Leaving Your Comfort Zone by Kim Kargus-Myers

Lexi RichardsonNews Notes, WASC News Feed

     I had just graduated college.  My life was ready to begin.  At the age of 22, I was ready to change the world.  My eyes were opened wide, with stars flying everywhere.  Just like all the iconic movies portrayed, I was going to be the teacher that saved my students’ lives.  They were going to make a movie about me!  All I needed was a job.  Since I had nothing holding me back, I applied everywhere.  Well, all over the great state of Wisconsin and parts of Illinois and Ohio.  After all, I was a Midwest girl and wanted to keep it that way.

     After a few interviews, a few rejections, and one offer that no one in her right mind would take, I decided to accept an interview in the middle of the woods, in a small town called Minocqua, Wisconsin.  I had never been to Minocqua, nor had I really even heard much about it.  In fact, the night before the interview, I almost chickened out.  I did not want to go.  Thankfully, my dad, who was a strong believer in keeping one’s word, said, “You made the appointment.  You are going.”  I brought my mom with me just in case.

     As we drove further and further north, there were fewer and fewer houses and more and more trees.  In the final half hour of the drive all I could do was count the many shades of green that flashed past the window on the two-lane rural highway that brought us into this unknown town.  My mind started wandering as I pictured myself living in a one-room cabin with no electricity and no running water.  Where was the mall?  Where were the trendy chain restaurants?  Why did all the stores have bear carvings sitting in front of them waiting for unsuspecting customers?  Was I going to have to take up hunting to obtain my own food?

     With every bone in my body, I knew this was a mistake.  I knew this would be a waste of time.  I would keep my appointment with the interview committee then I would leave this middle-of-the-woods town behind me and never return.  As I approached the school entrance, my mom informed me that she saw some “cute shops” that she wanted to check out and I was to call her when I was ready to be picked up.

     I made it through the interview.  It went surprisingly well, I thought.  Even though I was never going to accept a job here, I was very impressed with the way I charmed that interview committee.  I thought to myself that this was a great interview experience; great practice for the next one that would surely be the job of my dreams.

     As we drove back toward civilization, I knew what I was going to do.  I was going to start limiting my job search to habitable, well-populated, well-developed areas that felt comfortable and safe.  After all, movies are made about teachers in urban areas who help kids realize their hopes and dreams.  No movie has been made about a teacher surviving the wild as she goes to school to teach in the woods.

     Later that night I received a phone call.  It was the school in the woods.  Here we go.  I would have to figure out the best way to let them down easily.  When I picked up the phone, the principal was on the other end of the line.  He wanted to offer me a full-time teaching contract and the pay was surprisingly competitive.

     All of a sudden I was not so sure.  I panicked.  I told him I would need a day to think about it and lied that I had another offer to consider as well.  Needless to say, I did not sleep a wink that night.  What if I didn’t get another offer?  What if all my dreams of being a star teacher were tied to this one interview?  No.  I was never going to accept this position.  I was not going to live in the middle of nowhere in the woods.

     The very next day I received another call from the principal from the school in the woods.  He was very persistent.  I knew in my head what I was going to do.  I was planning on letting him down easy.  No tears, no regrets.

     Well, that’s not exactly what happened.  At the very last minute I caved.  All of my fears and reservations became muddled.  All the confidence I had mustered the night before was gone.  I knew it would be a mistake, but I took the job.  When I hung up the phone my stomach immediately started turning.  What had I done?  What was I thinking?  What was I going to do?  I had two months to figure it out.

     By the time mid-August rolled around, it was time to move to the woods.  To my astonishment, I found an apartment, not a cabin, with running water and electricity.  Moving day was fraught with emotions.  I hardly spoke as my parents and sister helped me move all of my belongings into this apartment in the woods.  I kept saying to myself, “Give it a year.  You can reapply somewhere else in spring.  You can do anything for one year.”  Later, my mom told me that she had tears running down her face as she drove away and left me in this unknown land without knowing anyone.  I cried too.  I sat by myself in that apartment for three days waiting for the first day of teacher in-service.

     It has been fourteen years since that tearful goodbye and I am still living in the woods in Minocqua, Wisconsin.  The job turned out to be my dream job after all.  Teaching was only the beginning.  I got involved in the school through advising clubs and coaching.  I have been recognized as a regional advisor of the year and as a Warren E. Schull Advisor of the Year finalist for advising Student Council. I embraced the community through attending events and a local church.  I met some fantastic people and forged lasting relationships.  I bought a house and met a wonderful man who I married last year and we welcomed twins last winter. I have no intention of leaving.  This is my home.

     Life is full of surprises and choices. Fourteen years ago I was faced with a choice about my future. I decided to take a step outside of my comfort zone and it turned out to be the absolute best decision I have ever made. Our comfort zones are only so big. In order to grow we have to take steps outside to see what else may be out there for us to learn from. Some days I think back to the time when I was so adamant about not living in the woods.  I think about how I almost didn’t take my dream job because I was afraid of leaving the comfort zone.  I took a chance and it worked.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.