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To become more effective communicators and more complete persons we must stretch beyond our comfort zones. The problem is that we huddle carefully inside our comfort zone; and if it is small, then we are imprisoned in a small world.

However, most of us would rather stay in our prisons than pay the price of discomfort for venturing out. We allow ourselves to be painted in a small corner of life. We never find the limits of our abilities because we never explore them. It has been said that the average person only uses 10 percent of his or her abilities. The other 90 percent gets buried in graves of fear.

We fear failure. We fear making a fool out of ourselves. We fear the ridicule of others. We fear criticism. So we cave in and settle down in our comfort corner, and every day begins to look pretty much like yesterday and tomorrow. We wear the same clothes, say the same things, meet the same people, and go through the same routines because that is where we are comfortable.

“To stretch” as I use the term here, means “to step outside our comfort zones.” It means to dream the impossible dream, to reach for the previously unreached, to try the untried, to risk the possibility of failure, to dare to go into places where we have never been.

Do you remember the first time you swam without someone holding you afloat or the first time you hit a home run? “I can do it!” you announced to yourself and to the world. You didn’t drown and you didn’t strike out. You did it! A new self-confidence and a new world were created for you in that moment. It always happens when we stretch.

I have grown so much whenever I have stretched. Back in the ’70s I was assigned as a seminarian, deacon and priest to St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic Church in Louisville. The pastor and I were the only Caucasians in an African American parish. I learned so much from my four years at St. Augustine’s about African American culture, race relations and a deeper understanding about the issues of our times.

In the late ’80s I stretched and took a position at then Hospice of Louisville, now Hosparus Health. Many people said to me, “I could never work with patients who are terminally ill and grieving.” My working in the hospice world as a chaplain and fund raiser for over 31 years has given me the opportunity to learn not just about dying and grieving but even more about living every day to the fullest. What a blessing it has been!

In the ’90s I was a volunteer hospice chaplain at Glade House on 6th in Louisville during the AIDS crisis. Many told me I was crazy to do such a thing. Once again I stretched and learned so much about the gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual world. This has helped me understand the many issues and challenges facing our LGBTQIA+ populations. I never would have discovered these many lessons had I not stretched.

My goal in life is to be a fully alive person. Fully alive people find enjoyment in what others regard as drudgery or duty. They don’t have to. They want to. They are aware of the thorns but concentrate on the roses. Every day has a newness about it. It is never a carbon copy of yesterday. Since fully alive people’s vision is always tentative and open to modification, they eagerly await new insights. These insights will renew them and their vision of reality because they are always stretching beyond their comfort zone.

Bob Mueller is Presiding Bishop of the United Catholic Church.

P.S. Read more thoughtful columns by Bob Mueller.

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