This has been an uncomfortable year, in so many ways.
When COVID-19 restrictions forced us to shelter in place this summer, I found myself grieving my friends, backyard fire pits and favorite coffee shops.
Luckily we live in the Pacific Northwest, which for me, means church is right in my backyard. I’ve never explored so many hiking trails as I have this year, and I cycled up and down more than 2,000 miles of rolling Palouse hills.
It was wonderful, but it wasn’t enough.
COVID was, and still is, a time to challenge myself – and not just physically.
Thanks to this column, I’ve shared pieces of my personal narrative. But still, I’ve kept my story close.
And when I have shared those pieces, I’ve done it from the safety of the keyboard.
There, my vulnerability isn’t audible. I can avoid eye contact and your questions.
I am a true introvert.
Before the pandemic, a friend had been gently nudging me to audition to give a TEDx Spokane talk on my experience growing up in a cult.
Speaking in front of my classroom is one thing, but in an auditorium, in front of strangers, with cameras and lights? I couldn’t imagine anything worse.
Maybe I should stick with what I know, I thought. I was proud of my nature excursions, but the reality is that my bike saddle and my hiking shoes are where I’m most comfortable.
And comfort zones hold us back from growth.
So I decided to listen to my friend’s nudging and try something new.
I applied and was invited to audition, live on Facebook. It wasn’t easy, but I did it and was invited to the TED stage.
Pushing myself felt pretty good.
So I did it again.
I shared another personal piece of me with the world, via YouTube at a Pivot Spokane storytelling competition. I shared how I co-led a study abroad trip in Israel a couple of summers ago, and ended up coming out to my students on a bus ride to Tel Aviv.
My openness was paying off.
Next was the big event, the TEDx Spokane talk.
Because of COVID, it was going to be virtual. Perfect, I thought. Less people, this will be easier for me.
I practiced, memorized every word, rehearsed with my coach and overthought all the details.
I was as ready as one could be, though. I stepped onto the stage and faced the lights, the small, socially distanced audience (the other speakers and TED staff) and started my talk.
And I bombed it.
At least, that’s how it feels. I left out two sentences that, to me, were crucial to the story I was trying to tell.
I spent two days angry at myself for failing.
But my goal in stepping out of my comfort zone was personal growth, and oftentimes development comes with failures. Those are part of the growing pains.
I crashed my bike before I learned to ride it.
I fumbled my words in this first public talk, but if I keep trying, one day I won’t.
As winter approaches and COVID continues to rage, we are going to find ourselves stuck indoors even more. I’m already thinking of how I can use the time for self-improvement and to continue stepping out of my comfort zones. I’m sure it will come with aches and missteps, but I’m also sure it will be worth it.
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.