This quote by Diane Arbus reminds me of the joys we can experience when stepping outside our comfort zone: “My favourite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” If you take this word-for-word you could say “Sure! I love travelling and discovering new countries!”
But what about going somewhere you’ve never been from a personal growth point of view? Most of us are constantly trying to stay within an area of self where we feel at ease. I never really saw this as a problem until the day I realized that our comfort zone can become a cage. It’s a place in which we feel safe but it can also keep us from being truly free.
While in Greece, I read an amazing book called “The untethered soul, the journey beyond yourself” by Michael A. Singer. In it, the author compares our comfort zone to an electric fence used to keep your pet within the confines of your property:
Imagine a dog hanging out in the backyard. He thinks he’s free as the wires of the fence are buried underground but when he runs and reaches the edge of the lot, he gets zapped. He wonders, what happened? An invisible limit was there and when the dog approached the limit, it gave him a little shock. It hurt a little and was uncomfortable. Most dogs would develop a fear of the experience of that shock and would avoid getting near the edge of the property.
But what if were dealing with a brave dog that’s determined to be free? Imagine that the dog has not given up. You find him sitting there, right at the place where the collar starts vibrating, and he is not backing off. Every minute he’s stepping forward a little bit more in order to get used to the force field. If he continues, he will eventually get out. There’s not a chance in the world that he won’t since it’s just an artificial edge.
He can get through if he can learn to withstand the discomfort.
Your cage is just like this. When you approach the edges of your comfort zone, you feel insecurity, jealously, fear or self-consciouness. You pull back, and if you are like most people, you stop trying.
The problem is, as long as you stay inside of it, you cannot possibly know what is on the other side.*
Speaking from personal experience, I can vouch that how we move within our comfort zone (or beyond) is not as cut and dry as being in an actual physical cage. You can be willing to go beyond your limits in certain aspects of your life but terrified in others.
I am someone who has always thrived on change. I like to keep things moving and evolving. It makes me feel like I am constantly developing new skills. In my career, I had the opportunity of working for people that believed in me and offered me roles that would push me and allow me to grow.
I always took on these challenges with enthusiasm and confidence. This was of course within the context of a corporate job. I had a steady pay cheque coming in every two weeks and knew that the bills would get paid. It was my comfort zone and for years I needed to stay inside of it. The flip side to this was that by choosing this life, I was saying no to another one. One that could be filled with excitement and adventures but that also scared the crap out of me: being an entrepreneur.
In the early years of my career I would play around with the idea of starting my own company but almost immediately, the fear of financial insecurity would creep up. I even wrote detailed business plans but would then freak out and chuck them in the recycling.
I buried this dream deep inside of me but it slowly made its way to the surface until I could no longer keep it locked up. It took 13 years but the day I decided to quit my job to give it my all as an entrepreneur I knew I had made the right choice. I had stepped outside my cage and into the possibility of what would be an amazing life. So what happened that gave me the courage to get passed my comfort zone and take this huge leap?
I started to see what could be on the other side. I could envision the life that was at reach if I went beyond the invisible fence of my fear: one of freedom, fulfillment, creativity and even financial abundance.
Comfort zones can have different forces. Some are hard to bust out of while others are a bit easier. The first step I took outside my comfort zone was by launching this blog. I had always been too afraid of what people might think (“Who am I to launch a blog when there are already so many great ones out there?”) but it had become obvious that there was something inside of me that needed to come out. I had stories to tell and things to share.
Next, I decided to take a yoga teacher training. Yoga had become a real passion and even though I knew I didn’t want to make it a full time profession, I felt that it would be a part of the new life I was building for myself. This was a financial leap of faith (the cost of the course is in the thousands of dollars) but also one of self-esteem.
Speaking in front of large groups of people has always made me a bit uncomfortable and now I was embarking on a new career path where I would have to face this fear head on. Making these decisions were like peeling off layers of fear. I started to trust my intuition and could sense I was heading in the right direction. I was putting in place the building blocks that would serve as a base to finally launch my business.
Taking baby steps outside your comfort zone can give you the confidence to propel you towards the bigger leaps.
On the back cover of his book, Michael Singer asks “What would it be like to be free from limitations and soar beyond your boundaries?” I think this is a question we all need to ask ourselves throughout our lives. It can be easy to fall into the trap of feeling comfortable and complacent in our well-padded cage.
We convince ourselves that because we have nicely decorated its walls (a new car, weekend chalet and closet full of beautiful clothes) that we are happy. But if you take a peek through the bars, you will get a glimpse of what is on the other side and what you will find will make breaking out totally worth it.
So next time you have an idea that scares you (taking that spanish class, going back to school or simply choosing a more exotic destination than you would normally travel to) know that the feeling of fear is actually telling you that it’s something you should do. As one of my favourite spiritual teachers says:
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
P.S. I’ve included a few photos of moments during my life where I had to step outside my comfort zone. I might have had a smile on my face for these pics but I was scared shitless! Still, I was proud I went beyond the fear and it’s these little victories that give us the confidence to take on bigger challenges.
*These we excerpts from the book The untethered soul, the journey beyond yourself by Michael A. Singer.