Yesterday found me up at some ungodly hour, suited and booted in a rather natty black fleece jacket and red polo top and grappling with a giant lollipop with the words ‘Here to Help’ emblazoned across it. I had agreed to help out at an open day where I work and from 8.15 am onwards I was stationed near to a car park, ready to greet visitors with a cheery smile and direct them to where they needed to go.
Now this might not seem particularly newsworthy to some – people do things like this every day don’t they? – but to me it was a quite a big deal. You see, at the ripe old age of forty two I’m finding it increasingly difficult to hang onto the self-confidence I possessed in my youth and far easier to make excuses and put obstacles in front of anything that requires me to deviate outside of my usual routine. This has happened so gradually over the last few years that I’ve barely noticed it creeping up on me. I spent too much of my twenties and thirties stressing about things that, looking back, weren’t really such a big deal and it’s been good to let go of some of that youthful angst and enjoy a more mellow, relatively hassle-free life as I get older. However this has come at a hefty price, and that is the loss of confidence to try new things, however small they may seem, in case they interfere with my cosy, cocooned lifestyle and result in me having to do things that make me feel nervous or uncomfortable – feelings that I try to avoid wherever I can.
Just lately though, I’ve been thinking that enough is enough and that I need to do something about this because firstly, I’m missing out on opportunities that I might actually enjoy and secondly, I know for a fact that stepping outside of your comfort zone only gets harder as you get older. But don’t worry dear reader, I’m not about to hitchhike naked around the world, surviving on nothing but Kendal mint cake and rancid rainwater, nor am I about to enter myself for some reality TV show in my quest to cross this barrier. No, I’m talking about starting small and seeing where it takes me. And for me, that means getting involved in things that I want to do but normally manage to instantly talk myself out of because I overthink every possible scenario and usually manage to engineer a negative outcome to it before I’ve even started.
Hence my standing outside in the freezing cold on Saturday morning, trying not to think about how I would cope if anyone asked me an awkward question that I couldn’t answer and concentrating more on being cheerful and making people feel at ease. And what surprised me was that there were quite a lot of people who didn’t actually look particularly at ease when they first arrived. I found this reassuring – not because I wanted people to feel uncomfortable and out of place – but because it made me realise that maybe I’m not the only person in the world who worries about the unknown, perhaps sometimes I’m just too quick to openly admit to it.
Over the course of the day I noticed that initially people didn’t want to be bothered by a slightly manic, lollipop-wielding official, smiling so much that their top lip stuck to their teeth and they did their utmost to avoid any eye contact whilst trying to scuttle past unnoticed. You know that thing little kids do when they think that if they don’t look at you then you can’t see them? There was a LOT of that going on. I soon found though that making the first step was actually quite liberating. Of all the people who tried to escape my evil clutches, when I did step forward and ask if they needed help, only a handful rejected my offer outright – most seemed really grateful to be asked. And another thing – the world didn’t end when I couldn’t answer a question. Normally I would stew over my incompetence for a good couple of days but as my friend said to me when we met for lunch, the guy who asked the question wouldn’t be replaying the conversation over and over again would he? Besides which, I helped a lot more people than not over the day, so what was one little blip in the grand scheme of things?
And so the day came to an end and apart from a mild case of hyperthermia, my first tentative steps into the unknown hadn’t gone too badly at all. Heck, they might even pave the way for more things that I would normally prevent myself from doing. And although what I did yesterday might seem fairly run of the mill to some, it was pretty significant to me and I’m really pleased that I did it!