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One of my all time favorite shows is Scrubs for its slapstick humor, relatable messages, awesome soundtrack, but mostly slapstick humor. In one episode, a character talks about gathering up the courage to mail his wedding invitations saying "You know those lame-ass couples that get engaged but they never actually get married - they just cruise along, year after year, without making any real kind of commitment? Man, I wanted to BE one of those couples!"* Boy, can I relate.

Not to the marriage part. No, the shorter the engagement (and thus time spent picking out centerpieces and making sure everyone knows that the chicken dance is not under any circumstances to be played) the better, but it got me thinking how much we do love our comfort zones.

There are two areas of my life right now that are pushing me out of my comfort zone. The first one is a class that I'm taking that takes a deep look at the ingrained inequities of our society. I believe that these kinds of difficult, honest conversations are crucial, but as I've mentioned in several other entries, those conversations make me feel ashamed and uncomfortable. The second area is moving forward with my dissertation. I've had an idea of what I want to study for months now. I've written outlines and drafts, had numerous conversations about my work, and begun working with an incredible dissertation committee. I've even gotten approved by the IRB at Simmons. All good things, all moving forward. And then we set a date for my defense. Soon. Like, 2.5 weeks soon. And suddenly, I want to be one of those doctoral students who cruises along sending drafts and outlines for feedback without really making any kind of commitment to actually researching this thing.

I see this occasionally in high school students (not just ours, but in the high school where I taught, and the high school where I attended); they get this close to graduation and all of a sudden attendance starts to drop, work starts getting handed in late, productivity grinds to a halt. By the time they've reached senior year, school is pretty comfortable. They know what's expected of them, they know how to work the system, and face it, as seniors, being top dog is kind of cool. That goal that they've worked for is so close, but after that, then what? For me, then what is this: getting people to talk to me, tell me their stories, and then writing about it. What if they don't want to? What if I can't write in a way that lets their messages come through in an authentic way? What if I never make any meaningful contributions to my field?

This period of a doctoral program is sort of like being engaged. We're definitely committed to each other financially - at this point, it would be like canceling a wedding after it's too late to get back any of the deposits. Plus, you'd have to give back that awesome KitchenAid mixer that someone already sent you, and if you are being totally honest, you've already used it to make frosting. And even more importantly, we're committed to making it work. Throughout all of the frustrations and victories of the past two years, I feel more confident every day that this is the work I am put here to do. But still, once those vows are said in front of the committee, once the research begins, and even more momentous, once that diploma is in hand, and once I am expected to do something with it, now THAT is a commitment that is way outside of my comfort zone.

Being comfortable is nice, and no one really wants to leave comfort. Just try recording the very first word that comes to your head when the alarm goes off every morning. I bet it's colorful. But like a marriage, you're not the only one saying those vows. You have a partner who is receiving them and reciprocating. In my work, I have a lot of partners, whose vows I trust. I trust these partners to show up, be honest, and I don't think it's asking too much to be allowed to assume the fetal position during their office hours sometimes. I also have partners outside of Simmons who play as much of a role in my work. They are with me even after the library closes.

So in a few weeks, defending my proposal will be another ceremony of my commitment. I'd be lying if I said that part of me didn't want to just push it back because I could make my proposal better with more time, or maybe I'll be out sick that day, but in the end, I'm ready for the engagement to be over. And as back up, maybe I'll use that KitchenAid mixer to make some "Please Accept My Proposal" cupcakes. After all, this wedding's not getting canceled. I'm keeping the gifts.

*For more awesome Scrubs quotes, visit

Posted by Nastasia Lawton on February 7, 2012 11:24 AM

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