“Do something every day that scares you.”
When I first ran across that advice that someone posted as a meme on Facebook or Instagram, I thought, “What a great way to view life. Do something courageous. Something out of my comfort zone. I am in!”
But when my own kids left for college, I resisted the urge to share the quote. Do I really want them to do something that scares them? Or scares me? I could imagine a phone call from my usually-rule-following son: “Hey, Mom. Guess where I am? We drove all night to the Grand Canyon and decided to create makeshift hang gliders so we could really experience the beauty of the scenery.”
A better way frame the sentiment is the oft-repeated “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Ah, yes, that sounds less likely I will get a phone call from the hospital or jail. And it is certainly words of advice that I can not only share but offer some strategies for getting outside of that zone.
Your student no doubt will want to play it safe, especially early in their college career (and I can’t say I don’t blame them), but they will have the next four (or five, if I am being honest about most students) to take some calculated risks.
So, what can they do that can help them get outside the zone? Give them these four steps for living life in color.
#1 Try something new. This one is simple, but a good first step if your student is a reluctant liver of life. I give this advice to my own first-year students: Get to know someone who doesn’t look like you, sound like, come from your background, etc. Or just try a new food in the “caf.” Better yet, go to an event that you wouldn’t normally under other circumstances. My daughter recently went to a real, live auction. Her boyfriend went to a racetrack to watch a sprint car event. Both came back with great stories and an appreciation for the experience.
#2 Make fun. Nothing going on over the weekend? Encourage your student to resist the urge to come home those first few weeks and figure out something fun to do. A good, old fashioned Scrabble or ping pong tournament, complete with a bracket and prize (created from vending machine goodies) can help your student connect with other, bored students. If your student lives in an urban or rural setting, have them create a scavenger hunt and get their friends to go out and “find” (or take photos) of the items. Most colleges and universities have movie nights, concerts and productions (even if they are student performances) that your student certainly should attend (chances are good they already paid for the events through student fees). But, if they are sitting around trying to find something to do, suggest they make their own fun. Just no milk-crate challenges, please. Lord, have mercy.
#3 Get a job. Nothing is more challenging that dealing with the general public. I highly recommend it for all young people (and a few old people who have forgotten their manners). And nothing gets someone prepared to deal with the awkward, difficult, and downright wild times of living with other people than working with them and for them. Even a part-time job over the break can get your student outside the comfort zone enough to help them develop some valuable skills.
#4 Go away…to study, that is. Going to college is a great opportunity for students to live outside their zones of comfort, but getting them to study in another country (or part of the country) can be the ultimate “live life to the fullest” experience. When my daughter studied in England for a semester, she had to navigate massive public transit, find and prepare food (some of which seemed foreign to her), meet lots of new people, and learn the customs of the country. England wasn’t vastly different for her, but it was enough that she gained great skills in relying on herself to take care of her day-to-day needs. Your student doesn’t have to get a passport to have an “away” experience. There is a National Student Exchange that allows students to study and live in another part of the US.
It may seem contradictory to plan out experiences that often arise from spontaneity, but I am a firm believer in helping students take smaller steps (if they need it) toward a crazy, exciting life. I doubt that if you encourage these experiences that you will get a call (or text) that says, “Hey, Mom. I have moved to Namibia! See you on Thanksgiving!” But you may get some great conversations about what they learned about themselves and you will be proud of the person they are becoming.