Breaking In

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I believe in hiking boots. Stiff, clunky and unapologetically dorky, preferably made of waterproof leather. Neat rows of hiking boots line the back wall of REI. An employee who calls himself a “shoe expert” lists the pros and cons of each pair. “I would say that arch support is way more important than ankle support” he rambles. I nod along, even though I have been through this process enough times to have my own opinion on ankle versus arch support.

A constant cycle of buying hiking boots, wearing them out, and buying new ones marks the passing of time.

I believe in the new.

I grew up shy. Hiding behind my parents at dinner parties suited me better than talking to other kids in attendance. My comfort zone became a bubble I rarely left. It granted me security but left me lonely and unsatisfied. When my parents told nine year old me that they were sending me away on a backpacking trip with other girls my age for the summer, all I heard was unknown people, a difficult activity, and a place far from home. The idea terrified me. That summer challenged everything I believed about newness. Instead of the intimidatingly cool mean girls I expected, my trip mates were nervous nine year old girls like me. They became my friends faster than I thought possible. Backpacking pushed me. It taught me the thrill and satisfaction that comes with challenge.

Ever since, hiking boots have allowed me to experience the new. They mean new adventure and change from a routine that has grown too familiar. When boredom creeps into my life, I believe in lacing up my hiking boots and walking along an unfamiliar trail until the thrill of new experience replaces listlessness. The lessons on newness hiking boots have taught me influences more than just the trails I hike. I know the importance of branching out. The possibility of new connections far outways the risk of awkwardness just as the experience gained in a new pair of boots outways the pain of blisters.The first hike in a new pair of boots always leaves my feet raw and aching. But with each hike, leather stretches and softens, making room for pinky toes and wide feet. Hiking boots are all about adaptability. New hiking boots will never be comfortable unless they adjust. They understand that no circumstance is perfect without adaptation. In a new situation, whether it involves hiking boots or not, I remember to adapt. If I don’t, the world outside my comfort zone becomes overwhelming. With adaptability, mystery becomes opportunity. Fear becomes excitement. I can fully embrace the new.

I am conflicted. I also believe in the old, because the new cannot exist without it. Hiking boots reach their peak long after their creation. They look best caked with dirt, laces frayed, and soles worn down. Old boots carry evidence of the past. They become souvenirs from the backpacking trips that shaped me. And they fit perfectly. Days of hiking render them broken in. They no longer rub blisters on toes and the bottoms of feet. The new will always be appealing. New experiences, relationships, and places, like clean leather always call out to me. Still, the bubble of my comfort zone remains, waiting if I need security. I try not to visit that place often, but the knowledge that I can always return to my family and my friends if I can’t form new connections allows me to push myself without fear.

Just as the old complements the new, the new sheds warm light on the old. It gives the perfectly worn in parts of my life a new appeal. New places make nostalgia for home swell in my chest. New friends remind me of memories made with old ones. I have learned to find a balance between the old and the new. A balance between growth and comfort.

Two weeks ago, I bought a new pair of hiking boots. They sit in my closet, clean and barely worn. They still give me blisters when I wear them. Though they look almost exactly the same as my last pair, they promise adventures the other ones never did. I don’t know what these adventures will teach me, but I know they will burst the bubble of my comfort zone. So I will risk taking them.

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