Life Experiences

Monday Morning Musing #41 – Ouch! I sprained my comfort zone

It was an exhausting weekend, more emotional than physical and, two days on, I am still reeling from the shock. Now, don’t worry, friends. Nothing horrid has happened! In fact something quite the opposite. But it was still tough.

Some of you may remember back in October, on the day I broke my arm actually, I wrote about the loveable tornado that is Lucy Hopkins and her workshop on being an idiot (thanks to The English Theatre for organising it). Well, she returned to The Hague and to stay with us, this time to run a two-day workshop entitled ‘Into the Unknown’. As Britney would say, “Oops, I did it again!”

I love being on a stage and am an inveterate show-off, and, with a gig lined up next month as Opening Keynote at the Families in Global Transition conference in Bangkok, I wanted to do what I could to enhance my performance. So, last week I attended a masterclass on how to give a TED talk led by Barbara Rogoski of Successful Speaker Now that filled me with hope and tips. I could do this. My comfort zone was barely tweaked. This weekend I’d learn about letting go and improvising. It made sense when I booked it and I’d loved Lucy’s previous workshop despite a few misgivings. How hard could it be?

In short. Very.

Among various fun exercises we spent quite a long time playing a game called Mr Hit.  We were to walk round and round the room playing a version of Tag with a twist. The twist was that it was almost impossible to get it right, despite the simplicity of the rules. Lucy said it was a bit like that time when you have to rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time. Anyway, I was rubbish at it and wanted to lose as quickly as possible so I could sit down and escape the purgatory, which is my default solution to similar problems. Only it wasn’t that simple.  We had been instructed to do all we could to win and then spontaneously react (read overreact) if we messed up and were faced with losing one of our three lives. Well, I learned something this weekend – that you can only ‘spontaneously overreact’ if you really mean it. I mean you can’t get away with ‘overacting’ instead, which is what I wanted to do. No, that would have been too easy. Acting comes much more easily to me than playing a game. And the only way I could actually ‘play’ this game, was to really play it. To engage. To join in. To try. Rats. That was hard. But I did stay ‘up’ for a surprisingly long time and eventually almost began to enjoy myself and let go.

For many people being on stage is terrifying enough, speaking or singing or acting in front of other people is the third scariest thing you will ever do. For me, however, playing a physical game is much harder. I have no trouble with Scrabble. I am competitive as all hell when playing that, but while playing a physical game is bad enough, deliberately trying to win one is anathema.

Comfort zones are funny things and distinctly personal, aren’t they? No one can guess from the outside what makes someone curl up in a ball of embarrassment on the inside. I guess the things people find excruciatingly embarrassing start in childhood, in playground taunts or cruel comments from a teacher or parent. I was hopeless at sport at school and mocked for it, which has given me a complex the size of a planet that endures to this day. It’s the same with singing. And, as I reflect on the weekend I realise that some people may feel just as terrified about reading their work out loud in my writing workshops.

By the way, I still came last in Mr Hit.

Our group of brave show-offs (Lucy in green)

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