Comfort and Joy
At my Alma Mater, we students were often exhorted by our fellow students in leadership to “step outside our comfort zones,” occasionally in order to cajole us into doing something we did not otherwise want to do. Like most students, I made a mental note of it, and berated my comfort zone for being so darn warm, fuzzy, and otherwise comfortable. But they were wrong. I was wrong; your comfort zone is nothing to be ashamed of, and there is no reason to step outside it. Before I am labeled as close-minded, allow me to explain. There is little merit in removing yourself from what you know, what you are familiar with, or from what you know how to conduct and carry yourself, things that are implied in the phrase in question. What is necessary, however, is to expand the comfort zone, so that we become more familiar with, more relaxed in and be able to function in broader areas. Perhaps in practice, there is little intended difference in meaning conveyed between the phrases, “stepping outside of” and “expanding” our comfort zones. I’m sure few would intend to say that we should remove ourselves completely from what is familiar, and would admit that we eventually retract inwardly towards that bastion of safety that is our comfort zone. However, there exists a psychological difference between the expressions. The first indicates that there is something flawed with or otherwise lacking in the areas that you are most familiar, while the second is more positive and embraces that which you are already comfortable with. Rather than degrade the notion of our comfort zones, a more constructive approach would be to not only embrace them, but to widen them and steadily become more and more at ease in what we once eschewed.