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When I was sixteen, I learned the value of stepping out of my comfort zone. I had spent the majority of my life in Anderson, SC going to school, hanging with friends, playing soccer. So when a teacher at my high school presented the opportunity to travel to China as a foreign exchange student, I wanted the adventure, and so did my friends. We had seven months to prepare.
But there were obstacles. Money was one – the trip would cost $2300 for two weeks. That would have been a big enough reason not to go, especially when you don’t have parents handing over the cash. If only it were that simple. The greater challenge was mental. The teacher had told us that traveling to China would not be easy. He told us that the food would be unlike anything we had ever tasted, that we would see extreme poverty, and that we would walk most places, so being in top physical shape was crucial. In other words, it was not going to be a vacation. This was going to be a hardcore trip.
I started fundraising for the trip, working at school to pay for the plane ticket. Family and family friends also helped out, which I deeply appreciated. Unfortunately, every one of my friends decided not to go. Sure, there were other kids from my school who committed to the program, but without my closest friends, I knew the experience would be harder.
The idea of leaving America was unsettling. I had never left the country let alone faced an eighteen-hour flight around the globe, which was how long it took to reach Beijing, China. To say I was stepping outside of my comfort zone is a super understatement!
Upon arriving in China, I immediately became the minority surrounded by millions of people who spoke only Mandarin, not English. That was one of the scariest parts of the experience – not speaking or understanding the language. The people stared at me as I walked down the street. They took pictures of me, and with me. Beijing was a nice city in comparison to the majority of cities in China, though it still had smog, litter, disease, and crime.
It wasn’t until I went inside the heart of the country that I truly realized that I had stepped into a whole different world, one of extreme poverty. I went from the grandeur of the Great Wall to the dirty rice fields of inner China. These people had nothing! I felt true compassion for the first time in my life. I had left my comfort zone so far away, and I didn’t even miss it. Sure, I missed a home cooked meal, but my eyes and taste buds were exposed to something completely out of my comfort zone, and I soaked it up.
At one point we traveled by mamu (a taxi cab, which is a motorbike with a cart) to a middle school – grades 7-9. We had printed cards with the address of our destination so that the driver knew where to take us. Some students from our group got lost and ended up arriving at our destination much later than expected, a frightening experience to say the least (some were even in tears). The school we visited was different from anything I have heard of or experience in America. It was a boarding school with thirty-five hundred students. There was no air conditioning, we were told not to even step into the bathrooms because they were revolting, and the English class we attended was crammed with fifty or sixty kids in a room way too small for that number of students. They attended school from eight in the morning until seven at night with a two-hour mid-afternoon break for naptime. Each day, from 7:30 until 8:00 A.M., the students were outside on their school field doing tai chi.
Food was definitely an issue. Some kids hardly ate anything during the trip, but I am one to try new things, including fish heads, scorpion, squid,octopus, and even snake. We stayed in a real nasty hotel – there wasn’t a vacuum cleaner in the entire place, we always walked with our shoes on, and bugs were crawling everywhere, even the beds.
If I had the choice to take that trip again, I would pack my bags and go immediately. Life is all about experiences. We learn through making decisions. From those decisions come experiences, and from experiences we can learn how to step outside our comfort zone. The comfort zone constrains us, while leaving that place of comfort defines us. My trip to China was definitely one of the most defining moments of my life, and I hope it inspires others to step out of their comfort zones.
While at first I was constrained by fears of all these things I had heard about China, ultimately I wanted to experience it for myself to know the truth. The experience changed me, changed my perspective on the world. I had never seen so much poverty in a nation, except for on TV, and experiencing it touched me in a much more personal way than seeing it on TV.
Renowned video game developer Steven Coallier once said, “Attack life, it’s going to kill you anyway.” He couldn’t be more right! Life is about experiencing all that you can, but if you are held back by your fears then you will stay stuck inside of your comfort zone forever. It takes true courage to take that leap, but once you do you’ll never look back and miss it.
Before I left for China, I was perfectly content staying where I was. There was no reason for me to go on that trip other than the desire to leave my comfort zone and experience all the differences that China had to offer. I ate some of the grossest (and best) food I’ve ever tasted. I made friendships that will last forever. And most of all, I kicked my comfort zone to the curb, and now try to live every moment as if it were my last. I am more willing to help others, more up for personal challenges and try new things.
All of life’s experiences, whether good or bad, define who you are. Challenge yourself – completely revolutionize your future. It doesn’t have to be by traveling to China, though I recommend it! You could challenge yourself by taking a harder course in school or not smoking dope when everyone else is doing it. Desire to have more, do more, and see yourself as someone who can be different by stepping out of your comfort zone. If I had passed up this opportunity to go to China, I don’t know if it would ever have come up again. One thing is for sure, my life would not be the same.
