Someone once told me that you should try and do something that scares you every day. I don't suppose that means that I should drive down a busy street at 60mph with my eyes shut or watch "The Blair Witch Project" in the dark, on my own, in a spooky place. I have interpreted it to mean that I should try and take myself out of my comfort zone as often as I can. I should do things that I would rather not or attempt things to which my first reaction is a definite no.
I think my comfort zone is a pretty big place these days. I rarely seem to leave it. My life tootles along in a fairly structured pattern with a comforting kind of regularity and routine about it. If it's Tuesday it must be Rainbows kind of existence. I would like to think that as I have matured I am able to take more things in my stride, don't get as nervous or worried as I did when I had less experience and, as a result, it is more difficult to leave my comfort zone behind.
But actually I know that to be untrue. My life has contracted and the opportunities that I have to worry myself are fewer and further between. When I worked full time I had a big Nobo planner on my office wall on which I marked deadlines for filing court papers and hearing dates for cases in the Employment Tribunal. The idea was to ensure that I never missed any important dates or got my client's case struck out for failing to take action, obviously every solicitor's nightmare. And it worked. I was disciplined both about marking things on the chart and then checking to see what was coming up.
The downside of this system for me was that I invariably had a knot in my stomach when I looked at it because it reminded me which big case I had coming up and how long I had left to prepare. An advocate, in my experience, is a bit like an actress. If you are not nervous before you go on then you probably won't do your best. Nerves and adrenalin ensure that the brain can respond with the necessary speed and rapier like accuracy when you are in full flow on your cross examination. If there were no cases looming then I could relax in one sense but then would be in bother with my boss for not having enough work. And so my comfort zone was quite decidedly abandoned on a regular basis.
And now I am there again but this time on a considerably more mundane level. About two years ago our decorator was repainting my kitchen. He had recently got engaged and was in the throws of planning his wedding. He was complaining that the wedding cake was going to cost about £600. " Oh don't spend that," I said. " I can do it for considerably less." I hadn't completely lost the plot. I have been learning cake decorating skills for about ten years and have done plenty of cakes, including wedding cakes, for friends and family. But even as I heard the words coming out of my mouth I was having a conversation with myself. "Why did you say that? You will hate putting yourself under pressure to do it. But it will be good for you. You might enjoy it. You can do it. Just get on with it." You know the kind of thing.
And so now the cake is needed in just under four weeks. It's not too complicated. Three tiers. Fruit. Square off-set cakes in pink, white and black with polka dots and crystals. Not difficult really. But it has been hanging over me for months. I couldn't start too soon because cakes are hard to store but then the end of term is always busy and I had to build in time to get it done. The good weather doesn't help either! But finally I bought the ingredients and the fruit is soaking in brandy as I type. Over the next couple of days I will make the cakes and then I just have to ice them. Plenty of time. No problems. Easy. But that old familiar knot it back. It seems that what takes me out of my comfort zone is relative to what else is going on in my life. But I suppose as long as I keep challenging myself with stuff that I would rather not be doing then I will continue to grow. Even if those things have changed from a case in the House of Lords to making a cake.