When I was young man, in a quest to improve my lot in life, I listened to and read the top motivational speakers of the day. One of the pieces of advice, I recall, was to get out of my comfort zone.
“You must break out of your current comfort zone and become comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown,” advised Denis Waitley.
That didn’t come easily for this country boy, but I learned to do it. Over the years I have enjoyed experiences I could never have dreamed of when I was a teenager because I was willing to move out of my comfort zone.
One’s comfort zone is a situation or place where you feel comfortable and don’t feel at risk. Though my comfort zones have expanded over the years, I have to be honest ̶ I still have some “discomfort zones.”
A jewelry and fine china store, for instance. You’ve heard the phrase “a bull in a china shop,” I assume? Well, another way of saying that is “a Huisman in a china shop.” I’m a large, clumsy man and poorly coordinated. When in a place of valuable and delicate items, I am uncomfortable and worry that I’m going to bump into something and ring up a large bill. Auto parts stores make me nervous. I enjoy shopping at auto parts but I confess to feeling uncomfortable there because I am anything but a gear head. So I’m looking around for an air freshener or a windshield wiper blade and some young guy is at the counter ordering an EGR vacuum solenoid or a differential bearing. Once I get past the “accessories” department I’m lost and I feel like a mechanical loser. An auto parts store is a discomfort zone for me.
Another discomfort zone: lingerie departments. I enjoy shopping but am always uncomfortable when I have to spend more than a few seconds in a lingerie department. Don’t misunderstand; I have nothing against lingerie. Pretty nice stuff for the ladies and, frankly, I have a really good imagination. However, I’m afraid to look at anything in particular for fear some woman will come up and smack me with her purse. “I know what you’re thinking, pervert!” she might scream for all in the store to see and hear. Of course I would have to bite my tongue to avoid saying, “Lady, you can be assured I wasn’t imagining that thing on you!”
I am often uncomfortable at cocktail parties. I have learned how to fly in that stratum and, in fact, have had nice times at some of the tonier events I have attended. My comfort zone, however, is sitting at someone’s kitchen table engaged in a conversation while eating homemade cookies and drinking coffee. Or, perhaps, washing down ice cream with a Diet Coke.
Along that line, it’s difficult for me to find a comfort zone in bars. As a young guy I was no stranger to bars, but as I’ve grown older I have lost interest. On occasion, however, I am invited to a social event at a bar. My ears don’t work as well as they used to, and the music is usually so loud I can’t hear what anyone is saying. That’s difficult. After the fourth diet soda the waitress gets the idea that I’m not much of a party animal. I can imagine her sarcastically thinking, “Boy, I hope that wild man has a designated driver tonight.”
Denis Waitley and the other motivational guys are right: we have to move out of our comfort zone to grow and succeed in life. My comfort zone today is certainly much larger than it was 40 years ago. I remember sitting in the Governor’s office a few years ago debating a state department head over a matter affecting the newspaper industry. At one point, I recall, I thought, “Holy cow, I never expected to be doing this.” I had found a new comfort zone.
With retirement approaching, I don’t think so much about comfort zones anymore. Without an employment mandate, I can just go to where I’m comfortable. Well, most of the time, anyway.