The annoying graphic above has been showing up in my social feeds a lot lately. Why is it annoying? For one, it makes no sense. Why is being tired, depressed, and fearful in the comfort zone? Why can’t I be comfortable, and also wealthy, confident, and passionate?
I understand the idea that the graphic is (unsuccessfully) trying to communicate, which is that if we are never willing to leave our comfort zone, we will miss out on opportunities that require a certain amount of social or emotional risk-taking. But there is bizarre anti-logic inherent in the idea that we should always strive to push outside of our comfort zone.
For example, the other day I was standing in line with my wife and daughter at Cactus Taqueria on College Avenue. Between the front of the line and the counter there’s a space of about five feet that people usually keep clear. My wife, who was really hungry and in a hurry to order, stepped into the “in-between space” when we reached the front of the line. My inclination, on the other hand, is to wait until a cashier is actually available before stepping forward. As a mental experiment in “moving outside of my comfort zone,” I stepped into the space as well, and felt awkward until it was actually our turn to order.
If we move outside of our comfort zone for no particular reason, nothing is gained. The cost is feeling uncomfortable, out of place, or awkward, while the benefit is zero.
I’ve written before about the benefits of pushing outside of one’s comfort zone, especially in regards to intense physical exertion, emotional introspection, facing our fears, and so on. In each case there is a clear benefit or reward for forcing ourselves away from warmth, security, and ease.
But there’s also something to be said for learning to be comfortable in your own skin, for choosing to avoid situations and scenes that make you feel weird or awkward, and for choosing a career that is compatible with your nature (so that you don’t have to force yourself to work).
Sometimes people approach me and ask questions about music production because it’s something they’re interested in. Maybe they ask about what gear to use, or what chord progressions are used in a particular genre of music, or something like that. I’m always happy to share my thoughts and give advice if asked, but sometimes I’m thinking — “Stop talking about it and just do it!” The only thing that matters about what approach you take is if that approach facilitates you actually doing the work. If you’re working, and paying attention, then you’ll get better at what you’re doing. If it’s that difficult for you to sit down and just do the work, maybe you should find something else to do.
I would love to be a novelist. I’ve written two novels — but I don’t want to try and publish or fix either of them. Every few months I start another novel, write a few pages (while experiencing extreme mental anguish), read what I’ve written, and puke a little.
Will I keep banging my head against the wall like this? Probably. I know what it feels like to have a good flow going while working on a novel, and I’ll probably keep chasing that dragon.
What I’m not going to do is play the tortured artist role every day. I enjoy writing blog posts and I enjoy producing music, and neither activity is torturous in any way. Sometimes I encounter problems and hit rough patches, and sometimes I get stuck and need to get help from other people, but neither activity induces that tooth-pulling feeling I’ve been experiencing during my recent fiction-writing attempts. Sure, sometimes you need to force yourself to get the ball moving, but you don’t want to neglect those areas where flow already exists, naturally and easily and comfortably. Your comfort zone = your productive zone.
Cold-water showers, intermittent fasting, and heavy lifting? I’m all for them. Psyching yourself up to talk to that attractive person you haven’t yet met? Go for it. Making that cold call that could take your career to the next level? Absolutely you should do it.
Living a perpetually awkward, uncomfortable, ill-fitting lifestyle because of some abstract idea of who you should be, instead of taking advantage of your natural gifts? Maybe not.