When I was in graduate school, I befriended a lot of “different” people. They practiced yoga, ate vegan food, and played with tarot cards. I, on the other hand, read books and enjoyed quiet movie nights in with my family while enjoying a delicious carnivorous dinner. So, it was a shock to my system when I found myself suddenly surrounded by people who had such different interests.
Admittedly, I didn’t fully embrace the new interests. Sure, I went along with it – I would meet my friends at restaurants that catered to their tastes and nibble on an appetizer, but I didn’t really try anything else. And as for yoga and tarot, that all seemed just a bit too flaky to me. My own analytical mind would not bend to the possibility that there was anything useful to glean from mindfulness or spirituality – even though deep within, I knew a part of me did resonate with those things and crave them. Nonetheless, I stayed in my comfort zone.
Funny enough, even as I rejected these things, I still applauded myself. I felt that indulging other people by meeting them in settings of their choosing, or hearing them share about their experiences was enough to prove that I was open-minded. Maybe it was. But, it was only in subsequent years that I understood more greatly how much I had missed out by not fully embracing the idea of trying something new.
As friendships continued after graduate school, I slowly began to try more things from their lifestyles. I read a book called Radical Acceptance from Tara Brach, and I began listening to podcasts from spiritually-minded speakers that communicated messages to me in ways that connected. I was also just simply more “ready” at that time in my life to experiment and explore new ways of being.
Through the process of going outside of my comfort zone, I learned a few things:
- There’s no shame in not being ready for something. We all have our own timelines and sometimes we just need to be patient for something within us to signal that it’s time.
- It’s fair to share your own way of existing with others in this world with others, especially if you’re trying to embrace theirs. Looking back, I was much more accommodating of my friends’ preferences when I began to experiment than I was with my own. I was so worried that by asking them to go to a restaurant that had some meat options, for instance, I would be disrespecting their ethical values. I was too afraid to even suggest that we sometimes switch it up, so we all could all be equally comfortable and uncomfortable. However, when I did start to more authentically try vegan food, I also began to ask my friends if they would occasionally meet me at some of my favourite spots that happened to be vegan-friendly, but had more diverse options. And because my friends were amazing, they were happy to oblige.
- As much as it’s important to be compassionate with yourself and recognize that you’ll be ready at your own pace, it’s also important to challenge yourself. Sometimes, the “right time” doesn’t come – and while there’s no shame in that either, per se, it can be a nice experience if you push yourself to give something a try in spite of your discomfort. You can grow a lot that way!
As an important final note, none of this is to suggest that you have to change yourself. For me, life is richer when you’re open-minded and explore new things. But that doesn’t mean you have to become something you’re not. Like with most things in life, balance is key.