Costa Rica Lesson #1 – The Power of Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone

Last fall, my husband suggested that we take a winter break family trip to Costa Rica; I responded by saying that I’d do anything and go anywhere, but didn’t want to be involved in the planning. With that carte blanche, he planned away.

As it turned out, some of the plans were well within my comfort zone: hiking in the jungle, snorkeling, and cruising on a boat through mangroves while looking for sloths and crocodiles.  Some of our other activities clearly were not my cup of tea:  mainly, one day which we spent canyoneering- rappelling off cliffs and diving through waterfalls, without anything resembling exit ramps.

When I looked over the first of the tall cliffs on our rappelling-hike, I felt my heart jump into my hands, and I thought I was about to meet my proverbial maker. Even knowing that I was securely roped in by guides both at the top and at the bottom of the cliff, belaying down the rockface just didn’t feel safe to me.

However, there really was no other way out. 

I glared at my husband, which seemed safer than saying what I was thinking. My daughter confidently went before me, and assured me I would be fine. As I watched her land safely below–still uncertain that I’d be fine, but seeing no other option–I jumped into the abyss. I struggled to brace my feet against the wall, and to climb down while swinging inelegantly from side to side. After what seemed like five years but was probably closer to minutes, I found myself on terra firma once more. My heart was still in my hands, but my feet were planted firmly on the ground (technically, in a riverbed of water). However, I knew that there were still two more cliffs with two waterfalls between them, and miles of river to walk through between each of those slippery descents. Still unsure I’d get through this to see another day, but buoyed by the support of our guides and my loving family, I silently forced myself to complete the obstacle course in which I unwittingly found myself.

About seven hours later, we were back on the trail and heading out of the jungle. Along with feeling an increasing lightness in my step, I also began to feel a quiet sense of accomplishment. The anger and fear I’d felt just a few hours earlier were dissipating, and I was almost ready to say the experience had been a good one. 

Back at the trailhead, we were given lunch; when my son noticed a bungalow with hammocks on the lawn, he suggested that we venture over to that shady spot to eat. Barefoot, I was immediately hesitant (fearing there might be biting ants or bees in the grass). But having just belayed down a few cliffs, swam through waterfalls, and trekked across a river, my fears felt ridiculous–even comical.

As I traipsed across the lawn with my newly-gained perspective, I ruminated upon the power of going outside one’s comfort zone, and the transferability of those skills to other arenas.

Growth is often daunting, and sometimes we are forced to face moments where we have no choice but to dive into something that we don’t feel capable of undertaking. But we are always stronger for experiences which teach us something new, or give us perspectives which we would not have considered. I don’t advocate for needless risk-taking, but I do think difficult experiences can push us to grow and allow us to rethink and stretch ourselves further than we might ever have imagined.

Rappelling- My Thorn and My Rose.

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