Five clichés that aren’t actually outside of your comfort zone

After reflecting on the past nine posts, I realized that the topics I’ve covered have seemed slightly serious (for example: shouldering others’ burdens, facing the responsibility that accompanies growing older and daring to make large life choices). They reflect the doctrine of a writer who wants to live without walls. Ultimately, these heavy topics were written to challenge cliché perceptions of how one wages war against their inhibitions.

The term “comfort zone” is the epitome of a cliché. So, naturally, there are many cliché ways that people try to live fuller, more satisfying lives. However, these acts never have a lasting impact on our lives.

To help you identify some of these faulty methods of getting rid of your inhibitions, I compiled a list of five clichés that aren’t actually related to your comfort zone. (Disclaimer: If you are naturally inclined to do any of the following five things for fun, keep in mind that this list is directed towards the more cautionary half of the population!)

skydiving1) Skydiving: Worst-case scenario, your fear of heights (or lack of stable ground beneath your feet) will send you into cardiac arrest. At best, you will love experiencing free fall whilst strapped to an instructor and consequently become a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie, bent on endangering your life. Besides, are you going to live any differently when you’re not waiting to pull your parachute?

558922_3248240719256_1779078734_n2) Riding amusement park rides: Devious friends often employ this method of torture to transform their fearful companions into risk-takers. However, in my experience, my fears remain intact upon stepping off the coaster (In the future, I will shamelessly resign myself to riding Dumbo). Stay far away from these gravity-defying torture devices and your intact limbs will thank you. (If you need further convincing, read here about the lack of governmental regulations on roller coasters.)

3) Eating an exotic meal: You’re kidding yourself if you find this fun. Grasshoppers, for example, do not belong anywhere near your mouth. At my discretion, I chose not to include a picture (you’re welcome).

2301632962_ed2e61312e_o4) Singing karaoke at a bar: It’s usually just embarrassing. Besides, you shouldn’t be too proud of being able to dance like Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze to “Time of My Life” (although I admit this would be a rather impressive solo act).

5) Driving across the country: Oftentimes, when we feel too settled or comfortable, we feel the urge to drive away from our restlessness. endless roadHowever, Dean Moriarty taught us the consequences of running away from our lives in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: He heartbreakingly became a perpetual drifter.  Ultimately, long-winded road trips are merely our attempt at avoiding the source of our unhappiness. For example, Daryl Watson (whose story you can listen to here on This American Life) sought God on the highways of Delaware for three days before abandoning his attempt to walk across the country; he discovered that our lives do not belong on the road.

Ultimately, these clichés have something in common: they are all temporary. Although I may seem like a prude for having such a cautionary outlook on these clichés, my outlook on comfort zones applies to something that endures longer than brief acts of spontaneity.

Getting rid of your comfort zone involves a daily effort to redirect your perspective. It involves challenging yourself to engage in purposeful (and occasionally uncomfortable) acts. It doesn’t mean that you willingly eat insects, jump from unnatural heights or flaunt your lack of vocal talent for the amusement of others. Instead, it means that you pursue an authentic change in your approach to everyday experiences.

So, even though the topic of this blog – comfort zones – is cliché, learning how to encourage strangers, pursue your dreams and engage in acts of service is not cliché. It’s genuine.

Have you ever undertaken one of the five clichés? Do you agree or disagree with my evaluation of their value? Respond in the comments!

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Writing a love letter… to a stranger

A few weeks ago, I read a rather remarkable book titled Praying for Strangers by River Jordan. The book is an account of River’s experiences praying for a stranger every day for a year. What began as a New Year’s resolution ultimately served as a reminder to put one’s own worries aside for the sake of caring for others. Too often, we dehumanize the people that cross our paths each day. We forget that being human entails having worries and histories, and thus, even strangers deserve our attention. I highly recommend reading further about River’s practice of praying for strangers on her blog.

Upon finishing Praying for Strangers, I felt convicted to leave an impression on a stranger’s heart. However, approaching strangers – much less offering to pray for them – seemed beyond the bounds of my comfort zone. So, I opted for talking to strangers in a language that I know well: the written word.

vsco_0-20I first realized the power of handwritten letters last semester. My friends reached out to me during a particularly tough semester by leaving notes in my dorm room. By the end of the semester, the letters formed a stockpile of love in one of my desk drawers. Oddly enough, one of my friends dropped off a note to me in the library as I sat down to write this post (pictured left), urging me not to get discouraged as the semester “winds down” to a cacophonous explosion of research papers and exams.