“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” – Paulo Coelho, Brazilian novelist and lyricist
About Jeremy West: Jeremy is a student at Full Sail University in Orlando, FL studying film. He’s a photographer, writer, designer, and Apple computer lover. His blog, NOVEL THOUGHTS, is another way he shares his creative side with the world – reviewing YA novels, interviewing authors, and providing cool opportunities to win awesome giveaways. Find Jeremy through his blog at www.novelthoughtsblog.com
Breaking the Chain – Riley Carney’s Non-Profit Organization for Literacy – http://bit.ly/5SsOsA
Over the past year and a half, my life has changed dramatically. I have gone from a shy high school sophomore who liked to write and was passionate about literacy, to a published author and the director of a full-fledged, legal nonprofit organization. I have many people to thank for what I’ve achieved, family, teachers, myself. But there was one person who played a large role in my decision to recognize my passions and take them to the next level. For the purpose of anonymity, we’ll call her Laura.
Laura had been my best friend since fourth grade. We went to different middle schools and high schools, but we had stayed close friends, and saw each other on the weekends and throughout the summers. Middle school was a particularly difficult time for me, but it didn’t matter that I didn’t fit in at school because Laura was still my friend.
THE FIRE STONE
By the time high school rolled around, I had started to write my books and I had begun my quest to combat illiteracy by creating my program, Breaking the Chain. I was still shy, but I decided that I cared a lot about trying to raise money to build a school for a village in Kenya. So, despite a shaky voice and a bad case of butterflies in my stomach, I managed to give a presentation to my entire high school during an assembly to kick off my fundraising. After a few months of selling T-shirts at school and often feeling uncomfortable with the whole exercise, I managed to raise enough money to build a school and a water purification system for the village.
I felt great about raising the money and I was determined to push forward, but there were definitely times when I felt like an outcast. There just really wasn’t a place for me in any of the groups of kids at school. I wasn’t buying into the popular party groups and I didn’t fit into the misfit groups either. It was incredibly hard to feel so out of place, but I also knew that most teenagers, even the ones who seem popular, feel very insecure inside. Besides, I knew that Laura still accepted me, and she was still my best friend.
The summer before my sophomore year my relationship with Laura began to change. She was suddenly much less interested in being my friend and much more interested in fitting in with the cool crowd at her school. We saw less of each other and didn’t talk as frequently. One day I called and left a message for her. She never called me back. As quickly and as suddenly as that, our five-year friendship had ended. I was heartbroken.
My best friend had decided that I was no longer worth her time, and for a while I was distraught. I felt very lonely and I wanted nothing more than to fade into the background so that no one would notice how alone I felt. Soon, however, I began to I realize that there weren’t any kids whose opinion about me mattered! It was a very liberating moment to recognize that I didn’t care what other kids thought of me. It didn’t matter if I was wearing the right outfit or the right makeup or if some boy thought I was hot or if I fit into a group. The people I respect were the opinions of me that mattered. Most of the kids at school were so concerned with fitting in that they had lost themselves and their own personalities. What was there to respect?
This new mindset allowed me to discover what I was truly capable of. My first book was published, six more have been written, and my organization has become a legal nonprofit corporation that has made a difference in thousands of children’s lives. I also have spoken to over 3,000 kids at schools across the country, hoping to inspire them to pursue their dreams and to reach out to help others. I’ve also have made some great new friends who are involved in not being a clone of some other kid who they think is popular.
I no longer care about what my peers think of me; I only care about what I think of myself. And that has made all the difference in my life.
I guess I have Laura to thank for that.
A note from Liza Wiemer: It is truly an honor to include Riley on WhoRuBlog. She epitomizes the term “Inspiring Teen!” If you would like to purchase an autographed copy of The Fire Stone, you can do so from her site: http://www.rileycarney.com/ In addition, her book is available through Amazon http://tiny.cc/KgiND Find Riley on Goodreads.com – one of my most favorite book sites. http://tiny.cc/Tkv9M
Oh no, Mr. Bill! Who's intimidating you?
Love your blog. I have a story I need to share with you. I know a beautiful, confident, bright college student who has always been well-liked, dated guys she wanted to, and had a close circle of friends. She had and has a lot going for her.
After high school, she moved out-of-state for college and everything changed. She met a guy that she fell head-over-heels for and after a few months things started going downhill. He started to control her life – who she saw, who she talked to, where she went, and he called her cell-phone a million times a day to check up on her. He even moved into her apartment. He used her car and stopped working.
Pretty soon she lost all sense of herself. This once confident girl has no longer saw how special she was and is. I am telling you this happened very quickly, surprised her parents, and all of her friends. No one would have ever thought she would become prey to an abusive boyfriend, but it happened.
