Breaking Up with your Comfort Zone is Hard to Do
by Emily Lang
When I was 17 my mom and one of my teachers conspired to enter me into our county scholarship pageant. It wasn’t that I was some great beauty – it was that I was painfully shy, and they thought forcing me out of my comfort zone would help. When they approached me with the idea, I distinctly remember them telling me what a good chance this was to earn some money for college.
“Besides, it’ll be good for you,” my mom said, gently encouraging her always resistant teenage daughter.
I really, really didn’t want to participate, but I also wanted to go to college, so I agreed. We bought a swimsuit, borrowed a dress and began practicing interview questions after school.
When it came time to pick a talent, I tried out several ideas before we landed on a song. A few vocal lessons with the local band teacher later, we were all surprised to learn I could sing a little.
As the big day drew near, my nerves began to ramp up. To help us prepare for the actual pageant, the organizers took a small group of pageant participants to several local schools, where we would “preview” our talents. I sang on stage in front of my entire high school at an assembly arranged just for the occasion, and there too, people were surprised to learn I had a decent voice.
My mom was so surprised that she began telling people what a great vocalist I was, gushing to friends and distant relatives with the delusions only a proud mother can possess. With the actual pageant just days away, mom began inviting everyone she knew to come hear her oldest daughter match the vocal stylings of the slow jazz Gloria Estefan backup track I had chosen for my newly discovered talent.
When the moment arrived, my parents and siblings were joined in the auditorium’s second row by my grandma, several aunts and uncles and a handful of my many cousins, each one lured under the promise of what sure to be the moment Sharon Bullard’s eldest child was discovered by the talent agents no doubt lurking in the rafters at Marlow High.
And then it happened. Standing backstage, I heard my name called and I began the walk to center stage. I stood there in the spotlight, just able to make out the faces of my family in the audience, eagerly anticipating my big moment. A blue sequin flame shot up one arm of my borrowed dress, and the music started.
Nervous, I paused for just a beat, missing the timing on the first word of the song.
“They tell me that you’re leaving. I can’t … believe it’s true.”
This isn’t how Gloria would’ve done this.
My mom shifted uncomfortably in her seat. My grandma’s face beamed anyway.
And I … I forgot to breathe. For two and a half minutes, I forgot to breathe. I stumbled through the rest of the song, unable to find a note. By the time I got to the song’s penultimate line, I wasn’t so much singing as I was whispering off key.
“Breaking up … is hard … to doooooooooo!”
My voice cracked for the length of the entire last note of the song. My shuffle off the stage was not unlike Napoleon Dynamite’s post-Pedro dance exit.
I don’t remember what happened next. I didn’t win a scholarship that night, but the evening was a success in the most unexpected way. To this day, I think of that night when I need a personal pep talk. It’s a reminder that I can do hard things, and that however badly I may fail from time to time, there are lessons in the effort.
Besides, my future failures are bound to be less embarrassing than my small-town singing snafu. Having survived that, I’m less afraid to step out of my comfort zone now.
I can do hard things – impossible things even.
And you can too.