These kinds of notes convey something that is absent from our conversations with one another: intentionality. While we cannot rely on greeting cards to convey our emotions for the rest of our lives, I believe that there is power in the written word. 5452174861_9794cc9dca_oThe written word can convey thoughts that are not readily articulated. We rarely say aloud the words that we willingly deliver in letters.

So, upon discovering the organization The World Needs More Love Letters, and watching the Ted Talk with Hannah Brencher, the founder of the organization, I decided to try writing letters. I have admired the recipient of my first letter – a young woman who works for our campus’s food service – for some time. She routinely brightens my mornings when I grab breakfast before class. Although I do not know her name (she routinely wears a different name tag each day of the week), I feel that I know her well. In the short amount of time needed to scan a meal card, she shamelessly engages in lengthy conversations with students, regardless of the long line of zombies behind her who merely want to grab breakfast on their way to class.

In the letter that I delivered on Halloween, I hoped to convey how much I enjoy looking forward to our conversations:

“Happy Halloween! I hope you are having a fantastic week. I just wanted to take a moment to thank you for being a light on Lipscomb’s campus! Your genuine smile and kindhearted laugh always makes my morning at Lipscomb so much better! You are so cherished on this campus. Thank you for your positive attitude and for encouraging others on this campus to similarly share their kindness with others. ‘Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful’ – Hebrews 10:23”.

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We do not often receive confirmation of our worth, but we should affirm one another more often. We are worth this small act of uncomfortable kindness.

How do you remind others of their worth? Would you consider writing a handwritten note to a stranger? Respond below!

Bringing Maria home

I think that most individuals desire to leave an impression on the world. However, our legacy is not achieved by our accomplishments, as many would suspect, but by the way we touch others’ lives. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are all chasing after the elusive chance to change someone’s life for the better.

I’m not talking about small acts of service, such as the topic of last week’s post: investing in the lives of homeless street vendors. While I may have alleviated the difficulty of Clint’s chilly morning, the warmth of my kindness did not outlast the setting sun. It is incredibly important that we reach out to our neighbors in ways that push the boundaries of our comfort zones, but I want to do something that lasts beyond the end of the day. For example, something akin to what the Hendrich family has been doing for the past 15 months:

563445_4252607963045_1281434914_nWhen the Hendrich family traveled to Moldova two years ago with a mission team, they met Maria at an orphanage in Balti. Since Maria was blind from birth by a whole host of ocular conditions (including a severe cataract in one eye and a retinal detachment in the other), the Hendrich family realized that Maria’s future in Moldova was bleak. So, they began the arduous process of acquiring a Visa for Maria in order to bring her to the United States. Through Justice and Mercy International, and with the help of their good friends Alina and Vlad, Maria arrived in Nashville on Oct. 5, 2013, and moved into her new home. (Check out this video of Steve and Lynette Hendrich for a more detailed description of their experience working with Justice and Mercy International).

0Maria’s arrival in Nashville is only the beginning of this miraculous story. Dr. Ming Wang, the founder of the Wang Foundation for Sight Restoration, raised awareness for Maria’s story through his annual fundraiser, the “EyeBall,” and agreed to provide the surgical treatments that could restore her eyesight (the Wang Foundation for Sight Restoration is a non-profit charity that performs sight restoration surgeries for special patients free of charge). Although Dr. Wang has described Maria’s upcoming surgery as both “complicated” and “high risk,” there is a possibility that Maria’s procedure will significantly increase her quality of life (you can read a more in-depth article about her upcoming surgery here).

Regardless of the outcome of Maria’s surgery, it is phenomenal to witness the number of people that have participated in bringing this young woman the love that she rightfully deserves. The story is an amazing reflection of God’s ability to provide blessings through open and willing hearts.

However, for most of us, the problem arises through the word willing.

599901_4255151346628_458480090_nA sad truth lies within this miraculous story: there are too many children like Maria in our world, and there are not nearly enough families like the Hendrich family. Our comfort zones shelter us from recognizing the pain in our world. If we refrain from looking beyond ourselves, we intentionally shield ourselves from the multitude of needs that surround us. If we continue to live in this way, we will never feel convicted to heal others’ pain.

When we remember to put our worries in perspective, we might begin to realize that others’ needs make our daily mountains look like anthills.

