Full text of Anne Even’s talk titled “Life happens outside the comfort zone” at TEDxCentralWyomingCollege conference.
So we live in a world where we strive for comfort. We work hard to have a more comfortable lifestyle, house and car. We strive to make things easier, more efficient. We incorporate technology into our everyday lives in order to simplify, streamline.
We make things consistent, predictable, transform them into a pattern. We try to fit in and be the same. We’ve made a world where you can just exist, function on autopilot and float along. We are present, but not really here.
This is a form of life. But is it living? Is it experiencing all that there is around us?
Now, what could our life be if we stepped outside our zone of comfort? What would it be like to feel more alive?
How do we challenge ourselves to be truly full of life, to live and to not just exist? How do we step outside of what we know to see what’s on the other side?
And what if we had the desire to do the unexpected? What if we remove those mental barriers that prevent us from doing something, even if it’s minor in nature?
What if you did what you or someone else thought you couldn’t?
By stepping outside of what we know, we have the ability to reinvent ourselves. We could become people who aren’t afraid. People who act upon their dreams. People who inspire others to be better.
Now, growing up in a town of 400 people, it was easy to have a label placed upon you as to who you were and what you would become. As a young child, I was to be at the top of my class in academics.
I was tall, lanky, uncoordinated and deemed not-athletic. As simple as those messages were, they would sink in deep. I spent the last 10 to 15 years in raveling that mental barrier of ‘who it was they wanted to be, wanted me to be, ‘who I wanted to be’ and ‘what I would become’.
One vivid memory, I recall, was a Nike commercial. That commercial left an imprint on me. Something started that spark; that inspiration. During that minute long commercial, a female runner goes by and a young girl is in the crowd looking on with a thought bubble of I can do that.
Towards the end of the commercial, a series of men that appear to be running a marathon have thought bubbles ‘if I can’ bouncing overhead, something that day created that spark, that inspiration. It made me think I can do something athletic in nature. I don’t know what it is, but I’m willing to find out.
In the small town, everybody goes out for the sports team. You had to in order to make a team. But by the time I was a junior and sitting at the end of the bench on C team, I figured out that, you know, maybe this isn’t for me. Maybe I should just stick to academics. I had no desire for my parents to come to the game. I didn’t want to embarrass them or myself.
Who was I to keep trying? What was the point?
The summer after I graduated from high school, I had the deep desire to do something different, to do the unexpected. This would be my first opportunity to strip myself of that label that had become so comfortable to me.
I set out to prove to myself that I can do something different. I don’t know what, but I’m willing to give it that try.
I talked to my fellow Cross Country teammates into joining me for the Cornhusker State Games adventure race consisting of running, mountain biking, canoeing, some team challenges and some more running.
Now not only were we one of the all few female teams there, we were also the youngest ones there that day. That sounds like something to be proud of, but we had also never mountain biked a single day in our lives.
We were from western Nebraska. We didn’t have mountains or trails, and our hoppies with kickstands just didn’t abandon at the start of the race. And we also had to buy a helmet from Alco because we didn’t have one and they were required for the race.
So it was during this race that I started to find out who I was. I learned that if I can put my mind to it, I can do anything. It was at the weakest point, that 10 mile mountain bike course where we got lapped by the leading men’s team that we realized we could use a bit of humor, give it our best shot.
And it was during that time I felt alive. I knew it’s that feeling I’d want to recapture for the rest of my life. It didn’t matter that we got last place that day or that the winners finished two hours ahead of us, we finished.
At the time, people wondered who we were, where we came from and what we were doing. But you know what? It was our team of three. No one we personally knew was in support. We were in an environment completely unfamiliar to us. No one knew our past what we wanted to become one day.
Perhaps this is the easiest environment to challenge that label. We all have a label of some type and we all have the ability to reinvent it to what we want it to be.
In 2007, I set out to run my first marathon, the same month my husband would be climbing Denali up in Alaska. For months leading up to the event, we remained committed to training.
We returned home from long runs on long cold winter mornings with frozen eyelashes. I learned discipline, commitment and dedication.
And finally, that event arrived. And since Zach was up in Alaska, I thought, maybe I’ll bring my family along, the ones that were in agreement I was the non-athletic type, to maybe try to support me that day.
And maybe this would give me an opportunity to see if they would accept my newly defined label. I started that 26.2 mile journey that day, feeling prepared. I did 20 miles a few weeks before kind of the standard mark and I accomplished that. So I was ready to go.
But I started that race and it was much harder than I expected. I didn’t prepare myself for that thousand foot elevation gain over the first half the race, which I probably should’ve. And by mile 16, I hit that wall that they talk about in the marathon, that point where you really don’t know if you can finish it or not, and somehow managed to make it through that next 10, by sucking it up and walking and running to get to that finish line.