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Saturday, December 10, 2011

Comfort Zone

I was up next to the candy bars and gums in the checkout lane, when I heard the woman ahead of me, with a voice of proud conviction, tell the cashier, “I never do anything that takes me outside of my comfort zone.’


I drove home turning that little nugget over in my mind, and sure as hell, I started thinking. I didn’t mean to, nor did I particularly want to, but thinky thoughts began to percolate.

“I never do anything that takes me outside of my comfort zone.’

I have to admit, I don’t really understand the entire ‘comfort zone’ thing. It was an integral part of the classes I taught, all those years ago, but even then, I didn’t understand its application.

I comprehend the clinical definition of it, how it works and its effects. What I don’t get is why anyone would want to stay tucked inside a cocoon of perceived predictability and imaginary safety.

As I understand it, the comfort zone is an anxiety-free or anxiety neutral mental/emotional state—a form of stress resistant body armor. If nothing gets in, seemingly nothing can get out.

On the surface that sounds like a pretty sweet place to be, but, for me it seems more a prison than a safe harbor. Driving home, I couldn’t recall a day that has passed without me doing something different or new. Whether it’s intellectual or physical, musically or creatively, I try to push myself in a new direction as often as possible.

Why? I don’t know.

The comfort zone is a mental/emotional state, which I suspect does more to limit potential than function as a meaningful, positive asset. It erects a mental/emotional barricade between the lessons of the past to the path to tomorrow.

I’ve got to admit, I’m not too interested in living a stress-free life. I understand not all change equates to progress, but I need more in my life than a flat, dry track with a reasonable and prudent speed limit.

The ability to mitigate stress, even to the point of using it to one’s advantage, seems to be one of the critical attributes of successful people. From the time of our earliest ancestors, innovation, invention and modification—progress—has been molded by the hands of someone stepping out of their comfort zone, thereby altering the course of human development and history in the process.

The soil of every field of human endeavor has been tilled and refined by those who took that first step—those who shelved the status quo and sought to improve their world.

I’m typing this on a Dell laptop, operated by Windows Vista, employing Microsoft Word, while listening to The Beatles/1962-1966 CD. Each of those products was someone’s step into a zone of some discomfort—a zone where the anxiety of creation and innovation were very real presences.

I think it beats living in a cave and chewing on leaves.

In the end, I’ll die, just as everyone else does. Until that day, I’m going to keep pushing at the edges.

When I was younger, my career required me to do a lot of pretty dangerous things. These days, the wisdom of scars tempers my activities. Don’t get me wrong, I still do stupid things, but at least now…I know they’re stupid.

I think the only way I can discover what I’m capable of, is by kicking at the corners of my comfort zone and simply going too far.

To do any less seems to guarantee a life unlived.

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