1378252_10151961748344610_420214597_nI think the most convicting aspect of the whole story is the family’s lack of self-interest. Even without the language barrier, adoption is a large adjustment. However, any reservations I mentioned to their son, Craig, were refuted, as if to say, “How can we possibly feel anything but joy right now?” They have a genuine love for Maria that overshadows all other concerns.

Is it possible that we could similarly attune our hearts to the needs of our neighbors, coming alongside them for longer than the time it takes to deliver a cup of coffee?

I realize that most individuals cannot adopt children, and many lack the necessary resources to fund their philanthropic hearts, but there are ways to invest in the lives of others beyond adoption. Oftentimes, your time and your love are your two most valuable assets.

Have you ever gone out of your way to help someone in need? Respond below in the comments!

Meeting Clint on the corner of Glen Echo Road

In past posts, I have focused on how comfort zones have affected my life – how my inhibitions have prevented me from pursuing my talents, how my reservations have affected my internship experiences, how my boundaries have deterred my capacity for experience. Notice the all too frequent usage of the first person in those statements. It was inevitable that I would eventually realize that I focus too much on my own needs.

Comfort zones seem to blind us to our surroundings. When we cling to the comforts of routine, we can grow accustomed to thinking only of ourselves. Unfortunately, when we never look beyond ourselves, we lose perspective.

images-2So, as I attempted to balance family time, finish homework, and also doctor a virus over my measly three-day fall break (three valid reasons to put off thinking about others until next week, in my opinion), I was convicted by the oncoming fall weather. While many eagerly anticipate the return of scarves, jackets and pumpkin spice lattes, the imminent frost signifies something bleaker for the homeless population. The long shadows of autumn remind the homeless that their future involves shivering and discomfort. More specifically, the brisk weather forces The Contributor vendors to pace back and forth on Nashville’s street corners to keep warm as indifferent cars whiz past.

For those that are unaware, The Contributor, Inc., is a nonprofit organization in Nashville, Tenn., that prints a street newspaper that homeless vendors can sell for profit. It relies solely on donor support in order to place 50,000 newspapers into the hands of vendors each week (read here about how Lipscomb University raised more than $11,000 to help the newspaper continue operating).

2054107736_e231ed3572_oUnfortunately, many people dehumanize the vendors on the streets. I am among the guilty party; I too have averted my eyes from vendors while impatiently waiting for the traffic light to shift in my favor. However, by averting our eyes we overlook the vendor’s history and the authenticity of his or her feelings. We only have to roll down our window or read the featured vendor stories online (such as Donna Sattler’s story, which is currently featured online) in order to realize that we cannot deprive these vendors of our compassion.

Starbucks_050501So, while enjoying a steaming cup of legal, caffeinated stimulants on a chilly October morning, I realized that someone on a street corner would benefit more from my breakfast of choice. The result of my conviction? I met Clint outside of Starbucks on the corner of Hillsboro and Glen Echo Road.  Unfortunately, the hardest part of this process was not scrounging up $5 for the overpriced coffee and slice of pumpkin bread (although this broke college kid’s wallet mourned a little). Instead, the hardest part was merely approaching the man on the street corner. It felt abnormal to initiate conversation with a man for no reason other than to wish him well. Yet it shouldn’t feel abnormal to complete such a small act of kindness. Such acts should frequent our routines without premeditation or selfish incentive.

While it may seem easier to avoid eye contact and twiddle our thumbs at the stoplight, how long can we ignore the bothersome voice inside us that snarls at the injustice that surrounds us?

Personally, I look forward to hearing Clint ask me, “How’re ya doin, Ms. Hannah?” next time I approach Starbucks, most likely juggling more books than two hands and one brain can handle.

I’m doing just fine, Clint. Just fine.

Is there anything that you can do this week to make street vendors feel valued within our community?

Résumés, interviews, and internships… oh my! Part 2.

In my last post – Résumés, interviews, and internships… oh my! – I primarily discussed the anxiety that ensues when students are tossed into the professional world. As the prospect of a future career looms nearer, we may feel as though we are prematurely burdened by daunting experiences.

vsco_0-16 However, I failed to mention in my last post that I am currently interning for River Jordan, a well-received author and the host of Clearstory Radio. I suppose that I didn’t want to seem hypocritical for accepting an internship opportunity whilst preaching about the anxiety that professors cause by encouraging students to seek out internships.

