Where Metaphor Meets Life


              One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose                                                                                  sight of the shore for a very long time — André Gide


SJ #1I’ve been perennially in search of new lands—a metaphor for new ideas and new perspectives—since childhood. I’ve often had to lose sight of the metaphorical shore in order to find them.

Ironically, the most dramatic change in my perspective came when I had lost sight of the literal shore, a day when I was roughly a thousand miles out into the Pacific Ocean, heading west along an unmarked route. That day, my husband and I were two years into a planned circumnavigation of the world in a 37-foot sailboat, a journey that required me to abandon a successful New York career.

Throughout our cruise, we’d often had to trim our sails to unpredictable winds and set our rudder to compensate for erratic currents. We sailed as close to our intended course as we could, but all too often, we ended the day someplace other than where we’d set out to go. As good sailors on a well-fitted sailboat, not much could go very wrong, but we knew that if something did, we would probably die. Life and death were pretty much out of our hands.

That watershed day, a sunny afternoon with clear skies and calm seas, it struck me that sailing was a metaphor for life. I suddenly understood that I’d had no more control over my life and death when I lived and worked in New York City than I did while sailing on the Pacific Ocean. And it seemed obvious that if I couldn’t control my fate, I might as well spend my days doing something meaningful and satisfying, rather than wasting precious time and energy trying—all too often in vain—to meet the expectations of others.

It seemed equally obvious that if I hadn’t decided to sail away from the metaphorical as well as the geographic shore, I’d still be living under the illusion that I could actually control my life.

It is this last concept—that you grow the most when you step outside your comfort zone—that has been the leitmotif of my life as an author. My memoir, Sailing Down the Moonbeam starts with my decision to step out of my comfort zone from a professional and cultural perspective. It ends as I begin a new, more purposeful way of life that has sustained me for a quarter of a century.

But few people have the option of quitting their jobs and heading off into the sunset. I wanted to write a novel about “every woman,” to explore the growth that can take place even if you never leave home.  Just as sailing was a metaphor for a life out of control, “A Fitting Place” is a metaphor for learning how the pieces of one’s life fit together.

In A Fitting Place, Lindsey Chandler is hurtled out of her psychological comfort zone by the betrayal of those she most trusts. Her journey to emotional maturity finally begins when she begins to re-examine her entire value system, including loyalty, marriage and gender roles.

How has stepping out of your comfort changed your life?



A Fitting Place

My blog today is adapted from a piece I wrote for “Plain and Fancy,” Marian Beaman’s delightful website on the challenges and opportunities of a life that started in a Mennonite community and took her to a wide-ranging career in academia, with a stint as a neighborhood activist.

I will continue to blog on other aspects of universal human relationships in the weeks to come. I welcome guest contributors whose own experiences offer another perspective.

If you’d like to contribute, please contact me at https://marycgottschalk.com/contact/



Buy a paperback copy of A Fitting Place                       Buy A Fitting Place for Kindle 



  1. Mary, as I reflect on moving into and out of my own comfort zones– a shy 17 year old auditions for the lead role in the senior play, a good Catholic girl goes for a divorce in the 1970s, a single mother turns her back on her son whose drinking has spun his life out of control, to name a few, I realize that willingness to take the risks is the only way to grow and become stronger. How often I have felt I was sailing away to a distant land far away from the shore but taking that step has helped me take the next challenging step—like publishing a memoir and getting it out into the world. Excellent post!

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Kathy — somewhere I read the quote that if you already know it all, you can’t learn anything new. Almost by definition, most “discomfort zones” are unpleasant at the time you get into them, but with the right attitude — which you obviously had—they can be very powerful factors for growth. In a sense, I like to be just a tiny bit out of my comfort most of the time, as it keeps me learning.

  2. Oh, Mary, I just read this post and felt glimmers of recognition. Why, yes–you discussed “Where the Magic Happens” on my blog in May with a similar theme. Your message still rings true because it’s a universal one: Leave your comfort zone and taste freedom, take the challenge because it can lead to fulfillment.

    But I’m preaching to the choir here, of course. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Mary Gottschalk says

      Hi Marian … Since I changed this very little from the guest piece I did on your website, I wanted to make sure you got the credit for inspiring it … and for continuing to inspire me.

  3. Mary Van Heukelom says

    Your metaphor is beautiful, in a sense that it accepts adversity. Stepping out of my comfort zone has not only built self confidence, but truly allowed me to view “stress” or “discomfort” or “fear” as natural as the sunrise and sunset. Stepping out of my comfort zone is like the bitter before the sweet. It is a cycle that builds progress and courage… A natural form of cultivating emotional maturity. If we avoid fear, stay “comfortable” or mis manage stress, then one may find themselves swirling in a banal abyss of repetitive and unhealthy thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Let Life Sail!

  4. Mary Gottschalk says

    Mary … I think you need to change careers, and join the world of writers. I love your image of discomfort being as “natural as the sunrise and sunset.” Yasmina would approve!