The most common piece of advice I received when I first went off to college five years ago was the most irritating thing for a then-17-year-old me to hear: Get involved.

As previously detailed (Catholic Herald, July 23), I have a slight – OK, more than slight – fear of stepping outside of my lovely Comfort Zone. It’s a fear that has not abated much in five years.

In fact, I can almost visualize my 17-year-old self giving that same advice to my 23-year-old self today. Getting involved is essential when you begin any phase in your life, no matter if you’re 17, 23, or 50. Bye-bye, Comfort Zone.

Step one is just getting used to the idea. Step two is figuring out how to get involved, and what that means for you. And I thought step one was difficult!

I first baby-stepped my way to getting involved around Christmas of last year, about six months after graduating from college and moving back to Milwaukee. Until that time, I had busied myself with a new job, old friends and the usual routine. Finally, I decided to heed the advice of 17-year-old Erin (she may be younger but often much wiser, I have to admit!) and try something new.

Uncertain and unfamiliar with the young adult Catholic scene in Milwaukee, I did what I usually do in times of question: I Googled. I think I actually Googled the exact phrase “young adult Catholic scene Milwaukee.” I Googled until I could Google no more, and then I had a list of options. And then I did the other things I do in times of question, which perhaps I should have done pre-Googling: I talked to people, and I prayed.

Cut to a December evening at St. Mary’s Visitation Parish in Elm Grove. At the top of my “To try” list was Lolek, a group for Catholics between the ages of 18 and 35 (thank you, Google!). It was something Catholic, something for people my age, and it was close to my parents’ house. I figured this was a good place to start.

I sat in my car waiting to make sure other young-ish people were walking into the building. They were. I had sort of hoped that nobody would show up, or that I had the date wrong, so I could drive home and put my pajamas on. No such luck. A few Hail Marys later, I went in.

I don’t know if there’s anything more terrifying than walking by yourself into a room full of your peers, where you don’t know a soul, they don’t know you, and they all know each other. Anyone at Lolek that night must have thought I was insane. I operated on two polar opposite wavelengths: I was horrifyingly shy and silent at some moments, and embarrassingly talkative and enthusiastic at others. I was mortified throughout.

But I survived. Thankfully, I met several exceptionally kind people that first night, and I liked the way the group operated. Lolek takes place every other Tuesday night, begins with adoration and confession, and then there’s a speaker and time for socializing afterward. Did I mention they always have food? Yeah, they had me hooked. I liked the few people I met, the speaker and the artichoke dip enough to go back two weeks later.

The first few days or weeks or months of a new experience are always challenging, and I often find it’s a “one step forward, two steps backward” situation. But it’s important to give that new experience your full devotion before you decide it’s not worth additional days or weeks or months of your time. When you stick it out, you suddenly find yourself feeling very comfortable. One day you’re the shy, weird girl in the back of the room (me). Then one day you look around and you know almost every person in the room, and you can count several of them as friends you hang out with outside of the large group (also me). It happens out of nowhere! New friends AND artichoke dip? Maybe getting involved isn’t such a scary thing after all…

Lolek’s Web site is <>. Please visit the Web site for the fall schedule.

(Dolan is a member of St. Mary Parish, Elm Grove. You can reach her through your Catholic Herald)