I was recently inspired to step outside of my comfort zone and the source of that inspiration came from none other than my 9 year old son. He is playing soccer this fall and normally my boy is less inclined to join team sports (he typically prefers to sit alone quietly while reading a book, just like his mom), but this year he actually asked his father and me to sign him up for soccer. I was surprised at this request; he has played team sports before and when he does it usually results in him saying, "I don't think I want to do that again next year". But he insisted he wanted to try soccer this fall, so we signed him up.
When I watch my son play soccer, I can see in his face that he is trying hard and that he is way outside of his comfort zone, and I am really proud of him for taking a risk and challenging himself in this way. And so began my own pursuit to challenge and push myself, just as my son is doing.
One of the reasons I love running is because it is a sport I can do by myself. I'm an introvert, so I often prefer to be by myself as a means of recharging and re-energizing. But admittedly I have also always been a little self-conscious about my athletic ability (or lack thereof), and therefore I tend to shy away from group sports. However, after seeing my 9 year old introverted, self-conscious son make an effort in group sports, I thought maybe I'd try something new. In fact, I tried two new things: 1) I joined a running group with some co-workers and 2) I participated in the November Project in Worcester, MA.
I decided to join a running group at work for two reasons: a) it would help hold me accountable as I am training for the full marathon I am running in January and b) it would help me get to know some of my colleagues in my new job. Socializing with strangers is always outside of my comfort zone, so joining a running group at work was definitely a challenge, but one I am glad I took on - when you train in a sport with other people, an organic camaraderie takes place and bonds you in a way that doesn't happen naturally when you are sitting in a cubicle inside the office. Our group ran some tough hills earlier this week and we all were high-fiving each other when we finished, laughing and talking about what was good and what was bad about our run.
In addition to socializing at work through sports and fitness, I decided to do the same outside of work. That's where the November Project comes in. You may be wondering what that is; I included a link to their website above if you want more information, but basically the November Project is a free grassroots fitness movement (originally founded in Boston) that has expanded to multiple cities across four time zones in North America. The people that meet for the November Project use the space around them to work out, and as I mentioned before, it costs nothing to join. In fact, the November Project's slogan is, "just show up".
In Worcester, the November Project "tribe members", as they are called, run up and down the stadium at the College of the Holy Cross every Wednesday morning just after sunrise. And if you are thinking, "How hard can it be to do that?", you clearly have never run up and down an entire stadium before. It's pretty freakin' hard. I can attest that it was one of the toughest workouts I have done since I took Barre last year. And I had to pay someone to kick my ass when I took Barre - the November Project ass-kicking was totally free, and totally awesome. But even though the workout was hard, anyone can join, all levels of ability are welcome and encouraged to participate. Members range from Olympian athletes to people who are just getting off the couch for the first time. Running up and down the stadium trains your body for endurance, and it also makes you realize how big a stadium really is. Ha, ha.
What makes the November Project most special, though, is the relationships between tribe members. There is hugging, laughing, and socializing that you won't see at your local gym. The members support one another and all they ask is that if you say you are going to show up, that you show up. Be accountable. But if you don't, you aren't yelled at or made to feel bad. The members will just say to you, "hey, we missed you" the next time they see you.
Joining the November Project for the first time was most definitely outside of my comfort zone. I am not used to socializing in this way and I felt intimidated at first by all of the "athletic-looking" people that surrounded me (side note: anyone in sneakers and running shorts looks "athletic" to me - except for me, of course). But everyone was very friendly and encouraging and I was told to basically just do my best, which is advice I give my children all the time, so for once I put away my insecurity and self-doubt and I gave it a shot. I am so glad I did, because I got the best workout of my life and it didn't cost me a penny. And I met some new people and made some friends.
Stepping outside of one's comfort zone can be downright scary. I personally prefer to be comfortable at all times. But not a whole lot of magic happens inside your comfort zone. Sure, you get stuff done, but you don't get to try anything new or test your limits. How else will you know what you're made of if you don't push yourself a little? When I stepped up to my new running partners at work and when I walked into that stadium with the November Project tribe at Holy Cross, I wanted to turn and run away. But then I remembered my 9 year old son running on the soccer field, pushing himself and trying hard at something new, and I went for it. I experienced firsthand the magic that happens outside of my comfort zone, and there's no looking back now.