When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone to try something outside your usual routine? Perhaps you prepared a new recipe that required a new skill, tried a new ritual to observe a holiday or volunteered for a project you knew little to nothing about but which you hoped would help others.
Did it feel a bit, somewhat or very uncomfortable in the beginning? Was it a disappointment in the end or a way to celebrate that you could venture far afield of what you expected of yourself?
It’s so easy to stay with the tried and true, maybe from fear or laziness, or both. But especially as we get older, we have more time to do what we’ve never done. Trying the unexpected helps to keep us young, engaged and even exhilarated. You test your inner resources, learn, meet new folks and maybe discover a new passion. Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment and certainly doesn’t have to involve going far away or spending big bucks.
With this in mind, a few months ago I decided it was time to push myself to hone a newly discovered interest in watercolors. I had long been a painter—bold large acrylic canvases with an abstract bent—but put the skill on the back burner due to work as a journalist/author and family demands. Until…I went on a family hike and paint vacation 10 years ago and was surprisingly delighted with the results. Shortly after, I signed up for a weekly class and loved the respite from my work, enjoyed the fellow students, thought the teacher was terrific and even liked some of my paintings.
This whet my appetite for more. A friend who had gone to Italy to paint multiple times and had become good friends with her teacher, piqued my interest. What would that be like I wondered? I knew family and work commitments wouldn’t allow me to go abroad and for so long. There had to be more options online. As I perused web sites, I found a nearby retreat—close enough if I had to get to my elderly mom or meet an unexpected writing deadline, yet far enough away that I would have to sleep and eat there, focus on my watercolor painting, and shut out everything else.
When I became serious about signing up, my painting friend commented that the teacher had excellent credentials, the curriculum seemed solid and the price was right for six days, lodging and meals, including wine after 5 p.m. I signed on for my first solo adventure, or so I thought, until my friend asked if she might join me. I said, of course. And due to a lack of single rooms by the time we paid, we had to room together, another adventure for two women used to being independent.
Before the trip began I was nervous. Would the other students have Van Gogh or Monet in their DNA and resent having a neophyte in their midst? Would I fit in with the group due to politics, religion, age or whatever. Would I like the teacher or assignments? Would I tire of painting after the first 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. intensive day?
I was dead wrong about almost all my assumptions! There were beginners and more advanced students in our group of 13 and everybody was supportive of each other’s skills and even complementary. We cheered each other on and offered suggestions, even as the teacher—highly imaginative in her assignments—sometimes was a tad critical. She seemed to soften as I think she found she liked our group, witnessed our fast bonding and how hardworking we all were. I couldn’t wait to get back to the studio after the first day to finish what I had started and begin something new. One night I went back after the evening movie to work. I felt like I was in college and had just found my true passion.
Surprisingly, I loved sharing a room with a special friend whom I don’t get to see more than maybe once a year. We stayed up until Midnight gabbing about our lives, painting, friends, travels, politics and almost everything imaginable. We even worked out a great schedule of who got the bathroom when and who took the single versus double bed.
I liked almost everyone who was there, albeit there was one person who excelled in the art of conversational narcissism. But all of us laughed a lot when we got tired in the afternoon, couldn’t wait for the wine hour to begin to share what we had learned or see the work of the other group of eight who worked in oils and acrylics with a different teacher. We all had different painting styles and various approaches to the assignments. We tried to steer clear of politics, though that crept into some conversations. We also discussed religion, especially once we knew we had a charming minister in our group who was interested in hearing about our different denominations and backgrounds and who shared about his recent widowhood and plan to retire. We also eagerly talked about where we had traveled, especially when it reflected painting trips some of us had been on. And many of us started to think out aloud about our future wish list of places to go and paint.
Will I return? Not to that class since I wouldn’t want to repeat being at the same place. But I know this is just the beginning of more painting adventures and now can picture myself painting the marshes in Georgia, old houses and canals in Venice or lavender and sunflowers in Provence.
I had tested my interest in a new passion and know that I have so much more to learn. Now, I just hope I have the time and energy to get out of my comfort zone again.
Tips to trying a new adventure
- Do your research. Read the fine print in any brochures or course programs. Ask to speak or email with someone who’s gone on the trip or to the class, whether for painting, hiking, cooking or tennis. Check out the leader or teacher’s credentials to be sure they are a professional who knows their stuff and can teach you. Find out how many will participate. Sixteen is a great number; 24 or more can be too large for intimate instruction.
- Bring the right stuff. Clothing—painting means messy, not a time for dressing up, even in the evening. But each program is different. Some programs might have a banquet the final night that requires dressier attire. Wear comfortable shoes; we walked up and down stairs and could walk the 400 acres if we wanted. Bring the supplies requested. Check out the amenities—are there hairdryers or shampoo and conditioner? Bring your comfort necessities—your own pillow, snacks or reading material.
- Be open to other travelers—and listen. You may not like everyone or even anyone, but you don’t know unless you try. Do not be judgmental. Just sit back, listen, you don’t have to agree, but almost everyone is eager to have a good time, so try to be a good sport. And if there’s someone who seems shier and alone, reach out and try to include them so they have a good time, too. I met my favorite participant that way when she told me about another solo adventure she went on where people had ignored her.
- Be complementary and appreciative of the leader or teachers and other participants’ contributions. Our group found it easy to walk around the studio, look at each other’s work, offer suggestions, compliments and chime in when the teacher was offering her critiques. I made it a point to thank the teacher and the leaders and heard several others doing so, especially the fact one of the leaders went out each morning and brought back several newspapers for us to enjoy while having early coffee or tea.
- Switch it up. We could sit wherever we wanted at meals and at wine time, and most of us tried to sit with different folks to become acquainted with everyone. A few came with a friend, but most came alone. And nobody felt left out, I hope.
- Speak up if something doesn’t appeal. I had no complaints except the bare-bones accommodations but that couldn’t be changed. I made a few suggestions in an online review after the session ended.
- Put away your phone except for photos of results and friends. I was guilty of having it out too much but can rationalize I did so because of editors contacting me and family demands. But try. You’ll relax and learn more. And learning as you age has been proven to keep us young.