When my professor offered this opportunity, I instinctively reacted in a way that fits the pattern of previous posts: I wanted to say no. I felt flattered, but I also did not feel adequately prepared, nor did I anticipate having the free time that an internship requires. Nevertheless, my professor encouraged me to take advantage of this opportunity in order to gain some experience and also earn the much-needed addition to my résumé (being an unofficial book critic apparently doesn’t count as relevant work experience).

Some students eagerly accept internship opportunities, and they gladly supplement their résumés that already rival the length of the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, I hesitated to accept this opportunity. My identity as an intern defies my natural instincts. Sadly, this internship existed beyond the bounds of my comfort zone because it was not a requirement; I struggle to allocate time to opportunities that exist beyond what is merely “required” from me as a student and employee.

vsco_0-13However, my experiences this past weekend encouraged me to continue embracing opportunities that are based on my interests rather than on course requirements. This weekend I assisted River Jordan at the Southern Festival of Books, a festival for literary lovers sponsored by Humanities Tennessee. River (and I) spent the duration of the weekend behind radio equipment, interviewing authors about their most recent publications and then uploading the interview podcasts to her website.

vsco_0-14If I had overlooked this internship three months ago, I merely would have been another spectator at the festival, rather than a participant. My small role in the festival introduced me to the literary circle that places the written word in the hands of readers.

vsco_0-15While I realize most of you do not share my unusual love of books (and I highly doubt that volunteering at a book festival is written on your bucket list), I think we all have to eventually stumble into our callings. Too often, we only complete the bare minimum; we despondently finish only the things that are required of us.  We lack initiative. But by automatically disregarding opportunities that won’t yield an immediate reward, such as a good grade on an assignment or a bi-monthly paycheck in the mailbox, we short change ourselves. We cast aside potential experiences that could cultivate our interests. And as our capacity for new experiences dwindles, we remain perpetually comfortable.

How might you unknowingly prevent yourself from participating in your own personal book festival?

Résumés, interviews, and internships… oh my!

In past posts, I’ve focused on the times that stepping outside of your comfort zone takes initiative. However, sometimes life doesn’t allow you to let go of your inhibitions on your own volition. Instead, life shoves you into a realm where you feel uncomfortable and foreign.

For example, I’ve barely embraced my role as a college student, and already the professional world lurks around the corner. Although I am only in the third semester of my college career, I already feel overwhelmed by professors’ suggestions to prepare for my future career. And while I look forward to discovering what my future holds, the pressure to build a résumé and find an internship has shrunk the remaining two and a half years that stand between my time as a student and graduation.

However daunting this transition from student to prospective employee may appear, it is a transition that accompanies impending adulthood. As time passes, we all must eventually take charge of our unknown futures.

Therefore, this post serves as part one of a two-part installment that records my recent encounters with the daunting, career-oriented beast called professionalism.

In the past few weeks, my 21st Century Media course has emphasized the importance of seizing internship opportunities — and each week I have felt slightly overwhelmed. In addition to professors’ heeds to get involved on campus, build a well-rounded résumé, and seek out internship opportunities, I have also been drafted to participate in Lipscomb University’s upcoming mock interviews. Mock Interviews are an opportunity that Lipscomb’s Career Development Center provides for students to practice interviewing with potential employers. In order to receive credit for an English class, I must interview with three publishing houses in the surrounding Nashville area.

While trying on interview-appropriate blazers this weekend at AnnTaylor, I felt as unnatural in professional attire as I felt wary about the whole interview process. Since some of you may be in the same boat, I thought that I might share some of the resources that I used to prepare for this week’s interviews:  vsco_0-11

  1. Creating the résumé: This article from USnews.com titled “The Most Powerful Words to Use on your Resume” helpfully describes how you should market yourself on paper; since space on résumés is limited, it is important to selectively use verbs and nouns that will impress potential employers.
  2. Preparing for the interview: I feel a bit more confident about my ability to promptly respond to the tough questions after doing some research (I’d rather not respond to the typical “tell me about a time you (fill in the blank)” question with an embarrassing deer-in-the-headlights gaze). Check out these two articles about common interview questions and how you should tactfully answer them: “The 10 Most Common Job Interview Questions” and “How to Ace the 50 Most Common Interview Questions.”
  3. Using university campus resources: At Lipscomb University, the Career Development Center offers many resources to help you get ready for interviews, including this article about preparation, biggest mistakes, and top questions. Reading this article may help my fellow type-A interviewees feel more in control of the unknown involved in the interview process.

