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Memphis Daily News
Climbing Out When Stuck In Comfort Zone
July 13, 2017
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

We all have them. We often go there looking for safety, acceptance, understanding or just a sense of the familiar. Our comfort zones are natural, but living there can keep you from fulfilling your purpose in life. A comfort zone, if you burrow in too deep, can become a rut you get stuck in.

There are times when quiet decisions lead to occurrences that can set the course for a chain of historic events that change everything because someone ventured out of his or her comfort zone. It is inspirational to hear these stories of when just doing the next right thing makes the world a better place, and even more profound when you hear it firsthand.

I had lunch the other day with a former professor of mine. Over the years, Brother Terence McLaughlin, FSC, a Christian Brother, has become a trusted colleague and friend. Now in his mid-90s and retired from active service in education, he still challenges others to frame the future by stepping out of their comfort zones in the present. And he has always practiced what he preaches.

We talked about experiences we had in our careers, and the comfort zones we climbed out of along the way. I asked Brother what his most memorable was. He talked about one experience when he was a college president/high school principal in Memphis in the early 1960s.

In 1963, Jessie Turner Jr. became the first African-American to enroll in an all-white high school in Memphis when he entered Christian Brothers High School, which at the time was part of Christian Brothers College. It was not a protest, but a choice his parents made. It is the same choice all parents want to make. Who will provide the best education for my child? Jessie Jr. was a 13-year-old boy who had expressed a desire to go to that school since he was 4 years old. It was a choice that, due to segregation, was not open to him.

Brother talked about Jessie’s courage in leaving his comfort zone, sacrificing the familiar, facing the fear of the unknown. He was proud of the accepting environment of the school, but knew that it was lonely for Jessie at times, even if he was befriended. What Jessie did was a catalyst for integration in Memphis.
I talked about what Brother did in exercising the courage to leave his comfort zone and integrate the school. It was the culture of the times; and not to accept Jessie would have been an acceptable decision in 1963. I wanted to know how he felt, despite his insistence that he was just doing the right thing.

He admitted that his decision to enroll Jessie shaped up to be “challenging,” and that it led to many “distasteful confrontations”; however, uncomfortable as his new reality was, it was what he needed to do and he could never go back to an old paradigm. He knew it was a real step in the right direction and he welcomed the change.

That’s how change happens. Someone leaves their comfort zone.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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