in 1908 that two psychologists (Yerkes and Dodson) discovered that staying in our comfort zone results in a “steady level of performance.” While that sounds like a good deal, many of us get bored and want to do more and be better, and the key to that change is the very thing that often dismantles us — anxiety. That’s right, the same anxiety that derails our day can be the key to greater things…taking us just outside of our comfort zone. The pristine page that I am so anxious about dirtying? That first mark is the beginning of greater writing. That person you’ve been wanting to meet but were too afraid to speak to? Stepping out to say hello could be the beginning of a beautiful relationship. And the people who asked me to share my writing here at the Murfreesboro Post were patient enough to wait for me to decide that being comfortable was less important than being challenged.
You can probably see places in your own life where allowing yourself to be comfortable has found you just existing, instead of excelling. Maybe it’s as simple as buying a new brand of coffee or taking a new route for your afternoon walk, or maybe it’s as challenging as committing to take a class to be able to have the job you wish you could have. Whatever it is that we are doing today is probably ok, but just think about what we could be doing tomorrow if we let a little of our anxiety work for us instead of against us. Pick up your foot and move forward just one step. There! You’ve made progress, and so have I. It’s a great place to find ourselves.