Monday, March 20, 2006

Blasting through comfort zones

I just got back from a long weekend trip with Mr. Jane and a few friends. It was incredibly fun and very restful in an active sort of way. We spent the whole time "playing outdoors", as I like to call it. (The one not so good part: forgetting to pack sunscreen. Oops. Luckily, vitamin E cream seems to be helping with the peeling, so far.)

The most interesting thing about the trip was that we were doing something at which I am pretty much a total beginner and at which everyone else on the trip was very, very good. The others on the trip were very good about accomodating me (or "babysitting" me as I started calling it). But there were many times during the weekend where I had to operate well outside of my comfort zone, where I experienced fear in a heart-pounding, I-can't-possibly-do-this sense. I am glad that I did face my fear and power through it, because it always ended up not being as bad as I feared, and usually ended up being fun. And doing so helped me to do much more that I thought I was capable of doing. I even went off on my own a few times, so that the others could do more advanced things and so I could work on improving my own skills, without an audience and needing to figure out things on my own.

I am not afraid to try new things. I like to learn new things. I will try almost anything at least once. But at the same time, I am cautious. I have many moments of self-doubt. Learning new physical skills can be frustrating to me, particularly when I don't "get it" right away. I always want to feel 100% in control, and learning to relinquish some control and just let my body take over from my brain is very hard for me to do. I am not instinctual in that way. Yet the times I found the most success this weekend were when I let myself rely on instinct a little more and my brain a little less.

Weekends like this are instructive for me because I spend a lot of time pushing my own students outside of their comfort zones. I teach students who really struggle to learn how to write computer programs, who have never struggled with something as much as they struggle in my class. I employ undergraduate researchers who have never experienced academic failure before, but whom now have to deal with problems that may not have an easy, clear-cut solution---or any solution at all. Sometimes it helps to be reminded of what it feels like to struggle and fail, to fall down, to feel frustrated at your lack of skills in a particular area.

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