“What if I have a lot of trouble getting out of my comfort zone?” a colleague once asked during a meeting about upping the use of technology at work. I almost laughed out loud. I thought, since when are we ever supposed to mix work with our comfort zones? And since when is that an okay thing to admit? Did I miss something?
I mean, I feel like my whole life has taken place in an uncomfortable zone. Since grade school, I was pushed by the people around me to improve and always do my best to improve even if it meant some discomfort.
Inevitably, this became and basically is my way of life; the only difference is that now, I push myself. If I see anything that might resemble a comfort zone approaching, it’s a signal that I’m doing something wrong. Comfort is a sign of weakness, I tell myself. Comfort is for people who don’t lift a finger, who have had everything handed to them on a silk pillow. If work and comfort ever meet, the only result can be uninspiring, unimpressive, uninteresting results.
When I workout, I still tend to think like a high school athlete, pushing to the limit. If I’m not uncomfortable, then I’m doing something incorrectly. It’s not a workout. I’m lazy. If I’m not stressed out or crashing from stress, if I’m suddenly comfortable, something is amiss. Discomfort to me is the main ingredient for success.
I also revere any (metaphorical or situational) form of survival, conservation, restraint or battle victory too much. It’s all very dramatic and over the top. If you never had to clean public toilets, if you were never someone else’s athlete, if you’ve never been in and escaped an abusive relationship, if you never had to put on a show or serve someone else’s wants for tips, if you never hoarded cash in a dvd box to keep it safe, if you were never a coal miner, a waitress at a taco place, or a soldier, if you were never injured doing something dangerous, if you never had to fight for a scholarship, for a last chance, if you’ve never been rejected because of how you look or if you never rescued a dog, you’ve just been living in your comfort zone your whole freakin’ life and you ain’t been through sh*t. (Like I said, it’s over the top)
I think I tell myself too often, that I’m right, that it’s my ambitious success strategy, that I’m just tougher, that I’m a classic survivor with an athletic mentality, a feisty, competitive Cuban blonde that needs a stimulating and challenging environment to feel I have performed well, that I’ve earned something. But, today, sitting in my first ever office, I am actually wondering If maybe I’m not one hundred percent correct on this. Maybe I’m carrying around this preference for discomfort like an anchor. Am I no different than punished monk dragging a sack of metal armor up a mountain to redeem himself?
Today, I’m not sure that this form of do or die thinking is benefitting me as much as it used to. When you’ve struggled with struggles for a long time, when you’ve worked nearly impossibly hard to get somewhere or be something, you don’t know how to not survive. There’s a panic within me that all I’ve earned is being held tightly in my hands, but could slip through my fingers at any second. This is the stamina that holds only a few people’s heads above water in the choppy seas of challenge. It’s the skill of awareness mashed up with survival instincts. If I perceive my “ambitious thinking” as a leftover habit of survival rather than a success strategy, I might discover a new way of succeeding.
The idea living without some sort of invasive discomfort, which seems to be what I’m living now, is foreign and ironically scary. You think: a) do I deserve this? b) who do I think I am? c) what if I’ve just become lazy? d) if I let this anchor fall, I’ll be holding nothing.
I am asking myself today, “Is it okay to be comfortable? Can I be successful without some imposed (imposed by others or myself) discomfort? Am I still valuable and unique and interesting without my outstanding ability to survive? What would be the new strategy? Again, do I deserve this?”
These questions are embarrassing, probably ridiculous to many, but they might resonate for other “survivors” or inspire your empathy for colleagues or friends that came out of a scrappy squashed childhood, a long period of unemployment or a bad relationship. While the habits of survivors can be annoying and burdensome to not only their-selves but also to those around them…
…remember that some of these habits are pretty savvy and you never know when you might be wishing you had seasoned survivor skills. I think my new strategy needs to be somewhere in between the comfort and discomfort zones. I’m still looking for this balance.
8 Signs You’re Hooked to Discomfort
1. You can afford a new briefcase. The one you have is pretty ragged. Its leather is cracking. Yet you don’t buy a new one. You see your colleagues with their shiny name brand cases, but you are certain that’s not for you. You can stick it out with this one another 3 or maybe even 6 months.
2. You tend to starve yourself. Not in a “I need to lose weight” way, but in a “I can make it” way or an “I can save a few bucks if I push past this hunger or thirst until I make it home” way.
3. You’re the only one in the room after a meeting at work that puts away the chairs. It’s not necessarily that your colleagues wouldn’t help put chairs away on their own, but they can’t help it. They know you’ll always be that one to eagerly do the dirty work. It’s a safety net that’s worked before. You think of it as an investment. You know you’re being smart, but you wonder sometimes if everyone is simply taking advantage of your neurosis.
5. Every time you get an email from your boss even if the subject reads “nice work!” your heart rate rises just a bit with worry that you might have done something wrong. Maybe it’s a sarcastic “nice work.” Maybe I’m actually in trouble or being demoted. Once you open the email and it’s positive feedback, you call yourself crazy, and you’re certain she’s just following some protocol. You don’t let the fluffy talk soften you. You just keep working hard.
6. You won’t do groceries if there’s anything moderately edible in the house. It seems ridiculous to go spend money on food when there’s food right here at home. It doesn’t matter that its a little old or not very nutritious. It’s food.
7. You still find yourself coming up with schemes to sneak in flasks or fill your water bottle up with wine from home when you go to a show or an art exhibit with friends, even though you’re a professional, over thirty and can easily afford a tasty, chilled beverage at any time.
8. You cut your toothpaste tubes, body lotions, Neosporins and tubes of paint in half before throwing them out and declaring them empty. You can always squeeze out a tiny bit more, even if it’s kind of hard on your fingers…
Do you ever find yourself stuck in the Discomfort Zone? How do you get out of it? What do you think about Comfort Zones in general?
I’m so pleased to announce that three of my poems, “Slots,” “Scraping” and “Make a Decision” have been published in Barking Sycamores Literary Magazine Issue 13. Barking Sycamores is dedicated to neurodivergent literature and its craft. I’m so honored to be a part of this project. Barking Sycamores Issue 13
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