Growth is an inherent part of the natural world, whether it’s the development of a seed into a shoot to eventually become a tall oak tree, or the transformation of a caterpillar into a cocoon and finally into a beautiful butterfly. The same is true for human beings, as we advance through the different stages of development from foetus to baby, toddler to child, adolescent to adult.
Physically, our growth will come to an end by our early 20s. Many of us take this as a sign to stop other forms of growth as well, whether consciously or not, as we settle into a comfortable life of working in a stable job, living with a committed partner, and staying in a city where we know how everything works and we have a network of friends. We have a routine, we feel at home, and we’re living largely on autopilot.
The comfort of such a life can give us a feeling of safety and stability, confidence, and a sense of being in control. Stress and anxiety are minimal as we’ve already mastered the problems that exist in this world, we know what’s coming next, and we have habits and rules in place to deal with everything.
However, this comfort can also bring with it stagnation, frustration, and feeling stuck as our comfort zone inevitably shrinks around us. And in fact, although it feels real, this “comfort zone” is an artificial construct, a mental concept that has no physical manifestation in the real world: it’s a boundary we’ve created that exists only in our minds.
There are many reasons why we prefer to stay within this imagined comfort zone rather than stepping outside. We may be afraid of failure, of making mistakes, of looking foolish; we may worry about what other people might think or say; we may think we’re not good enough, or perhaps we feel we don’t deserve anything more than what we currently have. We may be overwhelmed by all the options, unsure of where to start; we may simply be lazy. On the other hand, it may be the very possibility of success that we’re afraid of, the power we have to change our lives and the responsibility that comes with it. We may be avoiding that responsibility by procrastinating, putting off action until tomorrow while telling ourselves, and others, “Yes, but…”, “First I need to…”, “I’ll do it when…”
[tweet_box design=”box_07″]Growth requires that we say YES and take that step despite whatever fears we may have. [/tweet_box]It comes from exploration and experimentation, pushing our boundaries, taking risks – and that means getting out of our comfort zone, opening ourselves up, and possibly or rather inevitably making mistakes. The fumbling, the vulnerability, is a necessary part of the process. In continuing to move forwards despite that discomfort, we are making the statement that our goal is more important than the fears and obstacles that stand in our way. And it’s the achievement of those goals, and all the little wins along the way, that ultimately allows us to build a fulfilling life and become everything that we can become.
Focusing on growth rather than comfort can be an incredibly empowering perspective. A perspective of growth gives us a more positive outlook as even the worst situations offer opportunities to grow; it’s future focused, as every new situation is a fresh opportunity and our past doesn’t have to determine our future; and it means that we are taking responsibility for our own experiences, creating the life we want with each opportunity that we grasp.
The butterfly could remain in the cocoon, never knowing what life is like outside or if its wings will ever work – or it can choose to break out of its comfortable little home and give it a go!
All this being said, stepping outside of our comfort zone does not mean being reckless. We can step too far, too soon, without any kind of plan or support system in place, leading to crippling stress levels and to our feeling overwhelmed and disempowered. This is especially true when we do not choose to leave our comfort zone but some external force or event obliges us to do so. Our partners may leave us unexpectedly. We may be affected by illness or death in the family. Something, someone, may force us to confront a new identity and we may find ourselves suddenly alone or in an otherwise unfamiliar situation, having to cope with something that we never would have actively chosen for ourselves. Although we have not chosen this new situation, however, we do have the power to choose what to do from now on.
As we take active ownership of our own decisions, our own actions, we become stronger and more confident. Action begets action in what becomes a virtuous circle. With each step outside our comfort zone, as we realise that we not only survive but we actually thrive out there, we are reassured and the next time is easier as our comfort zone expands along with our actions. When we think about it, everything that is now within our comfort zone started out outside of it. This expansion of our comfort zone is a process, a continuous balancing act of pushing outwards and staying there for a moment or even retreating back to safety to gather our strength for another push; we are constantly striving for the right balance between pushing our boundaries and feeling safe.
Pushing the boundaries doesn’t have to mean taking those huge leaps of faith, either: we can take just a small step outside our comfort zone. We can simply do something a bit differently, instead of our usual routine. Taking a different route to work, going to a different coffee shop, trying something new on the menu. Something seemingly small can be enough to give us a new perspective, get us meeting new people or build our confidence to do something bigger next time. Doing something new brings with it an element of uncertainty – and who knows what may happen!
If you’re open to taking that ONE STEP then come and join me over on my Facebook page where I’m sharing inspirational articles, videos and concrete tips about this process of leaving your comfort zone, as well as things like setting goals that will actually make a meaningful difference in your life, and managing your own career transition.