Exploring the highs and lows of the comfort zone

penn holderness rocky horror

From the desk of Penn Horderness

Three years ago, I went to a drugstore to buy some, um, feminine products for Kim. The barcode scanner didn’t work, so the sweet, southern woman got on the intercom and shouted, “I NEED A PRICE CHECK ON SOME TAMPONS HERE!”

That was uncomfortable.

This morning, after a really hard CrossFit workout, I went around the corner and threw up in a dumpster. The owner of the store (and dumpster) poked his head out mid-vomit, looked at me, muttered “Damn…” and went back inside.

That was uncomfortable.

I once gave a wedding toast for my best friend that ended with me calling the bride the wrong name.

That was uncomfortable.

I accidentally called Diane Sawyer Barbara.

That was really uncomfortable.

These are fleeting, often funny moments where your pits start spouting sweat, your face is flush and you want to dart into the nearest closet. But then the moment passes, you laugh and learn, and you get on with your life.  

Then there are uncomfortable situations that last a little longer, like a month. That’s where I am right now. But here’s the thing: I’m kinda loving it.

Kim has this thing she says all the time: Life begins outside your comfort zone.  It’s on a piece of paper framed in our bathroom. It’s meant to motivate us to take risks when we can, and push our limits to the point of discomfort (or in this morning’s case, to the point of vomit).

About two weeks ago, I started the most uncomfortable stretch of work I’ve ever experienced.  Rehearsals began for a live production of the Rocky Horror Show. It’s a musical adaptation of the classic movie, with much more intense choreography, more musical numbers, and a lot more comedy. It’s going to be fun to watch.

I play Riff Raff, (SPOILER ALERT) a Creepy Murderous Alien Butler. There’s not a lot of personal experience that I can draw from in this role. The show has a Broadway-seasoned, immensely talented, patient director and choreographer (so grateful!), and many of the main characters are from New York and Chicago. All of the actors have lengthy show resumes. They have mastered the art of singing, dancing, and acting all at the same time.

Everyone except me.  

Rehearsals are 8 hours a day, 6 days a week for three weeks. I leave every day with my head so full of harmonies, dance moves and blocking instructions, I just pray that I still remember them when I wake up the next morning. Everyone else in the cast (Note: It’s the nicest, most patient, most supportive group of people I’ve ever met.) picks up these things so quickly—you don’t even see them thinking about it. It’s as if someone hooked them into a computer like Neo in the Matrix, and ten seconds later, they know Jujitsu.

I’m very used to being the teacher’s pet. It was my thing all through grade school, and every job I’ve had since then. I’ve only been comfortable as a frontrunner, an overachiever.  With this group, I am the guy everyone else is going to need to drag to the finish line. We are less than two weeks from curtain and I still haven’t really figured out how this character walks, and talks.  

So why am I loving this so much?

Every day I learn probably eight new things, whether it’s a dance move, a certain physicality in a walk or a smile, a new way to sing, or a way to let a moment land. When you are the slowest guy in class, there is nowhere to go but up, and in certain small places, I see myself slowly catching up. I am learning that if you don’t listen well you will suck at acting, so I am trying to become a better listener.  

I come home every day to the comfort zone of my family, exhausted, having pit-sweat through sometimes two layers of shirts because I’m still nervous and unsure of how to do this. But I also come home every day to a wife who tells me how proud she is, and how sure she is that everything is going to be OK.  

I’ll be outside my comfort zone for two more weeks and I can’t imagine the sense of relief I’ll feel when it’s over. But I’m also pretty sure I will miss it terribly. As Kim said, life is happening.

Is there something you’ve wanted to try, but you’re nervous to travel outside your comfort zone? Share it with us on our Facebook Podcast Group Page.

Listen to Penn and Kim explore the comfort zone on this week’s podcast. Ways to listen:

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