Ultimately, the road to our envisioned futures requires us to embrace new and daunting experiences. And often the reality of the future arrives before we feel adequately prepared for it.

vsco_0-12We cannot be expected to naturally embrace our role as working professionals while we are still students. In an effort to seize the future, we may end up neglecting our identities as college students. So, make sure to carve out time to soak up your time as a student. Put your books away occasionally and go on a much-needed donut spree. Take the occasional weekend trip to explore your surroundings. Spend long nights talking with your friends around the university fountain. These are the moments that serve as snapshots of your college experience once college is no more.

That being said, we also do not need to disparage this transitional time period. Although I felt rightfully nervous about the mock interview process, I can’t help but wonder if the whole process would have been much more enjoyable if I took these seeming challenges in stride.

After all, it can’t go too terribly wrong. Hence the word mock.

Do any of you have insightful interview stories, whether they are comical, tragic, or successful? Share them in the comments below!

Rediscovering the joy of service

In my last post (titled “How I (shamefully) forgot to pay it forward”- catch up on it here), I briefly discussed how our daily occupations and distractions serve as an excuse to fortify our inhibitions. Ultimately, our all-consuming schedules merely trap us within our restrictive comfort zones. Last week, an eye-opening experience with a stranger forced me to reassess the condition of my heart. Thanks to the woman (whom I have yet to reconnect with on campus), I found the motivation I needed to spring into action and leave negligence behind: this weekend I volunteered in a community event to support Haiti. However, my inclination to participate did not come naturally…

vsco_0-9On Friday, one of my friends mentioned an opportunity to volunteer for Numana, Inc., a nonprofit international hunger relief organization, at the Nashville Municipal Auditorium (read more about Numana, Inc. here). From 9-11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 28, Numana, Inc. joined with Teem Haiti and The Bobby Bones Show to promote the 30 Abes campaign, a large food-packing event for Haiti. The campaign had the lofty goal of breaking the Guinness World Record for the amount of meals packed in one hour for Haiti; this means they hoped to package at least 500,000 meals in less than 60 minutes.

vsco_0-1030 Abes represents 30 cents, or the price of one life-sustaining meal. 30 cents allows Numana to deliver a meal of rice, soy, pinto beans and vitamin tablets to an individual in extreme poverty.

Despite all of this redeeming information, when my friend asked me to attend the event, my initial response was a resounding no. In all honesty, it wouldn’t have mattered what charitable cause you asked me to attend. You could have asked me to go cuddle with orphaned puppies at the local animal shelter. Not a chance. Perform a concerto for an elderly home? Not going to happen. Lead a group of hospitalized patients in an arts and crafts session? No, but thank you for valuing my nonexistent artistic capabilities. Spend two hours scooping out dried pinto beans to help the starving children of Haiti?

No.

In my defense, white space does not exist on my calendar. And you may think I’m a studious prude, but this week I’m facing an exam more akin to a beast than a packet of stapled papers. So, when asked to wake up at an unreasonable hour on a Saturday morning and forgo my weekly Portland Brew latte-and-blueberry-muffin fix, the event seemed less like a simple charitable act and more like the demise of my weekend routine.

vsco_0-7However, unlike other instances, I recognized this resounding no as a sign that I was once again too absorbed in my schedule. It was as if my comfort zone was trumpeting its victory in my ear, gleefully juggling my self-promoting heart in its hands.

So, I went to the food-packing event. A few specific things happened:

  1. I donned the FDA-required hairnet and plastic gloves.
  2. I scooped out level portions of pinto beans until 11 a.m.
  3. I helped break a Guinness World Record.
  4. I was a cog in the assembly line machine that provided meals for a total of 530,064 Haitians.
  5. I was reminded of what it feels like to play a part in a movement with implications that are so much grander than you can conceivably imagine.

vsco_0-6In the end, I felt so fortunate to have been included in this miraculous event, and I possessed a genuine enthusiasm to partake in similar opportunities in the future. However, this seemingly insignificant blog provided the initial push I needed to live beyond the constraints of my everyday experiences, proving that the written word is pushing me along on a sort of transformational journey. Like any personal transformation, it’s a process. But I’m glad that the things I’m writing can push me to see beyond myself and adopt a servant’s heart.

vsco_0-5So here’s for the weekly challenge: I’m challenging you to write a personal goal on a slip of paper. Carry it with you throughout the week. How many of you will choose to act on it?

Love, Hannah