It was a chilly March evening when I landed at JFK.
Was it chilly, though? Honestly, I don't remember. After spending nine hours in a plane crammed with Russian tourists and Brighton Beach locals, 30 excruciating minutes on the border, and then messing about the airport for an hour with no Wi-Fi signal trying to find the people who were supposed to pick me up, my mind was too busy to register small things like the weather.
"Welcome to the United States. Enjoy your stay!"
The jolly line pronounced with a heavy Russian accent by one of the flight attendants was echoing in my brain. She may as well have welcomed me to Mars, I couldn't have cared less.
Because to me, it wasn't the destination that mattered.
It was the fact that after this, my life would never be the same.
Now, don't let this intimate description of my first few hours in the "promised land" throw you off. The details are not important here.
My goal is to talk about a universal experience you and others have faced many times in the span of your lives. The experience that can be delicately fitted into the following line:
"Magic happens outside of your comfort zone."
Blah! To be honest, I was never a firm believer of this philosophy. Yes, it sounds daring, but being the cynical type of person that I am, it was always kind of hard to align myself with something hipsters and DIY goddesses stick on every artisanal piece of crap they make.
And I have to admit that stepping out of my comfortable bubble and into the unknown didn't make me less cynical than before. But — there's always a but — I can't deny the goodness it brought me.
Naturally, experiencing such a revelation made me feel the need to share it with someone. So, let me convince you to take chances more often while sparing you the rainbows and unicorns and sticking to the stone-cold truth.
Here's what stepping out of your comfort zone is actually going to be like ...
You will feel lonely.
You know how they say that family and friends are the most precious things you have in life? Well, sadly, not even the two humongous suitcases I took with me to New York could fit these valuables.
And while, for me, it is the physical distance from my loved ones that caused the blues, stepping out of your comfort zone can make you feel lonely in a variety of ways.
Because, ultimately, choosing to do something new, go someplace new or to be someone new means to single yourself out from everything and everyone you were familiar with before. You are starting from zero, with zero. And don't fool yourself — even if your loved ones support you, it is still a battle that you'll have to fight on your own.
You will feel vulnerable.
Let's take a stroll down my memory lane. I come from a relatively small city in Lithuania. Well, compared to the United States, my entire post-Soviet country is a drop in the ocean with its 3 million people. Because, hey, isn't that the population of NYC's Chinatown alone?
So you can try to imagine the cultural shock I got from moving to this "belly button of the world." Everything was new to some extent. So, naturally, everything was a trigger.
Being outside of your comfort zone will sometimes make you feel incredibly vulnerable. Because you're no longer "in the know." Because you are afraid to make mistakes, even though you're doing something for the very first time. Because there are people who are so much better than you and it makes you feel like a dum-dum.
You will hate it. Sometimes to the point where you'll just want to quit.
There are times on the train when I think I've had enough with this city. These people, constantly rushing like they're all 15 minutes late to some important event. These smells, noises, neon lights ...
"It was so much easier back home. So much better," I think to myself.
Stepping in the unknown will most likely make you regret it at some point. It will make you ponder about ALL the things you left behind, all the good things you might've lost to take a chance on something that's more ephemeral than the vapor rising from your morning latte.
Tip: Don't be surprised if it happens multiple times a day.
But it's all good. You know why?
Because all of these harsh, awful experiences will get you closer to understanding the real meaning of that "promised magic" that happens outside of your comfort zone.
You will realize that magic is not the ability to succeed. Frankly speaking, chances are high that you will fail at whatever you so desperately strived for in the first couple of months.
But even then you will realize that the real magic lies in the new things you discover about yourself along the way:
— the fact of how many great ideas your mind can fathom in solitude. How it finds the most brilliant answers to nearly impossible problems when it is left alone to sink or swim.
— the fact of how strong and enduring you actually are. How pain, fear, and doubt are just tiny pebbles on your road to happiness.
— the fact of how open your heart can be to new experiences, new people, and new ways of thinking and doing. And how that openness leads you to create bonds stronger than ever.
— the fact that it's really hard to evaluate something when you are actively experiencing it on a day-to-day basis. How important it is to step aside every now and then, gain perspective, and reevaluate things.
TL;DR: Do not read this. Better, go on and do this. Whether it's buying a differently flavored scone, talking to that hot stranger on the street, or moving across the ocean to achieve career goals. Do it and write your list about it!
P.S. Mom, if you're reading this, don't worry. I'm fine. TTYS!