How Many Opportunities Have You Missed?

Have you ever camped overnight in a handmade snow shelter? Me either, but my son has! And one of the lessons he's learned will help him for the rest of his life. (My hat's off to you if you actually have slept in a snow shelter!)


For the past 9-years, my son's been part of an experiential, outdoor education organization called White Pine Programs. Through them, he’s learned to identify edible plants, start a fire with a bow drill, mimic bird calls, and build shelters to survive in harsh conditions. He is zombie apocalypse ready!

But I’m even more impressed by the self-awareness, communication and teamwork skills he’s learned. Over the past few years he’s been a teen mentor, helping the 8 to 14 year olds on their adventures. In this short time he’s outpaced many adults as a leader and teacher.

This week he told me about one of the foundations he was taught for growing his capacity. It made so much sense to me that I wanted to share it with you in case you hadn’t heard of it either.

It’s a visual metaphor used to express a person’s capacity:



In the center of the circle is the comfort zone. These are activities you're comfortable with. Sticking with the outdoor adventure theme, for me, some examples could include: a 3-mile hike, cooking on a camp stove, and sleeping in a tent.


The next layer of the circle is the uncomfortable zone. These are activities that you could do, but you’re not comfortable with. My uncomfortable zone would include: snow camping, a 25-mile hike, and sleeping in a stick & leaf lean-to.


Outside the circle would be things beyond your current capacity. Mine would include: running a marathon, climbing a cliff face, and picking & eating wild plants (my lack of knowledge would be dangerous).


What are you wanting to do in your life that lies in the uncomfortable zone? (Notice I didn’t say what should you do in your life that lies in the uncomfortable zone.)


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve held myself back and not ventured into the uncomfortable zone because I was afraid of my feelings. It seems silly as I type that, but it’s true. I didn’t ask someone to the dance because I was embarrassed. I didn’t apply to my top choice university because I felt unworthy. I didn’t turn down a project I should have because I was afraid of what others would think.


The amazing thing is, I have yet to die from feeling embarrassed, unworthy, afraid of others opinions, sad, frustrated, disappointed, etc… You and I are built for all these feelings. Not only are we built for them, we generate them.


Can you see an opportunity for growth and discovery that lies in your uncomfortable zone?


But wait, it gets better! The kids at White Pine Programs are taught that these comfort zones are not fixed. They can change day-by-day, even moment-by-moment. Do you see the truth in that?


Realizing the flexible nature of the comfort zone makes it 1) less scary to venture into the uncomfortable zone and 2) possible to see that growth and increased capacity always exist.


How cool is it that 8-year olds get to learn this? I wish in my early years I’d understood that my feelings were not an indicator of my true capacity, just an indicator of my comfort level in that moment. I wonder what I would have tried if I’d known this.


I wonder what you will try now that you now know this too.


I don’t make these requests often, but the financial and logistical impact of the pandemic is making it almost impossible for White Pine Programs to stay afloat. It would be a tragedy for their 21-years worth of work to end this way. If you value environmental conservation, outdoor education, and thoughtful mentorship for the next generation, please click here to help them continue their mission of service.


From the bottom of my heart — Thank you!