Getting Out of My Comfort Zone

Yesterday I did something that I wouldn’t normally do, and the results were very cool!

As I was driving down my street towards home I saw one of my neighbors raking leaves in his yard (and could see that he had many bags of leaves already sitting in his garage). On a whim I pulled over, rolled down my window and asked if I could take the bags off his hands (knowing he would simply be putting them out for pick-up this week).

While this might not seem like a big deal for a lot of people – this was actually completely out of character for me! I’ve certainly had conversations with various neighbors (including this particular gentleman) before – but my natural tendency is always to shy away from such interactions. As such, I don’t really know any of my neighbors very well, even though we’ve lived in our current location for five and a half years!

No too surprisingly, the neighbor was more than happy to see his leaf bags disappear, so once I had parked the car I hastily ran back over and started hauling them back over to my place (he was off in another part of his yard by this point). This could have easily been the end of it, resulting in a nice little haul of leaves for my worm beds, along with a couple of (self-administered) pats on the back for stepping out of my comfort zone. But when I noticed that the neighbor was once again out on his front lawn rounding up more leaves I decided to head back over to lend a hand. I knew this meant that I would actually have to converse with him (haha), but I figured it was the least I could do to return the favor.
Well, long-story-short, we ended up having a really enjoyable conversation, and it’s safe to say I’ve made a new friend in the neighborhood.

As great as it is to have all these bags of leaves for my worm beds (will be writing about my winter preparation activities soon), as it turned out, the real “score” ended up being the friendly interaction with the neighbor. I learned a lot more about him (and about the neighborhood in general), and he now knows ME a lot better as well. It’s so easy to make generalizations about people we don’t know, and to assume they are totally different than us – yet it never ceases to amaze me just how similar we all really are!

One of the topics of conversation, of course, was my kooky backyard composting activities (in plain view from his front window – the and reason given for taking the leaves from him). I explained (half jokingly) that all of it was just a typical “day at the office” for me – part of my “job”. I expected a look of surprise, or perhaps some sort of deer-in-headlights blank stare, but he actually seemed to think it was all pretty cool. He explained that he and his wife didn’t really have all that much time for gardening etc activities due to their busy work schedules, but that it was something he’d like to get into at some point.

I realize that none of this is earth-shattering by any means, but the big “take away” for me was the fact that it’s really easy to make a positive connection with neighbors and other people we encounter on a regular basis. For those of us who are trying to spread the word about vermicomposting, and other earth-friendly activities, this represents a great opportunity for introducing people to these topics in a very friendly manner!

There is a well known saying in environmental circles, “think globally, act locally”. Being the rather shy web-guy that I am, I’ve tended to go at it the other way around – focusing primarily on spreading the word online (which can be VERY effective, don’t get me wrong), while doing very little in my own region. I’ve certainly spent a lot of time talking with people who have come to pick up worms – but all of this reminds me that I should make more of an effort to reach those who are unfamiliar with the concept of vermicomposting – starting with those who live in my own neighborhood!

Anyway – just some thoughts rattling around in the ol’ noggin!

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  1. Oh Bentley! I’m so proud of you! Keep knocking those Comfort Zone walls down and you will be amazed at how many cool people you will meet! Then the challenge becomes balancing time with “real” people interactions. While internet relationships are a fun and important part of our businesses (nearly ANY business!) the world is still made up of real folks. The easiest way to rid oneself of shyness is to open the conversation with a question that gets someone talking about themselves. After that, you don’t have to do anything but listen! You only have to figure out how to get them to stop! 🙂

    But be ready — you may have neighbors knocking on your door asking if you need more leaves if word gets out!

    • Heather Rinaldi
    • November 10, 2010

    Awesome! You do know that you are a very charming, witty, and informed conversationalist…..right? Proud of you, (and waiting for you to go back and let this new friend know that you could put an organic garden in for him, complete with his very own compost pile)!

    • Larry D.
    • November 10, 2010

    Man,you did better than me! I lived here for 22 years and know 5 neighbors.And i am related to three of those!
    I hit my old childhood neighborhood.And some leaves are on the way.
    In your case it is act globally,and locally.I even filmed at a car show Saturday,and offered to put some peoples vehicles on there for my worm composting stuff.And they said”Nah,that’s all right!”I may be parked closer to the restaurant than i thought,when i get my project done!
    Seems i get a lot of blank stares.But those you talk about recycling to,it hits a chord.Say worms,it’s “Huh?” Say recycling garbage with worms,it’s “Oh Yeah?”
    But the response is better than i expected,given who i am talking to! I do have the restaurant where i go wrapped up.I know the owner! He He!!!