She has had a happy ending. She was able to get him to leave her apartment, and they gradually broke up. It wasn’t easy. Fortunately, she was able to come out of this experience with next to no physical scars – emotionally it was a lot harder.
Just wanted to share this with you, since others can definitely learn from it.
This story is a very important one, not just because this scenario happens every day, but also because it epitomizes a key problem for a lot of us. Nearly everyday I interact with people who are struggling with feeling out-of-control, vulnerable, or victimized. I’ve experienced it too. Getting out of these situations are not easy, but it can – no – it must be done!
Who or what is consuming your life? Are your thoughts, conversations, and emotional wellbeing focused on negative interactions? If yes, you have little or no control over your personal power.
Are you sitting down, ‘cause I have EARTH SHATTERING NEWS! Lol! You’re a human being, not an alien, not an angel, not perrrfect! We’re here on earth to grow, to make a difference, to change our lives for the better, and help others.
Don’t give away your personal power.
Don’t give away your personal power.
Here’s the thing. The minute we start seeing ourselves as less than someone else, when we live in fear, or when we are overtly critical of others, we give away our personal power. Someone else consumes our thoughts, emotions, energy – and the direction we ultimately take in life can be deeply influenced by our perceptions.
Scenario 1 – You have a friend who is critical of almost everything you do – what you wear, who you date, where you go… All of a sudden you can’t make any decisions unless that person approves of your choice.
Scenario 2 – You have spent half of your life arguing with your brother/sister and the other half not speaking with him/her. You hate him/her, you’re sick of him/her, s/he’s just mean, mean, mean. Well, maybe you luv him/her, because after all, s/he is your brother/sister. But, s/he’s destroyed your life, hasn’t cared about you, forgotten your birthday, been totally insensitive to your needs, and s/he’s a selfish, rotten brat! Oh, and the whole world is going to know it too!
Scenario 3 – Pressure – you feel pressured to have sex with your boyfriend/girlfriend or hook up without any commitment to any relationship/friendship.
Scenario 4 – You live in fear, stuck with whatever you’re doing because you would rather not take any risks of changing. After all, you might make a bad choice, worse than the already bad scenario you’re in now. You hate your job or school, but why change if the next one might be worse? You’ve got an abusive boy/girlfriend, but no else will love you, right? Fear keeps you stuck in dead-end relationships.
Scenario 5 – Abuse – you’ve been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused and the painful experiences consume your life. Does s/he deserve your nearly endless energy/emotions/thoughts directed toward him or her?
TAKE YOUR PERSONAL POWER BACK. We’re human beings. Unfortunately, not everything in life is going to be perfect. As I said, if it were perfect, then we would be angels.
WE DO HAVE PURPOSE AND MEANING in our lives. I am a firm believer in using whatever God-given talents we have to make this world a better place. No one is meant to be the same as another. Do we want to be a force for good or for… – No, I don’t even want to think about it.
NO VALUE TO YOUR LIFE?
One of the saddest things that a person could say is that s/he has no value, no meaning, or purpose in his/her life. I hear it more often than you could ever imagine. Perhaps it’s because we are looking for something so grandiose that we lose focus of the small things that make a difference? I’ll never forget standing in line at the grocery store before a major holiday. The lines had to be fifteen people deep when I noticed a woman struggling to unload her cart. A baby was sleeping in her arms and a toddler was fidgety and whining. I walked from the back of the line to the front and offered my help. The look of gratitude in her eyes and the relief I saw on her face were unforgettable. As I zigzagged back to my cart several people said that they thought about helping her too. (Obviously, they didn’t.) It was a simple act, but it had value for me, and hopefully for the woman, too. We can all do these simple acts of kindness.
What are your talents? How are you using your skills to make our world better?
When you are in control of your personal power and use it for good, a spark of light shines in the darkness.
So, who have you given your personal power to? How has it affected you? How are you going reclaim it?
Maybe you need to say, “No, I don’t want that drink.” Or, “I want to go home (even tell the person you’re not feeling well – believe me, you’re not lying – cause you’ll feel a lot worse if you do something you don’t want to do!)
Maybe you need to say, “Yes, I am breaking up with you!” “Yes, I can work one night this week and on Sunday, but I am trying to get into college so I need time to study.”
What words do you need to practice, say, and follow through on?
Perhaps? “I’m tired of being angry all the time.” “I am not going to spend another minute thinking about how so-and-so hurt me.” “I am in control of my life and with whom I interact.” “I will no longer associate with so-and-so.”
These are just a few suggestions. I know it’s not easy. If you find yourself struggling, please speak to a trusted teacher, minister, counselor, or professional. It’s time to take back your personal power!
Hope this helps! Liza
Another thing to cherish - photograph beautiful things, capture memories.
