Last week, as I drove through a neighboring town, I noticed a man walking his dog out of a ballpark area. I remembered that I had heard from someone that there were walking trails somewhere behind that ballpark, yet I had never taken the time to investigate. So the next day, I put my pup in the car, and headed over. I wasn’t sure what to expect, or really even where to go. I parked near a couple of other cars, and quickly found what looked to be a trail entrance. Off we went on our mini adventure. What we discovered was wonderful. I let my woofie off his leash, and we had a great time exploring a variety of walking trails, some in meadows, others wooded. There’s even a trail that winds all the way around a pretty pond. Since it was getting hot out, we decided to save the pond trail for another day. I stopped and had a short conversation with a woman who brings her dog there “all the time.” As we headed out, I felt kind of foolish. This little gem has been within 15 minutes of our home for nearly 15 years, yet I had never taken the time to stop and find out what was there.
It made me consider, how often do any of us take the time to explore uncharted territory? When do we dare take even a short break from our normal routines? I know a gentleman who includes one line item on his daily To Do List that will make him uncomfortable. So every day, he makes himself to do one thing that may be new, or different, or may just be an activity that pushes him beyond his comfort zone. No one forces him to do this; he just knows that he will be better for having done it.
I am on the verge of a fairly daunting dose of unfamiliar territory. After twelve years, I have decided to leave my current place of employment and have accepted a new job in a new (to me) industry. In the grand scheme of life, this is not an astounding feat of accomplishment. I am not climbing Mount Everest, I am not packing up and moving half way around the world, I am not giving everything up to be a Missionary in a Third World Country. But I am moving my cheese. And, in doing so, I am moving the cheese of those I have worked with. I am excited, nervous, and anxious to start my new chapter and discover new opportunities. Yet the departure from my comfort zone of where I’ve been for a dozen years is proving to be harder than I imagined. The realization that I will no longer see my current co-workers and friends every day and that I will no longer have that well-known comforting daily routine is harder, and more emotionally draining, than I thought it would be. But without venturing down new trails, without pushing ourselves to try new things and accept new challenges, we don’t grow and become stronger. At any age.
This week my son has been taking his Driver Education classroom training. Yesterday I dropped him off at Starbucks on my way to work, where each morning this week he goes in to get some sweet flavor of iced coffee, relaxes for about half an hour, then walks down the street to his classroom. To learn how to drive. As I watched him get out of the car and stroll confidently away, I had two contradictory images flash into my head. One was the realization that very soon, he will be striding off to college, or off to a job, all grown up and on his own. The other image was a flashback to when he was just a little boy, and I wouldn’t let him out of my sight for a second when we were shopping in a store. And here I was, dropping him off to spend the whole day away from me, doing mature grown up things. Did this make me uncomfortable? You bet. In that instant I felt pride, fear, sadness, and a yearning for the old days when that little boy would run up to hug me, climb in my lap to read a story, hold my hand, and fall asleep on me. In life, however, we don’t move backwards. We move forward. As I watch him grow and head into his own uncharted territories, I realize in many ways he’s forcing me to do the same. I have to let him become a man, to create his life, to choose his new trails to explore. And I need to learn how to let go enough for that to happen.
Braving those first steps down an unknown trail is simple, really. All it takes is courage, faith, several deep breaths, and a willingness to be a little uncomfortable. Then we can all check that item off our daily to do list. And be better for having done it.