If I could only remember one thing I learned from college, it would be to get out of my comfort zone.
I know, this mantra appears in all those inspirational boards on Pinterest, and you’ve probably spotted a poster promoting the idea way back in your elementary school days.
As cheesy as it sounds, it’s a motto you should stick with.
According to Time.com list of “Health and Happiness,” Winston-Salem State University psychologist Rich Walker conducted an observational study involving 30,000 memories of events and about 500 journals varying from three months to four years.
Walker discovered that the more a person participated in diverse experiences, the more likely they were to experience positive feelings and minimize negative emotions compared to those who stayed in their comfort zone.
Now before you jump to conclusions, let me be perfectly clear: I’m not one of those people who slip out of their comfort zone with ease.
I (hopefully) resemble a duck gliding on water, but my feet are furiously kicking to keep me from drowning.
Last weekend, I launched myself like a missile out of my safe haven.
I walked my first 5k after encouragement from a great friend of mine.
The experience felt fresh, inspiring and, to be honest, pretty tiring. I couldn’t be happier I went.
My grandmother, the adventurer she is, took me on a night hike on a rugged trail in southern Indiana Saturday, and I thought I would be miserable.
I pegged myself for an indoor person for a long time.
Childhood experiences of nat-invested forests, cramped camping quarters and general discomfort ruined the outdoors for me.
However, I still had a blast. Although I felt exhausted afterward.
And for the entire weekend, I didn’t wear makeup.
For some, that doesn’t seem like a step out of their comfort zone, but it is like stepping into the deep, unknown abyss of fear for me.
As someone who adores using and discovering the hundreds upon hundreds of options for cosmetics, I rarely ever spend the day with a naked face, unless I’m home.
To go out in public in all weekend without micromanaging my lipline or checking to make sure my mascara didn’t flake was a relief.
Needless to say, this weekend was full of big and little steps for me.
But the question is, will I make these experiences habit.
Just because you tried something once doesn’t mean you have to do it again.
I can vouch that I’ve tried kale chips, but I never expect to consume those monstrosities again.
So sure, these experiences might not stick.
I could never participate in a 5k again, I could keep wearing makeup and I could happily return to my sanctuary of the air-conditioned, technology-congested world of the indoors.
But those are experiences I get to say I had.
When these experiences do stick, the long-term effects can change your life.
After suggestions from a friend, I joined Independent Council for Women here at IU last semester. Knowing one person in a group of well over 80 women can cause anxiety. But joining changed my experience at college, and I’m much better off for it.
I boarded a cruise last spring break with women whose names I couldn’t remember and now can rattle off stories about them that still make me laugh today.
On a whim, I interviewed for a position at the IDS last semester and became a co-editor for the very section of this newspaper you’re reading. And I’m still at it.
Most of all, leaving my comfort zone — a mini metropolis nine hours south from here in Georgia — brought me to IU.
The comfort zone will remain right where you left it, like a nightlight in your back pocket you can take out whenever you get scared.
You can return to this safe space when you feel the need, and sometimes you will.
We all need stability in the chaos of life and the comfort zone can serve as that island of peace.
But the world will always be waiting right outside your front door.
Don’t let it slip by you because you’re afraid to explore it.
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