I’m not a great traveler.
I really like the idea of travel, but the whole process is stressful. I find myself worrying about all the little details of the trip before they ever happen:
- Wondering if our luggage is overweight or not
- Worrying about making connections if a plane is delayed
- Stressing over whether my carryon bags will fit in the overhead compartment, and what will happen if they have to check it – and then it gets lost
- Hoping the hotel actually has our reservation
My wife and I went to Europe a few years ago for the first time. I worried about getting a cab driver that didn’t speak English (which happened), and not being able to direct him to our hotel (he found it anyway). I worried about finding bathrooms in unfamiliar places, eating unfamiliar food and experiencing unfamiliar experiences.
I was way out of my comfort zone.
That trip turned out to be awesome. Nothing I dreaded came to pass.
Now, we talk about going back to Europe. But my first thought is to repeat the exact same trip, since it’s familiar.
I’m way back into my comfort zone.
I’m doing much better. I’ve learned how to talk myself through it and overcome my feelings, but it’s definitely a conscious effort.
We like our comfort zones.
Is that a bad thing?
We’ve heard it for years: “You need to leave your comfort zone.”
We’ve seen it in written in books, announced by motivational speakers, and preached from the pulpit. We’ve been told that real life takes place when we stretch beyond where we are currently, and move in new, meaningful directions. It’s the mantra of a productivity-driven society.
Here’s the argument:
- We were meant for greatness.
- We’re not great now.
- We need to move away from our comfort zone to become great.
- We should never be satisfied with the way things are, but should strive for something better.
- If we stay where we are, we’re living a mediocre life.
There are a lot of variations on that theme, but the basic idea is the same: we need to change.
Actually, there’s a lot of truth in the basic idea. Most of us like being comfortable, which means keeping things the way they are. As we’ve all heard, “If you continue to do what you’ve always done, you’ll continue to be who you’ve always been, and get what you’ve always gotten.”
So most people need to catch a vision of what their life could become if they stretched. Their life would be richer, their contribution greater, and their relationships more fulfilling.
But many people assume that leaving their comfort zone will take them to a scary, uncomfortable world where they don’t speak the language or know their way around. They’re OK for a short vacation, but they’re relieved when they finally get home to their familiar surroundings.
That feeling is real. And it’s OK.
We need to come home on a regular basis. It’s where we regroup, recover and find our balance.
But we also need to leave home on a regular basis, moving in new directions and adding value to our lives (and the lives of others).
If we believe that our comfort zone is bad, we’re losing the richness of living in the present. We’ll feel guilty whenever we’re not stretching, and we’ll be a basket case.
We gotta have both.
What if we could find a balance — Extreme satisfaction with the present (being fully engaged in each moment), while taking steps to make a difference in the future?
We don’t need to make giant leaps. It’s more like moving to the edge of our comfort zone, stepping slightly outside our borders, and hanging out there until it becomes comfortable. Then do it again. And again.