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This past weekend, I had to walk it like I talk it. I always say, “Anything outside your comfort zone is an opportunity for growth,” but when I was presented with an invitation to join a group of women to watch a rare chicken mating ritual before dawn in 20-degree weather, my instinct was to reply, “No thank you. I’ll be asleep and warm at home.”
As you can guess, that wasn’t my response. Instead I said a very uncomfortable, “Yes.” And so, that is how I found myself in a car driving toward a remote area in southwest Minnesota, to the Minnesota Nature Conservancy at 4:30 AM with a collection of women whom I had never met (with the exception of the person who invited me). As an introvert, the gathering of people alone was anxiety producing. Add the wee hours of the morning, insomnia, and the wacky reason we were all brought into the equation and I was all kinds of uncomfortable.
The group of us met for the first time in our host’s kitchen. We spent the next four hours in one car together. One. Car. I was pleasantly surprised by the ease with which we all settled into conversation and laughter. Our journey west was delightful. We bypassed all of that awkward new people stuff and immediately fell into familiar banter. It was weird. And awesome. We made a few stops to see other birds (not the main event), to pee (because middle-aged women) and to take a selfie by a giant sculpture of the elusive Greater Prairie Chicken. We are those people.
Before we went to dinner we decided to scout the location of the big event. We drove out on increasingly narrow and muddy roads. We took a wrong turn and had to inch our way out of careening into a ditch. Okay, ‘careening’ is a bit much. But it wouldn’t have been pretty. We parked and walked the path to the blinds. Out there, in the middle of nowhere, in the midst of this vast open prairieland, sat two basic, stark, plywood blinds. This is where we would sit in silence the following morning. The only thing remaining between us and that magical morning was a burger in a local bar and a restless night in a Marriott.
The next morning, weighed down by the many layers of clothes and snowgear, we met in the lobby around 4:30. We didn’t talk much because what is there to say at 4:30 in the morning? We made our way back to the prairie and I was second guessing my sanity the entire way. But when we stopped the car, and prepared for this rare and apparently magical experience, my anxiety turned to awe. Dawn was just beginning to break, casting a soft glow over everything and we could hear the sounds of the prairie bird in the distance. We settled into our blinds and sat, shivering and quiet, waiting for the main event to start. Then, the male prairie chickens emerged from the tall grasses, their striking plumage on full display, a sign that their elaborate mating routine (I learned, this routine is also called a lek) was starting.
To give some context, during the mating routine, male Greater Prairie Chickens perform a series of impressive displays. They inflate the orange air sacs on the sides of their neck, emit a low booming sound, raise their neck feathers to form a "ruff" around their head, and stomp their feet in a rhythmic dance, all while females observe and choose the most suitable male to mate with. The sight of their displays was both comical and majestic. The sounds they make seem impossible–the booming reverberations fill the air as I imagine a spaceship would.
I can say that it was amazing to witness, and these weird ass birds with their otherworldy rituals were just the beauty and extraordinary shock I needed. Just a few weeks before this, I had a birthday and, as often happens around one's birthday, I felt old. But this trip showed me that I’m not old, I’m brave. I have a whole lifetime ahead of me to stretch into unknowns and discomforts and be amazed at what’s on the other side. And maybe it is that sense of the finite that birthdays bring that makes me more likely to say YES to the NOs. Maybe that birthday was the kick in the pants I needed to buck my neuroses and put myself out there. Maybe embracing every year as a chance for new experiences is the gift. Maybe bravery is too.
Of course, all the things I was anxious about turned out to be fine. My companions were all lovely, both the dawn sky and frigid temps were energizing (at least for four freezing hours one magical morning), and the ritual was unforgettable. I urge you to take chances as they come to you, even if–especially if–they’re outside your zone of comfort. I’m not sure exactly how I grew by venturing in that discomfort, and I may never know exactly, but simply doing it was a reminder to myself that discomfort is, in itself, growth. And it is totally worth it.
All images courtesy of Nina Hale, the birder who rallied us all.
We literally have days, weeks, and months for everything. But, in a time when the backlash against the LGBTQIA community is so profound and terrifying, I'm all for increasing visibility. So, hi, I’m a lesbian.
One of these days I'm going to spend time talking through identity and some of the more unclear or confusing (to cis-gender/straight people) ways in which gender-nonconforming people classify themselves. I've never really understood our need to slap labels on everyone, I think it's just another way to value some people more than others, which is the root of all of our problems as a culture. But, if I can help just one person feel seen or valid because I am open, honest, and out about who I am or if I can help just one person find the courage to be honest or proud of who they are, I am here for it. So, again, hi.
And if you're one of those people that just wish we would all shut up and stop calling attention to ourselves or participating in “identity politics,” here’s an article with a dose of reality.
Read: “This is Why We Became Activists”
The kind humans at “Overly Human” invited me onto their podcast to discuss orchestrating business changes. We talked about how company-wide changes take time (in my case many years) and how the impact of these changes altered the entire present and future of my company, Clockwork.
Listen: “Orchestrating Business Changes”
June 6th: Keynote at Ridgeview Medical
“When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.” — Eckhart Tolle
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