If any one out there actually owns a long term, unconditional love type of comfort zone and can explain how they came by it, train it and keep can you please get in touch? In recent years I have stumbled across many self help pundits and quotes encouraging us to get ‘out our comfort zones’ and by doing so we will become better, stronger , happier and more confident human beings. I’m not totally convinced about this. My family history has a split personality. The comfort zone was possibly blown apart quite literally during WW2 when my Dad’s family were split up by evacuation and my Mum’s family by her Dad serving in the RAF. My Dad eventually landed in Scotland aged nine or ten and where he lived for the rest of his life. Despite being an entrepreneur and slightly eccentric designer, travelling the world with his business and putting our family home up as security on the business , it would have taken dynamite to move him out of said family home. It was his beautiful comfort zone , much of it designed and built by him and Mum. Dynamite or a certain Bank panicking during the mini recession of the early 1990s and pulling the plug on the business. My parents lost their home in their early sixties and despite having a very cosy alternative thanks to Dad and Mum’s hard work and determination, they never fully recovered. They didn’t bounce back as the self help gurus would have you believe and had a very quiet , financially difficult retirement . My Mum’s way of coping was to work to exhaustion and she did this by looking after my Dad, my brothers, an aging Aunt and her grandchildren and me . She never thought about herself or if she did, it was over a cup of tea and the People’s Friend after every one else had gone to bed. My Dad’s was to believe that around the corner was a new business waiting so that ‘ this time next year we’d be millionaires’. Perhaps because he was an East End boy, the Del Boy in him was indelible! I meantime wanted nothing more for them than to have a ‘normal’ retirement …holidays, lunches out, friends to go bowling with or sing in a choir . Perhaps I wanted this because I have always been seeking that elusive comfort zone? ( is it all it’s cracked up to be?)
The photograph above is me aged 22, the day before I started my first teaching job. I was climbing a ‘chimney’ on Buachaille Etive Mor in the Scottish Highlands. I thought I was going hillwalking and ended up on ropes thinking I was going to die! I am not good with heights ! I was so far out of my comfort zone , there’s no describing it. I clearly remember the relief of still being alive as I slurped my pint in The King’s House Hotel! For some reason , similar to what I wanted for my parents, I have always craved a comfort zone or ‘normal’ but then go and actively do stuff that results in the opposite. This I suspect means that ( be careful what you wish for ?) a) I am not normal and b) I have a lower boredom threshold than I like to admit to. As we get older, Walt and I have noticed that we feel physically and mentally better when we are off on an adventure! The contradiction here is that desire for a comfort zone that seems to bubble up on a regular basis .
I had a wonderful childhood , free range , growing up in the 1960s with the Scottish country side and a safe pretty village as my playground. My family was large and close , one grand parent living with us, the other along with a gaggle of Aunts, Uncles and cousins only a few miles away. My Mum was a very strong woman and stood her ground when Grandma who lived with us and our Parish priest tried to persuade her to put me on two buses , aged five in order to attend the Catholic primary school. My primary years , in the village were wonderful and yet when I passed the qualifier in primary seven instead of staying in the comfort zone of friends and going to High School with them , I let Grandma think she had won in the decision to send me to the Catholic high school on my own . No friends, no induction, but it was my decision- I was curious and wanted to do something different! I made life long friends at that High School and kept some very precious one from primary however the first few weeks as a wee smout , with glasses and a strange half English accent were challenging to say the least. I didn’t even have the right colour of home economics pinny (apron) as the sewing teacher in primary school didn’t see the need for fabric for a school that no one usually went to. My decision also impacted on my little brother as two years later, no choice given to him I suspect because I was already there, was sent to same said High school. He was not happy there and let down badly by the system, I am sorry and perhaps should have let Mum have her way back in 1970? Perhaps comfort zones are there for a reason?
