Editorial: Comfort Zone revisited

by Andru McCracken, Editor


When I was a teenager, my dad encouraged me to take a job at a remote mountain resort with an uncle I didn’t know I had. I still can’t fathom how my father thought that spending a summer with that uncle would be – in any way – a positive experience. Ed McCracken, my second cousin once removed, was wild. He was charismatic, intelligent, and thoughtful, but he was an alcoholic. Whatever. He had a job and I needed one.

As soon as we met, Ed raved about the dangers of the comfort zone.

If Ed was an example of how to live outside your comfort zone, it would entail not making any long term plans, having a sleeping bag handy (like a good one, rated to minus 40) and a big backpack; ultra comfortable shoes (seriously); no vehicle; a complete disregard for anybody else’s opinion; cartons of cigarettes and a limitless supply of coffee.

I guess his fear was you’d fall into a comfort zone and nothing interesting ever happened to you again. Ed didn’t have that problem.

I hadn’t met anyone homeless in my life. Ed admitted to having been homeless on many occasions.

At work he was hilarious. He made dull kitchen work a blast. He’d yell ‘Incoming!’ then hurl a dirty pot at my head into the dish pit. I ducked, we laughed. We played cribbage until the wee hours on the deck of the charming lodge.

“You’ve got to get out of your comfort zone,” Uncle Ed said to me again and again, this time as we jumped into the back of a truck of a potential serial killer on our way into Banff.

As my comfort zone disappeared something else reared its head. It was freezing, there were no seatbelts and nothing to hang on to, but the trees at the roadside receded quickly, and the mountains, for the most part, stayed the same size on the horizon. It was as if the mountains were growing, a breathtaking illusion.

Ed was a great storyteller. I wasn’t sure if the stories were true, but they were great.

He said he’d left Banff and crossed the country with as little as $10 in his pocket. As if. Supposedly he’d show up at the Tim Hortons outside of Cobourg, Ontario and call his aunt and uncle for a ride to their house, a hot meal and a warm bed.

His aunt and uncle were my grandparents, Ella and Locklin McCracken. Locklin could play a joke or two, but was Ella too uptight, a capital ‘C’ catholic. So I knew that was made up.

I once asked Grandma about Ed.  She regaled me with stories of his visits with a smile.

Ed and I lived together for a bit in Edmonton and there I saw the truth of Ed’s ‘comfort zone.’ We cling to the comfort zone. It prevents us from dealing with the doubts and fears we need to deal with.

Ed was no different. His comfort zone just happened to be chaos. I truly wish he’d been able to leave his comfort zone, he’d be 76 years old or so now.

Now Ed would not like this story. He’s turning in his grave as I write this, but he’ll settle down when he realizes it is an elaborate lead up to a restatement of his lifelong philosophy: Great things happen when you leave your comfort zone.