Ever feel like you go through your day or days on autopilot? Sometimes you don’t remember the commute home from work. Ever felt like you are in a rut? Have people presented you with other things to do or even places to go but you don’t go because those things are unfamiliar to you?
As a young man growing up I worked for my dad at his auto service station in New England. I worked there year-round—after school during the school year and everyday during the summer months. One of my many memories of those days was sending out for breakfast at a great local diner nearly a mile from the station. Everyday, I mean every breakfast, I had the same food; a bacon and egg and cheese sandwich on a heel (the last 8 inches of an italian loaf cut in half lengthwise and toasted.) It had ketchup on it as well. The memory of the toasted bread and mix of flavors you’d normally find in plated bacon and eggs together with the sweet and tangy taste of ketchup makes me want one even now.
I really didn’t think much about these morning breakfasts. I simply enjoyed the taste of it with a regular coffee and the experience of taking a break from work. Whoever else was working that morning was on break for the few minutes it took to consume. It was a comfortable place. As an aside, for those outside of New England, a regular coffee is coffee with cream and sugar; try ordering a “large regular coffee” at your local coffee shop…the clerk will probably not understand.
But anyway, one day I drove to the diner to get the breakfast for everyone. I had often gone in and ordered, so the waitress knew who I was. When I ordered my bacon and egg and cheese on a heel with a regular coffee this time, she said, “Don’t you ever order anything else? You always get the same thing. We have more options you know!”, my portion of the order was the only constant. I was taken aback by the question. I felt exposed for not being adventurous as if there was some problem with my consistency. True, I enjoyed the selection and, also true, there were many other items on the menu which would probably have been at least equally as satisfying, but I didn’t order anything different. I got the usual and left, but now I felt subconscious about it. I had gone into the same diner, ordered the same food, daily, for quite some time. The waitress’ question bugged me. I mean why break up a good thing I had going here! So what, I wanted the same food…really! It caused me to think about why I ordered the same thing.
I had to admit to myself that my consistent ordering was not because of the food or even the experience of eating while on break at work. The true reason I did it was because I knew what to expect. Anything else, would be unfamiliar and present me with other decisions which I’d long ago dismissed by ordering the same food. A wrong food choice might result in a breakfast I didn’t like and a lackluster break experience. It never occurred to me that it might be a better food and enhance my break. No, I didn’t want to risk it. I knew I’d enjoy the taste of the bacon and egg and cheese on a heel sandwich; that it would go well with a regular coffee. More importantly, I knew how the entire encounter at the diner would play out, no surprises. Nothing else had to be setup…everything was perfect…I was familiar with the environment. I knew what words to use to place the order that wouldn’t present me with other questions from the waitress and I could be out of the spotlight and back to the “comfortable” in as little time as possible.
I’ve thought of the diner experience over the years, most often when I was being presented with something new to do. It has always been difficult to change the status quo. Maybe you can’t relate to this directly. But maybe you have felt yourself in a rut? Maybe you are doing things the way you do them now, mostly because you feel some sense of control or familiarity? What other opportunities have you dismissed by simply deciding to do what you’ve always done? Do you have other ideas or things you want to accomplish, but are waiting for the correct alignment of events to occur before you’d be comfortable acting on them?
I ran across a brief post, The difference between not settling and not starting, by Allison Jones that got me thinking about being uncomfortable. It talks about taking a small step and being “OK with not being perfect.” I still find myself most often living in the “comfortable” rather than the “uncomfortable or imperfect.” I have most certainly stepped out of my comfort zone and in much bigger arenas since the diner days, for example with career changes. But it’s never been without wondering if I’m doing the right thing. Here’ a freeing belief: it’s ok to make mistakes or take risks…in fact it may be the only way out of a rut and on towards newer, perhaps, more fulfilling experiences.
P.S. I don’t remember going to the diner after that…Now, for me, the experience is a simple lesson about how restricting the familiar can be. Be free…step out of the familiar.