You know that super cliche quote that goes “life begins at the end of our comfort zone”? Well, it may be VERY overused as desktop screen savers and dorm room wall art (about 92% positive I even had this canvas in my apartment for a whole year after graduation), but it’s also not entirely wrong either…though I would put it a little differently myself.
It’s not life that begins outside of our comfort zone; it’s personal growth. I genuinely believe the only two things that really challenge us as humans and force us forward are the unknown and the unfamiliar. Yet for some reason we shy away from them at all costs.
Unless we are the lucky few that have already learned this lesson, human beings, at our very cores, are innately afraid of what we don’t know and can’t predict or control. We cling to our daily routines because we like knowing how things are going to pan out. And god forbid there’s a minor unplanned deviation from that routine—a late train, a last minute meeting, an urgent project—we panic.
And I PROMISE I am looping myself in with this harsh generalization. As any of my friends will testify to, I take the cake (and eat it) when it comes to control issues. I plan absolutely everything I do, and just recently found out I have “disappointed eyebrows” when things don’t go the way I wanted them to (…cool). But what I definitely don’t do is say no to untried opportunities.
Back in college I chose to not study abroad. I could have spent an entire semester in Italy, but everything in Italy was unfamiliar: the people, the language, and the country itself. I would have been completely uncomfortable. Except here’s what I neglected to realize: I would’ve only been uncomfortable until I got comfortable. Think about it—when we do things outside of our comfort zone, we are simply expanding the permitters of that zone. If I had said yes to Europe, then Europe would’ve been a part of my comfort zone from there on out, as would living in a foreign country and traveling alone. I, without a shadow of a doubt, would’ve grown as a more cultured and sophisticated person as a result of that experience. And I will forever regret letting my fear keep me from embarking on that journey.
So now I definitely don’t let the fear of the unknown hold me back anymore. The adrenaline junky in me will pretty much try anything new once, no matter how high up or fast it goes. But it’s the more significant life changes that I choose to also always say yes to. Like one I think too many of us are afraid to do—leave an old job for a new one.
Too often after starting our careers, we get comfortable in our positions and we use that as a reason to stay. But in my opinion, “comfortable” is not a positive attribute of a job. The hard truth is that comfortable means you are no longer being challenged. And being challenged at work means you’re learning, which in turn means you’re growing.
Now please don’t get it twisted here—I don’t mean to say we should just up and leave a good job every two years. I very much think it’s possible to find a position where you are consistently taking on new roles and responsibilities and continuing to learn and be challenged every single day. Those are the golden jobs to strive for. I’m talking about the ones where we have been performing the same tedious, mindless tasks for three years with no clear pathway for promotion or any change in sight. Those are the jobs that hold us back from growing as professionals and human beings.
Granted, leaving a long-term job for a brand new one is completely and utterly terrifying. Your current job has familiar faces, predictable routines and well-known responsibilities; your new job is exactly that: new. Everything about it is unfamiliar and unknown, which we know can be—yup, you guessed it—uncomfortable. But it’s all temporary. Pretty soon unfamiliar faces will be friendly ones, untrained tasks will be expert ones, and everything unknown will be anticipated. And you will have broadened your portfolio of knowledge way past where you ever could have at your old job. (I mean, do it for the résumé people!)
So starting today, I am petitioning to officially rebrand the word “uncomfortable”. It’s no longer going to be negative, but rather, exciting! Doing something that makes us uncomfortable now means we are embarking on an unexplored adventure, and only good things await us. Got set up on a blind date? Go—new adventure. Nominated for a leadership position? Say yes—new adventure. Relocating for a job or a significant other? Do it—new adventure (just make sure they are worth it for that latter part). The honest truth of it is, if we stop treating everything in this life as “scary” and start treating it as an exciting adventure, we would worry a little less, savor a little more, and live a lot harder.