It takes courage to grow up and become who your really are. -- E.E. Cummings
Kelly and I simultaneously arrive at the fridge to scope out the leftovers situation. Containers of various shapes and sizes come flying out as Stubbs circles in a one-cat conga line, hoping for tidbits. Kelly, the vegetarian, makes an overflowing plate of veggies, avocado and lentils; bangers -- Irish sausage -- and mash are calling my name loud and clear.
I'm a comfort food junkie; my mom was the Bobby Flay of comfort food cooking and Sunday family drives always ended up at a roadside diner or drive-in -- comfort food emporiums that served food for the soul. Over the years my comfort food zone has grown exponentially to include many ethnic cuisines: Irish, Mexican, Indian, Japanese and Indonesian get top billing.
Comfort foods are known for their ability to provide a sense of emotional security and an opportunity to revisit childhood memories. They create a positive connection with the past.
Meanwhile, comfort zones, which are supposed to provide emotional security, really create an artificial mental boundary with an unfounded sense of security; a prison of our own devising that prevents us from experimenting with new and different behaviors and limits our potential. Staying in your comfort zone makes it hard to find your true path in life.
Comfort zones can describe a person's personality and like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular part of his or her life will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it. To step outside one's comfort zone can be extremely difficult and anxiety-producing.
My mantra as a parent has been for my daughters to find their path in life, do well and be happy. Over the years we've had many late night conversations about life, careers and -- of course -- boys. We call them chat-and-chews, and they usually include reheated comfort food and chocolate. Nothing beats hanging out with my daughters.
We have talked about the ongoing and ever-present cultural messages of how one should behave and the importance of distinguishing between what you really want to do versus what you've come to think you should do. I've talked with them about my career choices and the importance of facing life with passion and commitment.
I try and send a message of hope and inspiration -- that anything is possible. Do what it takes to find your voice and make it a point to challenge yourself. Never forget that your life belongs to you. My message to my daughters has always been: "It's important to make a choice and commit to it; believe in yourself and your self worth and never let anyone else give you a report card on how you live your life. Be resilient and don't be afraid to make mistakes."
I will never forget the story my mom told me about Lil Wexler, one of her closest friends. At age 59, she decided she was going to go to college, something she had wanted to do all her life, but could never find the time. When her gruff, cigar-chomping, cabbie husband, heard of her plan, he said: "What are you nuts? In four years you'll be 63."
She replied, "In four years I'll be 63 anyway, but at least I'll have the college diploma I always wanted."
I like to call that mindset the art of the possible. Over the years I've gone into high school and middle school classrooms throughout Fairfield County to do improvisational theater workshops, helping students get in touch with their creative muse and feel comfortable being spontaneous. I love watching students jump into the improv mix and try their hand at entertaining their classmates; it can be risky business.
Invariably, in every classroom, there's been at least one student who is quick-thinking and funny -- a natural at improvisational comedy -- about whom the teacher will comment, "I never realized he/she had that talent."
My reply is always the same: "It's not that I performed any magic. They've always had the ability, just never had the opportunity to show what they could do."
Life is not about finding yourself; it's about creating yourself. We are constantly becoming what we are not.
One of the joys for me as a parent has been watching my daughters become themselves and make choices because of who they are. I'm their biggest cheerleader.
George Eliot wrote, "It is never too late to be what you might have been."
It is also never too early.
Barry Halpin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.