Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: Powerful Lessons from the Bucket Lady

Beach Corridor of Puerto Escondido

I’m teaching for the art retreat in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, and need some plastic buckets for the art classes.

We are in luck! There is a shop completely devoted to plastic containers. They have buckets, bins, bags, cups, and baskets of every shape, color, and size. The colorful display fills every inch of the shop, including endless buckets hanging from the ceiling. I feel like if I sneeze it will all come toppling down.

Yola, my friend and translator, asks about getting 14 buckets. The lady asks which color. We tell her we don't care. Then Yola asks for 14 cups. Again, we don’t care what color. We start pointing to the various bins and waste baskets we need for rinsing our cyanotypes. Now the lady is moving ever-so-slightly faster and has gotten her daughter on the move looking for lids.

We explain that we don’t need the lids, but the lady is insisting. We wait for what feels like months and still… not the right lids. Yola begs the lady to sell us the bins without the lids. The lady gets grumpy and tells us she will not discount the bins because of the missing lids.

Yola asks, “How much for this bin with the lid?”

“Eighty pesos,” she tells us.

I look at Yola and say, “That’s four bucks, right?”

Yola tells her we will pay for the lid — but she can keep it in case someone needs two.

I’m wondering, If this giant bin is only $4, how much are these little cups?

The Challenges of Shopping For Plastic Buckets and Containers

Shop along the street in Puerto Escondido
I’m also trying to figure out how this lady makes money. Her upselling skills are not great and she tries to talk us out of most of what we want. There’s a long stick with a metal hook at the end of it that she uses to fish plastic things from the ceiling or high up on the walls; she appears to have an aversion to getting it out. She seems to prefer to leave things as they are and recommends that we don't buy so much.

With everything in me I want to sit her down and explain some basic business to her. She and her daughter also move at the most incredibly slow pace. We have things to do and places to be and would buy so much more if she could just have a teeny bit of urgency. Every question we ask, she has to think about; then she slowly responds with another question and thinks about our response again.

This slow process just to find out the cost for some plastic cups is excruciating.

Finally, we have all the things we need: large bins with no lids, 14 plastic cups, 14 plastic buckets, 4 plastic shopping bags, a large garbage bin, 10 plastic decorative vases for fresh flowers.

Now she is adding it up with her 1970s Casio calculator. Watching her press buttons, I notice she adds everything individually, loses track, and starts over. Repeatedly. Yola starts to stress out because she can see I am about to jump out of my skin. For literally ten minutes she works on her calculations.

I am ready with my thousand pesos.

I tell Yola, “Let’s just give her 1,000 pesos and get out of here.” Yola nods in approval.

I lay the pesos down on a stack of plastic bins and start grabbing our stuff. The Bucket Lady just keeps clicking away at her calculator. Just as all of our things are collected into our arms, she announces 850 pesos. I point to the 1,000 pesos as she starts to dig into her pockets for change.

We are convinced that getting change will take another 15 minutes, so Yola tells her, “It’s okay. You keep the change.” The lady looks at us with confusion as we leave.

How Staying in our Bubble Limits Our Potential

Bucket shop in Mexico

As we get some distance and walk to the car, Yola and I complain — buying just a few plastic buckets took us over 30 minutes! We talk about her business practices and wonder how she is even open. The whole car ride back I think about the Bucket Lady and her daughter — who was watching and learning from her mother.

As the aggravation fades away, I begin to see their world. They have no urgency or hustle at all. Zero drive or desire for more or better. With all the plastic containers, they could add to the inventory other things that go with buckets: like soap, mops, sponges, and rags. If they moved faster and had a system for calculating the bill, their customers would buy more. They most definitely could double or even triple their business.

But this is all they know. They aren't exposed to anything more — they aren't being challenged by anyone or provoked to be greater or serve more. They can't think bigger because bigger, more, or greater doesn't touch their bubble. They don't conceive of it.

I start to realize this is true for all of us at whatever level we are.

I, too, have a bubble that I have chosen to comfortably live in. My ceiling is there, it’s just a little higher than the Bucket Lady. Someone else can look at my life and see that I live under self-limiting beliefs and have shrunk down my capacity for greatness. Only what we can see or conceive of can we believe and then grow into.

This little shop of containers made me realize we all live inside our own container.

Violate Your Comfort Zone to Unleash Your Full Potential

Two beautiful women standing on the beach of mexico

How do we expand? How do we trade in our small container for a much larger one without a lid? How do we reach a place without walls or boundaries that limit us?

We must expose ourselves to people and experiences that give us expanse. We need to read books about people who do great things. We must visualize and dream of achievements beyond where we are. We must travel, fight apathy, be committed to better, and aim to violate our comfort zones.

We must never feel like we have arrived — nor be content with the status quo — else we will trap ourselves in our own little plastic bucket shop.

We have greatness in us and can accomplish incredible feats.

We can make our mark on the world and live a life of grand, glorious adventure.

We are change-makers. We are dreamers who shape the world.

Have you tried something new or challenging this week? Have you stepped outside your comfort zone? Share in the comments below! 


  • Yola Gilibert

    Loved being part of the story! Let’s go back and learn some more. Love you , miss you !🥰

  • Nicole Donald

    What an inspiring story that holds such a powerful message! Thank you for sharing and imparting your wisdom, it is profoundly uplifting 💖

  • Blanka

    Dear Elli, 
    your latest Artist Odyssey edition challenged my comfortable hiding quite a bit, and I felt the inner urge to send you a comment. Mainly to work with that inner hiding in me, and to convince her that is ok to let others know how I feel, as silly as it might be.
    The Violate Your Comfort Zone part made me laugh out loud, simply because since I signed up for the Mastery Program, there is not a single day I don’t face those inner demons in various forms, such as fear, frustration, anger, dissatisfaction, inner critique, dislike, perfectionism, skill-set-limitation, just to name a few.
    Please allow me to express my deepest gratitude to you, your family, and all the business helpers who challenge my comfort zone literally on a daily basis. I asked for that challenge and I’m ready to face all the progress and greatness that comes with it.
    Thank you all.

  • tanya

    slam dunk as usual Ellie, you some kind of wonderful.

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