Recently I stepped out of my comfort zone and into an audition. It was for a part in The Dunmow Players’ upcoming Priscilla Queen of the Desert. I figured, as I’ve never been on stage before, my debut performance may as well be in a completely outrageous and spectacular show such as this, wearing vivid costumes and being surrounded by drag queens and frankly quite filthy jokes (seriously, the title of this column is pretty much the only quote I could use!). Well, I’m 50 now. I can do what I want.
Even as part of the chorus I’ll get to wear some stunning costumes and sing anthems from the ‘80s. But the part I chose to audition for isn’t at all glamorous – she’s Shirley, a jaded, cranky waitress with a mullet (oh joy!) who’s lamenting her tired romance and reminiscing about a time when she was having more fun. “I want to go where the people dance!” she croons. So, armed with decades of watching Neighbours under my belt and a bit of singing practise in the bath, I went in there and sang my best Dame Edna meets Bonny Tyler, was told to try again but this time without smiling, and the next morning was offered the part. I can’t tell you how good it felt and how brilliant is to be part of this theatre group – it’s really put a spring in my step. “You don’t stop laughing because you grow older. You grow older because you stop laughing”, said Maurice Chevalier.
In popular psychology terms the expression ‘comfort zone’ is also bit of a relic of the ‘80s, but, like us mid-lifers, just because it’s a bit dated doesn’t mean it’s (we’re) not still relevant. While staying within our comfort zone keeps us safe and minimises stress, when we do bravely creep out of it we create just enough anxiety to get our blood pumping a bit faster and the synapses in our brain to light up a bit brighter – we’re not sure what’s going to happen or how we’re going to react, so we’re on high alert. A little anxiety can help us perform at our peak, make us more creative and – totally the best bit – keep us young, too.
As children, we’re natural risk-takers. But as we get older and learn to fear failure, we start holding ourselves back and attempting fewer new things. Furthermore, according to a Huffpost article, ‘6 reasons to step outside our comfort zone’, this means that comfort zones shrink – things we were doing only ten years ago can now seem daunting. But – and here’s the good news – if we keep pushing against it and taking deep breaths and going for it, we open ourselves up to greater fulfilment and improved wellbeing as we age – embracing new challenges keeps us mentally sharper, too.
So, ok, singing in front of a panel of six for a local am-dram may not be quite on the same level as skydiving or trekking through the Himalayas, but it was enough to quicken my heart rate a little, and that is just the start of it – apparently I now have to actually perform on stage as well. Actually, I can’t wait. As Charles Dickens said, “To a young heart, everything is fun”.