You know how sometimes life throws a bunch of things at you all at once and you end up seeing a theme emerge? Well, without getting into a lot of the dirty details, let’s just say this has happened to me. The outcome – a constant tie back to the concept of stepping out the comfort zone. Everywhere I look, it seems to be a curse of sorts holding us all back from better, more productive, successful, and most importantly, happier lives.
While I do seem to be forever confronting this issue in my work life as we help people around the world in their career evolutions, it really hit home for me when I was back home for the holidays. To set the scene for you, my mom and aunt are identical twins. The three of us were together, which never seems to happen enough, and we were debating where to go for dinner. My mom, out of habit, suggested the local diner. My aunt, suggested a slightly nicer place. Just then I turned to my trusty iPhone (everything but the phone I should say, sadly), and pulled up Yelp. Since I’ve been teaching my mom about the social media world lately, I figured this would be a great resource to show her so she could get real feedback from her neighbors on the best restaurants, stores and services in her area. I use it all the time and figured she would too.
Fascinated with this app, I planted myself between the two of them, mesmerized on the couch, and preceded to show them how the GPS navigation pinpointed exactly where we were in the world in a second, and how by taping the “restaurant” option, everything that served food in the area appeared effortlessly. Instantly, they were looking for the familiar, and marveling at all that they’d never heard of or experienced. I pulled up the restaurant they’d suggested originally and read aloud the only two reviews, that were bad. Then I found a place we’d never heard of that had 8 raving reviews. My mouth was watering from the pictures so I made an enthusiastic pitch to try it out. My aunt agreed. Mom, pulled way back, as if she was struggling to contain a wild horse fighting to run wild. Her response became almost comical to watch.
Mom: “It’s too far.”
Me: “Yelp says its .1 miles from the first place”
Mom: “I don’t know that area. We’ll get lost.”
Me: “Mom, we have a GPS in the car. And one on my phone here too. We can also call if we have a problem, you know.”
Mom: “I really don’t want to do a whole sit down.”
Me: “Were we going to drive through the diner somehow?”
Mom: “I don’t want to experiment.
Me: “Mom, it’s Italian food.”
Mom: “Oh, I don’t really want to go out, I’m tired.”
Me & My Aunt: “Come on! How often do the three of us get to go to dinner alone?”
Mom: “I’m not dressed properly.”
Me: “Your already dressed better than most people anywhere. You look great!”
Mom: “Ahhh….come on…let’s just go to the diner.”
Followed by a moan, whine, moan, throwing up of hands, a resentful changing of clothes, then us venturing out to the new restaurant to check it out.
It turned out to be one of the best meals we’ve had together in years.
Even better, it was one of the best nights we’d ever spent together.
What got my mom so stuck in her little few square mile comfort zone? The same things that get the rest of us stuck in bad relationships, jobs, environments, ruts, or whatever the familiar circumstances are, I’d imagine.
We all have them. And they’re called “comfort zones” for a reason. To some great extent, we feel more safe and at peace among what we know. The big question is, what are we missing out on outside of those invisible walls? What caused us to draw the lines where they are in the first place?
It’s healthy to challenge the status quo. Encouraging ourselves and others to explore the unknown is how we grow as people and as professionals.
Start to think about what your own comfort zones look like. How tightly contained is the life you are living…or ever changing and expansive? The latter might actually cause someone to crave some shred of stability or routine. I can kind of relate to that myself.
Once you know your own pre-conceived boundaries, start to explore why they are where they are. Try stepping outside the lines. Relish the heart pumping excitement, fear, and uncertainty of what lies beyond. (A great case in point, Monique’s article about Traveling Alone!) Celebrate your new discoveries and successes and stop being afraid of crossing the lines.
Your comfort zones are not electrified fences. They might feel like it sometimes, as my mom showed with our big bold new restaurant excursion, but just stop to consider all that you could be missing out on. I certainly am. As we close out 2009, let’s vow to support one another here and in the rest of our lives as we venture to make our worlds more rich and rewarding. Life’s too short not to get the most we can out of it.