Please Keep Your Arms and Legs Inside Your Comfort Zone at all Times


Several years ago, I was on a flight that had left DFW Airport in a raging thunderstorm, headed for Las Vegas and a trade show. After about 20 minutes of moderately bumpy air, the pilot came on and said that we had been flying south, trying to find a hole in the massive line of storms that was bisecting Texas. Then, he said something I’ve never heard before. “We see a small gap between two thunderheads and we’re going to go for it.” He ordered the flight attendants to sit down and strap in and told us the next 12 minutes would be kinda rough.

Kinda rough?

At various times we could feel the up and down motion of the plane as g-forces pushed us into our seats or the opposite motion lifted us against our seatbelts. White hot flashes of lightning were simultaneous with the booming claps of thunder outside my very tiny window. Some people actually screamed a couple of times while others were content to search the seatback pocket for the ever-elusive bag paper bag that never looks like it will be big enough. Some just prayed.

After the longest 12 minutes of our collective lives, the captain returned to the microphone to apologize since that was “much worse than we thought it would be.” The rest of the trip was a smooth as glass, but anything would be by comparison to those 12 minutes. It is the only time I’ve ever received a letter of apology from a major airline.

It was that pilot on that day who left his comfort zone (as well as ours, for that matter) to try and accomplish his job of getting his passengers to Las Vegas safely. And, he did. We were all safe. A bit shaken, but safe.

There’s a reason we are pre-programmed to stay within the cozy confines of our own comfort zones. After all, they’re comfortable and that’s what we like. Lifehacker defines the comfort zone as a “behavioral space where your activities and behaviors fit a routine and pattern that minimizes stress and risk.” What’s so bad about that? Stress sucks. Some would argue, however, that permanent residence in your comfort zone can result in mental, moral and physical stagnation. Yes, we want our comfort, but somewhere in the recesses of the human experience we have the desire to grow, learn and expand our horizons. Sometimes, that means leaving comfort behind.

That can be scary.

‘What if I fail?’ Well, don’t take this the wrong way, but I hope you do. As Walt Disney once said, it is important to have a good, hard failure when you’re young. In other words, if you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried.

Failure can teach you more about success than unlimited success ever could.

Not learning from failure is true failure. I know from whence I speak.

In 1987, I was laid off three times. It was that level of failure and desperation that drove me from my comfort zone and into a city I didn’t know to try my fortunes there. That led to a PIO job where I could have tended shop and marked my time and retired without making a major impact on local government communications. However, I made a decision to move up to a much more challenging position where the responsibilities, and accompanying stress level, were significantly greater than anything I had experienced before. After a full month of “what have I done?” I began to realize just what I had done. Now, nearly 20 years later, I have had the chance to make an impact and for those opportunities I will always be grateful. But, it started with the decision to leave my comfort zone.

If you know someone that needs convincing, here are five pretty good rewards for leaving your comfort zone. This is one of those ‘including, but not limited to’ kinds of lists:

  1. Growth – Whether it is in your career, sport, hobby or other pursuit, we all have the innate desire to get better at what we love to do.
  2. Health – So much of our daily routine is directly tied to our relative health. Pushing the envelope can help keep perspectives fresh and, in turn, have positive affects on life outlook.
  3. Wealth – That is also a relative thing. Still, it takes venturing out into the real world in order to improve our financial standing. The trite, but true, adage applies – “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.”
  4. Relationships – You might be searching for a soul mate, a network of like-minded professionals or just for a social circle of friends. They won’t likely come to you. It takes leaving your bubble to try new things and meet new people.
  5. Creativity – New experiences or simply new perspectives on old habits can assist greatly in the creative process.

Anyone that has ever accomplished anything has done so by taking a chance, by leaving the bubble and by ditching the rationalization that “this is where I’m supposed to be” just because it’s easy and safe.

Tom Bryson is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Great article and useful for those who are going through challenging times to remember that challenge is just a part of life.

Bill McFadden

If one is going to accomplish anything in life, likely they will need to step outside of their comfort zones at different times along the way. One needs to be emotionally prepared to expect some difficulty along the way but if one keeps their wits about themselves and is level-headed they should be able to get through it. I have personally known several individuals who never challenged their assumptions and stepped out of their comfort zones. They pretended they were happy but in reality they were miserable. They weren’t able to see past the ends of their noses. Personally I learned from observing them.

Tim Sutton

Uhh……….not 20 years later, make that 30 — (1987)…….nice you found your strength in life is writing, not math….

Tom Bryson

Ironic, eh?

Actually, if you read the entire paragraph it notes 1987 as the starting point followed by a number of progressions. The 20 years was reflective of my time in my current position, not elapsed time since 1987. But, thanks for reading.

Barb Nicol, APR

Thank you for a great post and kick start. I love my comfort zone and greatly appreciate and need to be reminded (after 27 years of owning my own PR business) how important it is to stretch. Thanks again!