    • Angie
    • November 10, 2010

    Hey-well done!!! I live in the UK, and have been raking and sweeping leaves in my local area lately, and am well versed with that strange stare you mention-but more often than not, someone will come and ask me what I am doing-with the comment that surely the council will be doing that shortly! They often think I’m “being tidy”-something that people who know me well will understand to be totally out of character..haha! So, when I explain the leaves are either for my wormery, or for making leafmould, they often react like your neighbour, saying they would like to do that if they had time etc. Sometimes they have tried, and it’s not worked out, so that gets us chatting about solutions to their problem. I also work as a volunteer for the local council to encourage people to make compost at home, and this includes wormeries. I have met so many lovely people this way-talking compost and vermiculture..and spreading the word. It’s the way to go! Keep it up!

    • Iva
    • November 10, 2010

    Looks like you can even use the bags!

    • NG
    • November 10, 2010

    I considered this at one point, but with no guarentee that chemicals have not been used that could harm or kill the worms, I didn’t go any further with that idea, but the option is still open in my mind for future composting.

    • Larry D.
    • November 10, 2010

    Iva has a good point! Just leave them in the bags.I may try this?
    Paper or plastic? Paper with my leaves please!
    Forgot to mention! As a shy type person myself.I know what it is to do this task! I struggled when i went to my first door at work.And each door got easier.You stick a news camera in my face,i freeze up! But a normal conversation i can rule the room! We are proud of your accomplishments Bentley!

    • Anna
    • November 10, 2010

    Kudos to you, Bentley! I recently tried this and made a friend, but was also told rather firmly that all leaves I chose to leave needed to be swept up into a pile with a point (she was really quite adamant that it be raked to a point). I hadn’t realized that people cared about such things.

  2. If you ever need an agent to book speaking engagements, let me know.
    I’d be happy to do it.

    • Bentley
    • November 11, 2010

    Thanks everyone. I’m sure in some ways I lucked out with this particular person, since he happens to be very easy-going and friendly. Encountering skeptical people will undoubtedly prove to be a lot more difficult I’m sure.

    What I’d like to do next year for sure, is (once and for all) get my “Compost Guy Demonstration Garden” set up so neighbors can learn about my activities without feeling like I’m trying to “force-feed” them – I had thought about setting something up this past season, but ended up chickening out. I had a LOT of positive comments this past season, and ended up interacting with more neighbors as a result – but I think it would be cool if I actually put up a sign and created some sort of information brochure for people to look at. While I wouldn’t be doing it for this reason, I’m sure it would also result in more people wanting to purchase worms etc.

    ANNA – some people are pretty funny, that’s for sure! As a bit of a “control freak” myself (but in different ways) I guess I can sort of understand where she was coming from (although that particular example is hilarious).

    MARK – thanks for the offer. What funny is that in a lot of ways I find public speaking to be easier (and more enjoyable) than general day-to-day social interaction. I think it comes down to my need to be “prepared” for everything (which you really can’t be in a lot of day to day situations). I used to be utterly terrified of public speaking, but ended up taking a leadership course that made a world of difference!
    Anyway – we’ll see! Not sure how soon the “Compost Guy World Speaking Tour” will become a reality! haha

    • Marie
    • November 13, 2010

    Hi Bentley
    I also am beginning to come out of the ‘worm closet’, sharing my new hobby, even though some (lots?) people think I am crazy.

    I brought the worms I bought from you this summer to my local garden club meeting and gave them the “spiel” about the advantages for the environment as well as for their gardens. When I actually opened the worm factory to show them the layer with the active worms, they all had an “eww” reaction (these were gardeners–don’t they see worms all the time?) but maybe I’ll convince them someday. Keep up the great website!

  3. Great story and an encouraging post for me to read (this just after reading about the deaths of a friend and another friend’s relative). On a lighter note, I hope if all of us vermicomposters would be open to sharing our passion it would have a positive influence in our local communities.

    • Ruth Ann (from PA)
    • November 16, 2010

    I have been reading your articles for some time and I had to comment on this one. My husband and I started collecting leaves seriously last year. This year we were introduced to a very wooded neighborhood and from one acquaintance, we now have learned to know 5 or 6 new people. We suck leaves into a box on a pickup truck and unload and shred them on our property. We are feeding worms a mixture of horse manure, leaves and coffee grounds (from a local restuarant). Each product that we collect helps us get to know more people in our community. We have been amazed at the positive response from everyone. Yesterday as we were collecting leaves from an elderly gentleman who asked us to take his leaves as we were sucking a neighbor’s, we started talking about his small garden. He was looking at a rototiller and I think that I convinced him to try no-till gardening. We may think that we are odd, but I think that we are actually admired for trying to make a real difference.

    • Victoria
    • January 4, 2011

    Good for you! Always scary to step outside of the comfort zone, but I’m so happy it was rewarding.

    I live in an urban area with lots of people around and I think they see my composting (both a regular bin and vermicomposting) as kind of hippy. However, my 8-yr old neighbor climbs the clainlink fence between our yards to get a better look whenever I’m puttering near the vermicomposting bin. He keeps asking me “are you feeding the worms?” You’ve inspired to me get him to ask his mum if he can come over for a short science lesson on how worms eat my trash 🙂

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