To Exist

Words and Art by: Tiffany Forbes

When I was seven, I took my first ever family camping trip. If I try hard enough, it’s almost as if I can still smell the excitement in the air that day, which often comes in waves of freshly-bought camping chairs and a tent we’d found at an Aldi special buys rack at some point in 2007.

If Australia had a cultural marker, it’d be summertime trips to absolutely anywhere along the Murray, and I was thrilled to finally indulge in it. As you can imagine, I spent my days revelling in the customary “I went camping in regional Victoria” essentials. See: swimming in the river at our campsite, roasting marshmallows and riding my bike on the dirt tracks. I even saw my first wild brown snake and best believe, I spent every evening, without fail, writing about it in my sparkly pink diary — the one I can assure you, never left my side during those formative years. 

————–

Flash-forward over a decade later, while I was rifling through an old box of photo albums and envelopes laden with marker upon marker of my childhood, there it was: my prized notepad in all its glory. In amongst my seven-year-old ramblings about days at the park with friends and fights I’d had with my little sister, I stumbled across a page with the words “do everything, or you’ll regret it later” scrawled across its entirety. 

It’s funny because, in that moment, I could still picture the exact day I had written it down. I was at the small waterpark smack-bang in the middle of our camping ground circa 2008. While my cousins were all running up to beat each other on the water slides as our parents watched eagerly from the sidelines, I remember remaining lifeless and paralysed with fear. My palms sweat and my heart throbbed; I couldn’t do it. We went back to our tent later that night, and full of regret, I promised myself (and my diary), I’d never let fear be an obstacle in doing something I wanted to do again. It sounds dramatic when I think about it as an older, wiser version of myself, but looking back, I don’t think it was ever really about a stupid water slide at all. Rather, it was a collective fuck you to all the times I’d traded facing my fears for retreating back into my comfortable shell. 

In my quest to honour the words I’d etched into page 10 (which were rather profound for a seven-year-old, I must say), over the next 12 years I relished in seeking a thrill from outside the confines of my comfort zone. If it made me uncomfortable, it had to help me grow, right? 

Armed with a lock screen that said “comfort zones are made to be broken” and a determination as tenacious as my love for garlic bread, I applied for jobs and internships I would have otherwise talked myself out of. I forced myself to attend parties and network at events where I didn’t know anyone but the host. I joined the debating team and signed up for leadership positions. I grinded myself down to the bone. It was almost as if growth, learning, and the euphoric surge of energy that came from breaking beyond my internal barriers were all a drug, and I was nothing but a helpless addict. I realise there are worse things I could have been addicted to 一 I mean, in theory, was there really any harm in challenging yourself? 

In short? Yes. I had become a servant to the growth mentality, and it was taxing. The worst part? It was an unfulfillable void. For every barrier I broke, there was another promptly waiting just around the corner. 

It was in a moment of pure exhaustion during last year’s extensive lockdown when I finally came across a quote by one of my favourite writers, Mari Andrew, which alluded to the idea that perhaps, it was time to redefine our perception of comfort zones.

She wrote: “I’ve resented the idea that magic happens outside your comfort zone because I don’t like associating magic with strain and hesitation. I’d rather associate it with the moment when I plopped my spoon into a pillow of cappuccino foam as rain tapped on the window and my best friend texted me a photo of purple tulips in a ceramic vase because they reminded me of him. I much prefer the idea of inviting magic into your comfort zone, rather than hunting for it outside.”

And for what it’s worth, every fibre of my being knew she was right. Who said everything great and satisfying had to come from outside of your shell?

For every Forbes article entitled “16 Reasons Why You Should Get Out Of Your Comfort Zone…”, I started to build a controversial case for why maybe, just maybe, it’s time we let ourselves enjoy the beautiful things that exist within the carefully cultivated barriers we reserve in our hearts. Some of the most rewarding moments in my life have come from the simplicity of playing board games with my stupidly competitive family or watching the morning light filter through my blinds — coffee in one hand and a book in the other. And take my word for it: that should count for something.  

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s time to abolish the idea of pursuing challenges altogether, because truth be told, on the flip side of that coin, equally as many rewarding moments have come from doing so. I just think our toxic desire to be constantly self-improving, productive, and actively flourishing into the best version of ourselves has, in essence, demonised any slither of presence and comfort we’ve got left. 

So, if you take anything from this, I want it to be that it’s not a crime to skip a networking night for a cheese board and a sneaky glass of pinot sometimes. It’s okay to err on the side of comfort if it means preserving your sanity. And to my seven-year-old self, sometimes it’s okay not to do everything. Because later, that might just be the very thing you regret.

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