My Kansas Comfort Zone

Kansas :)

Kansas. My home, sweet home on the range. Although I’ve never actually seen “the deer and the antelope” play (probably because I grew up in the suburbs), I am a Kansas girl through and through. I love wide open spaces, sunsets that take up the whole sky, and—gluten intolerance aside—waves and waves of amber-colored grain.

Having lived elsewhere for the last 7 years, I like to shamelessly exploit my Kansas-ness as often as possible. For instance, whenever I meet someone new and they ask me, “Where are you from?”, I always reply, “Kansas…. But I’m not in Kansas anymore.” For my birthday, my mom surprised me with a real, true, honest-to-goodness Dorothy costume, complete with ruby-red slippers, and I’ve been brainstorming places to where it ever since. Kansas-isms even pop up in my daily vocabulary. Without thinking, I frequently find myself saying things like…

-“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” (No sense worrying about that yet.)

-“This is slower than molasses in January.” (Molasses is thick. January is cold. Enough said.)

-“Let’s not circle the wagons here.” (Don’t freak out and become unnecessarily defensive.)

-“The pioneers get the arrows; the settlers get the land.” (The more morbid human version of “the early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”)

In case all y’all (the plural form of “y’all”) couldn’t tell, I am truly a Kansas girl at heart. Sure, I may make the occasional disparaging comment about its being a “flyover state” or literally the middle of nowhere (to those of you who can’t find Kansas on a map, here’s a hint: it’s in the exact center of the continental U.S.), but deep down inside I really do love my home state. I’m proud of our Civil War heritage, I love that KU invented basketball (and has been dominating it ever since), and I will defend KC barbeque as the best until the day I die. I can’t imagine being from anywhere else.

But as much as I love the land of Dorothy and Clark Kent, I’ve discovered some downsides to growing up in Kansas. Because I am from Kansas, I have a natural aversion to the following things:

Hiking: In general, hiking requires hills, and in Kansas, we don’t have many of those. In fact, I’ve showed pictures of the Flint Hills–in my opinion, the hilliest and most beautiful part of Kansas–to my Georgia friends, and they respond with, “That’s nice. But where are the hills?” And unfortunately, they are right. Compared to Georgia, Kansas is flatter than the backside of a cow pie. As a result of spending most of my life in Kansas, I had never been hiking.

Rock Climbing: No, one doesn’t need actual mountains in order to rock climb, but as sources of inspiration they sure come in handy. Because Kansas is severely lacking in mountainous regions, rock climbing for fun never really crossed my mind.

Heights in general: In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, Kansas doesn’t have many high places or large drop-offs. I first realized how deeply this flatness had infiltrated my psyche when my family visited the Grand Canyon before my junior year of high school. We stayed at a hotel about half a mile from the edge—and I felt perpetually on edge. Don’t get me wrong; it was beautiful. It just wasn’t my cup of unsweetened tea.

Needless to say, moving to a state full of mountains and hills and trees (so many trees! Oh my!) came as a bit of a shock. And then when my new friends asked me to do things like go hiking, rock climbing and other heights-related things, I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to join them—after all, I love a good adventure—but the other part of me was scared. So for my first year here, I didn’t join them. I stayed home as they camped and hiked and climbed parts of the Appalachian Trail. Pulling the “I’m from Kansas so I don’t like _____ activities” card, I missed out on a lot of fun.

But though Kansas was a convenient scapegoat (states don’t usually argue back), in my heart I knew that it wasn’t really to blame. Because as much as I wanted to pin my apparent disinterest on my upbringing or origins, deep down I knew the truth:

I was scared.

Scared of failure, scared of embarrassment, scared of trying something new and being utterly, terribly and hopelessly bad at it. Imagining all the possible worst-case scenarios and the humiliation that would inevitably come with it, I concluded that it would be better not to try. After all, if you don’t take the risk, you have no chance to fail, right? That felt safer. And safer felt better.

But is it?

Over Christmas break, I sat with that question, looked myself hard in the eye, and finally gave an honest answer. No, safer is not better when “safer” is the product of unfounded fear. Better to have tried and failed than not to have tried at all. And try I would. I made it my New Year’s resolution to try hiking and camping and rock climbing and all the other non-Kansasy things that had scared me for so long. I’m only a month into this heights-filled journey and it’s come with some bumps and bruises (both emotional and literal), but it’s been so rewarding and liberating thus far.

So here’s to stepping out of comfort zones (Kansas or otherwise) and to the life—real, true life—that is waiting on the other side.

… Hopefully, we don’t just end up in Missouri. 😉

Braid pic atop a peak during my first 11-mile hike. :)
Braid pic atop a Georgia peak during my first 11-mile hike. 🙂
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