Comfort Zones – where do they come from, why do we feel compelled to stay within them and what occasionally makes us break out of them?
I discussed stepping way outside my comfort zone when I made the decision to trek to Everest Base Camp this year to celebrate my 60th birthday but, although I understood that I was breaking through my boundaries to do this, I didn’t really stop to think about those boundaries and how and why they were in place.
STEPPING OUTSIDE MY COMFORT ZONE
The boundaries of my comfort zone have taken a bit of a battering over the last few years. For a long time I was content to sit within the walls that society had dictated should be there, those walls that created a barrier beyond which I wasn’t expected to go.
Being one of the Baby Boomer generation I grew up in the fifties and sixties believing that a girl would finish school, work for a few years, marry and have children. So ingrained was the concept that at the age of sixteen I clearly remember being in floods of tears one day because I didn’t have a boyfriend and I believed that no one would want to marry me and I’d become an old maid. At sixteen for goodness sake!
I did exactly what I believed society expected of me, I married, I had children and a lovely home and I was perfectly happy. I have absolutely no regrets about the choices I’ve made in life, at the time I was happy with what I had, the question is, was I actually being me or was I being what society expected me to be?
STEP ONE OUTSIDE MY COMFORT ZONE.
My decision to return to study at the age of forty was the catalyst that set off a chain reaction, the spark that lit the fire within me. I was doing something unexpected, I was doing something that required determination and strength, I was doing something that society wasn’t sure I should be doing. Step one outside my comfort zone.
From there my future was determined like the snowball that picks up speed as it hurtles down the hill. Making that one move gave me an understanding of the possibilities that life afforded and the strength to be me.
It was a struggle, the next few years saw births, marriages, divorces and deaths in the family, but after fifteen years I emerged from university with a PhD in my hand and a bewildered look on my face, what the hell just happened?
A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES
That one step, that one foray out of my comfort zone opened up a world of possibilities.
I made a huge decision to disband my marriage of thirty years, I took Tai Chi lessons and met someone who has become a friend for life, I bought my own home and renovated it and for the first time I bought a car in my name, not that of a husband.
Travel took me places I hadn’t been before and I travelled solo. Bali was somewhere that I‘d never had the urge to visit, I’d never liked the idea of a culture far removed from my own. Only a couple of years ago though, as I sat by myself at a table, very close to what passes for a footpath in that part of the world, drinking a beer that I’d just bought from the bar and watching the chaos in the street, I realised that the me sitting there was not the me who had travelled to Europe thirty years previously with a husband and young children.
It was not the me that had to search out ham sandwiches in Venice rather than eat the local food and it was not the me that spent evenings in the campervan alone on that trip because I was too uncertain of myself to socialise with other travellers.
And then of course there was the step that actually shattered the remaining barriers of that comfort zone, my decision to trek to Everest Base Camp only two months before my 60th birthday.
Ultimately my choices in life have made me who I am today and I like who I am today but I’m struggling with society’s expectations again, with what I’m expected to be doing right now versus what I want to be doing.
So what is it that gives us the strength to refute society’s expectations? From childhood all our thoughts, all our feelings and all our actions are dictated and defined by that small section of the world in which we live, by social convention and the barriers of our own making.
We get so tied up in the minutiae of our own lives and our own social groups that we don’t even begin to think of our place in the world as a whole. We know where we stand in our own society, as husbands, wives, mothers and fathers, employees and employers, and we know how we’re expected to behave in that role. What does it take though to create a new role for ourselves?
WHAT ALLOWS US TO TAKE A LEAP OUTSIDE OUR COMFORT ZONE?
What is it that allows us to explore the boundaries of our mind and break through to a world that stimulates and excites us? What evokes that passion in us that no amount of negativity from others will quench? What impels us to broaden our horizons and take that leap outside our comfort zone?
If I could answer those questions I guess I wouldn’t be struggling with the concept right now. I’ve made that leap beyond my comfort zone before and I know I can do it again but it’s going to take some serious conversations with myself.
Have you crawled, jumped or barged your way through the boundaries of your comfort zone? Let me know, it may help me here.