Throughout those childhood years our family holidays were on the road , touring caravans that gradually became plusher and more comfortable than the first ancient wreck that my folks lovingly renovated. We toured Scotland and England , visiting Dad’s family in London . In my teens, we went abroad, France, Germany, Belgium and Switzerland. My friends went to Morecambe and Blackpool and stayed in boarding houses where the loo was just down the corridor not across a field . Or they went to Butlins where the rides on the fun fair were free the whole holiday. I must admit to a certain amount of jealousy and craving for normal. Despite this, on gaining freedom to choose my own holidays , what did I do ( and continue to do)? Road trips and camping in France as a student, living in a tent while trying to find work in the South of France, camping and caravaning with my own children and then road trips by car and motorbike with Walt! We have had a couple of ‘normal’ package holidays but even then one of those was an all inclusive in a Stalinesque hotel in Cuba! We are just back from a road trip to Rome, however as we get older , hotels and B&Bs have replaced our tent! While in Italy, we celebrated the marriage of my daughter Hannah and her wonderful new husband Richie , staying for three days at the venue in Tuscany. A stately home and estate called Borgo Stomananno. Our bedroom had previously been the summer retreat of a queen of Norway . We had a suite, a 19th century bathroom to die for and our rooms made up discreetly every day while we drank prosecco and partied by the pool. This was a ‘normal ‘ that we all agreed we could get used to!
At the same time, those blissful three days threw up another conundrum in my relationship with comfort zones and normal. Family and community . I have moved about a lot in my life, almost the opposite of my evacuee Dad who commented on more than one of our ‘For Sale’ signs ‘why? This is a lovely home’. They all were and yet for various reasons I left them. Initially the reasons were practical, more room for a growing family and laterally I could argue likewise as the family left home, we didn’t need four bedrooms. However I do wonder if it is also partly to do with this subconscious need to keep blowing my comfort zone out of the water? I have friends who have been in the same marital and family home since the 1970s , much extended, new kitchens,bathrooms and no sign of the now trendy retro 70s decor! They are there and waiting for grandchildren to come running through their doors. Ironically I have three gorgeous grandchildren and have chosen to live over one thousand miles away from them and my own children of course. Now our plans to move to Spain were put in place before the grandchildren were born, our home in Murcia bought in 2007 and completed in 2010. At this time two of my children lived in the south of England, and the two boys were still at home with us. We were going the move out here when my youngest went to university, me to teach English as a foreign language and Walt to use his Spanish to find a job. The ‘crisis’ (recession) and elderly parents needing us put paid to that idea. Besides which , although my job was becoming increasingly stressful, it was also a comfort zone! My classroom, my routine, the bairns, my colleagues, all created a safe place where I ( a bit like my Mum) could work hard and not think too much. In 2012 I joined my daughter in a net work marketing business. It too created a comfort zone oddly enough! The people I worked with were lovely, kind and trying hard to make good lives for their loved ones. I was useless at the actual business side! Not my father’s daughter! By 2016 when sadly we had become orphans, we had also become grandparents! We were however still skint, juggling two mortgages on wages that in real terms had fallen. Walt was miserable at his work and if one of my loved ones is miserable then so am I . My previous articles explain all of this and the subsequent , probably biggest jump out of my comfort zone ever , moving to the South of Spain. Our home here is not on the Costas and not an ex pat enclave. This was a deliberate choice as we felt that if we were moving to a foreign country we wanted to feel as if we were in fact in that country. Another ‘out of comfort zone’ choice . No one forced me in to it!
I am a naturally friendly person and have made wonderful new friends here, Spanish, Scottish, English and Russian! I am teaching a little, writing a little, reading a lot and walking everyday with my amazing husband and crazy dogs! I will see my bairns and grand bairns at the end of this month and again in January I am incredibly lucky and while some things still feel strange; going to the dentist and having a Spanish lesson thrown in ; providing our own health care , the reciprocal agreement is a myth; shops being shut in the afternoons and Sundays ; social events starting around my old Scottish bedtime; Brexit , it is home and with a bit of patience, love and care is fast becoming my new and forever comfort zone!
As to the benefits of getting out of one’s comfort zone, well maybe I am a bit more resilient, reflective and I certainly don’t feel my age ( most of the time). Who knows, if we hadn’t put up all those ‘for sale ‘ signs , I might have been miserable – or not! What does a comfort zone mean to you?