Where have the last eighteen years gone? At 5:07 A.M. this morning I sat at our kitchen table going through iphone apps when my son asked me if I had any last minute Words of Wisdom before he left for Boston University. At that moment, I had none.
“Are you going to keep looking at that iphone?” he asked.
“It’s a distraction,” I said. “Plus you’ve taken care of everything with my phone.”
“That’s just one thing you’re going to miss about having me around,” he said. And he’s right. He also wanted to know where my tears were. They were there, I just didn’t want to show them because inside I was a mess and I’m not big on teary good-byes.
So since he asked, I’m going to try and deliver those Words of Wisdom.
1. Dream HUGE. We have always said you can change the world and we meant it and mean it still. But dreams cannot come true without ACTION. You need to make them happen by setting clear goals, staying focused, working hard, and staying determined until you accomplish it. Once you do, find new dreams and make them happen.
2. Success and Failure: Life is full of both, so learn from them – they’re a part of the journey. Be excited for your successes, but keep moving forward. It’s okay to be disappointed by failures, but don’t let them hold you back for a second. Continue to put one foot in front of the other. As long as you do, you’ll be just fine – no, great. Remember the world is big enough for lots of people to be successful. Rejoice with them, admire them, and then do your own thing!
3. Promises: Your word means everything. If you tell someone you’re going to do something, then do it. If you can’t, have the courage to be honest, even if you’ve given your word. Your credibility is at stake. We all know people whose word means nothing. Don’t be like them.
4. Enjoy and Value Life (Family, Friends, and Humankind) NOT Things: There is nothing wrong with enjoying nice things, but ultimately relationships are the most important. Grandpa Jack taught us that. He had very little materially. His greatest treasures were his family and friends. Our successes were his successes, our pains – his pains. So, be tremendously successful and enjoy the rewards – but don’t put the material rewards above people. True friends are those who listen, support you, are honest but kind, and want to see you succeed too. Be a true friend.
5. Give: Give of your time and when you start earning a living give financially too. (Even when you don’t have money, set aside at least a penny a day so that you’re thinking of those who are less fortunate than you and acting on it in a small, simple way.) Do some work for a non-profit organization or volunteer, even if it’s an hour a month.
6. Receive: Let others give to you and be gracious about it.
7. Laugh: Dick Chudnow, our cousin and the founder of ComedySportz, once brought a giant leaf to cheer me up when I was in the hospital. He said something like, “The rest of the plant was too much to carry.” It was the best present I could have received. If life’s getting too serious, find things to laugh about.
8. There is a Mind, Body, Spirit Connection: Your outlook on life has a huge impact. You are what you think… Think negative thoughts and hold on to them, then you will become them. Attitude may not be everything, but it extremely important.
9. Surround Yourself with Mentors: Learn from others who know more than you, respect them, don’t be afraid to challenge them and ask questions – but always – always with the respect they deserve. Then you can make your own decisions. Mentors are not just academic. They can be individuals you admire. I have always admired Aunt Barbara and Uncle Don – and modeled who I wanted to be as a parent after them. Choose great role models.
10. Learning is a Lifetime Quest: You’re off to college, a new beginning in your life journey. Never stop learning and never stop asking questions or seeking answers. Keep your mind fresh and seeking new challenges. Only stop learning when you’re dead.
11. Love: A soul-mate is someone who brings out the very best in the other. Someone to grow with, learn from, trust, share the same values, hope, support, give to and receive from. Someone who has the power to hurt you because she knows where you are most vulnerable, but doesn’t do it. The same goes for you. Be flexible, be respectful. You may not always be IN love, but with respect, love will be there for you.
12. Be Forgiving: Forgive us for not always being the best parents (we’ve done our very best), and ask forgiveness when you need to. Whether you are forgiven isn’t up to you. Those people who have hurt you, forgive them. They may not ask for forgiveness first or ever, but that’s okay. Forgiveness is something that comes from within.
13. Small Things in Life are Important: Holding the door open for someone, smiling at a stranger, changing a diaper, calling a friend to say hello, saying “I love you” or “I’m thinking about you,” are all very important. These things can alter someone else’s life for the better, so value them. Making a blockbuster movie will be absolutely incredible, but no more valuable than some of the small things in life.
14. Remember Who You Are: We have a strong heritage and faith. Be proud of it, maintain it, nurture it, and respect it. Let it be your guide. Celebrate and continue to grow and have a true mentor.
15. Take Care of Your Teeth: I think Grandma Lena once said that!
Recycle, Enjoy Down Time, Meet New People, Be Kind, Be Flexible, Do Things You Love, Have Fun, Have Fun, Have Fun, Have Fun… Study, Study, Study, Study… This is the best that I can do for you right now. I reserve the right to revise this list and add to it!