I happen to be a big fan of the comfort zone. By nature, I am not the first person you will see rushing to the front of the line for bungee jumping or climbing into a small helicopter headed out for a better view of the waterfall. Of course, for most of us, these activities do not come up as options on a routine basis. Daily life does, however, involve opportunities to walk away from the comfort zone in many other ways. Even though these situations may not include diving off cliffs, they still challenge us to explore other aspects of ourselves in order to grow and more fully experience life.
Sometimes I stay confined to the comfort zone because of the fear of how I will be viewed by other people. No matter to what degree, we are all impacted by the perceptions of others and this can influence our decisions to try new things. I recently thought about trying yoga, drawn by the mental and physical benefits, as well as looking for more ways to stay healthy. Through the magic of the Internet, my first couple of classes were led by an instructor on the television in the comfort of my own living room. I have to admit, I dreaded scrutiny of others who I imagined to be masters of the practice. Ultimately, staying home made it too easy to skip the workout and I joined a yoga studio on a trial basis. I certainly did feel awkward and self-conscious, but I was gently encouraged to keep adjusting and do my best. I improved; I did not become an expert, but I got better. The first time I heard positive feedback from an instructor, it led to a feeling of accomplishment I could only experience by walking past the fear of what other people might think.
Our daily routines often involve spending time with the same people, doing the same activities, and being in the same surroundings. Familiarity can become very comfortable. When I was in school and working on my sociology degree, we had to complete an assignment specifically designed to take us out of our comfort zone. I chose to go to an urban church where I knew no one, where the faith practiced was different than mine, and where my skin color was different than everyone else’s. I learned to be vulnerable; I tried to bring an openness and sincerity to the experience, since being so obviously a newcomer meant I would be noticed immediately. It turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of my life. To this day, I remember the warmth, friendliness, and inspiring conversations with people who made me feel as if I had been coming there for years. Differences in geography, faith tradition, skin color, etc. paled in comparison to traits such as kindness, respect, and willingness to learn from others. I learned walking past the fear of discomfort leads to some of the most inspiring and meaningful connections in life.
We need to look inward to acknowledge what we fear, then look outward to find ways to push past our personal comfort zones. We might push past the fear of conflict, to speak up in defense of ourselves or someone else who needs our help. We might push past the fear of rejection, by agreeing to go on that first date. We might push past the fear of failure, by taking on a challenging work project. There is no guarantee we will achieve the exact outcome we are looking for, but we can be assured that true growth and invaluable experiences happen in that space beyond the comfort zone. Here, we can learn things about ourselves and do things we once never thought possible.