Business Columns & Blogs

Teacher, get thee out of thy comfort zone

By Nancy Napier

Nancy Napier’s tent along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.
Nancy Napier’s tent along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River.

I’ll admit that I encourage (or even push) people to do things differently to get better. Many organizations over the years have been gracious enough to let me badger them into that very way of thinking — from the Boise State football program to the Ada County Jail to the software wizards at WhiteCloud Analytics.

I’m usually so far on that side of the fence that I never question what it feels like to reach the point where it doesn’t feel so good, where it makes one want to back away from the discomfort.

Last week, I had to take my own medicine.

As I’ve said before, I am not a camper, and no one would describe me as “outdoorsy.” I don’t hunt or fish (but that may be coming). I don’t mountain bike or kayak (neither of which are likely in my future). My camping memories are old and not great. But, a bit ago, I swallowed hard and jumped in … and, boy, was that out of my “comfort zone.”

We signed up for a Middle Fork of the Salmon rafting trip with Aggipah Outfitters. (Wonderful group. More about the behind-the-scenes process they use in future blogs). Joining us were about 17 accomplished paddlers from Arkansas who float the Salmon every year. They had their own boats and gear, stories and panache.

Now please know that I admitted I was a river virgin, a complete novice when it comes to outdoorsy stuff, but darn it, I did want to see the river, the stars, some bighorn sheep, the canyons … and that’s what kept me going.

I wrestled with setting up a tent, watching my hygiene standards slip, and learning how to deal with the “room with a view” (aka, the “groover,” and more on that later perhaps). Early in the trip, I learned that camping can be a “contact sport” when I left a part of my face and arm on a rock. Thankfully, I didn’t have to look at myself for five days to watch the fuchsia bruise work itself around my eye, and it never did ache or hurt. But it taught me I needed to respect the slippery age-old trails, to slow down and be more observant. Lesson learned.

As the routine settled in and I quit “fighting” being uncomfortable, the place opened up to me and I did to it.

The people, especially the guides, helped me see what I normally wouldn’t, from the history, to the rocks and water patterns, to the flecks of gold still gleaming after a “panning” session and the pictographs and stories of people who have lived along the river for thousands of years. Discomfort gave way to the magic of observing, feeling and learning.

What I had expected but had not fully appreciated was the simplicity of having time. The last evening, we sat around telling stories and watching what I think was a sand wasp scoop dirt out of a hole and then do a sort of salsa-dance shuffle to create another another hole. Normally, I would never have noticed it, simply because I don’t stop to look as well as I should. Another lesson.

I guess I’ll have to follow my own advice and find a few more “discomfort zones.”

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University,