Motivational speakers I used to listen to always rallied to break out of the comfort zone, experience the new things in life, take chances. This is great and all, but – let’s be honest, nobody likes that.
I don’t know about you, but change scares the crap out of me.
Seriously, I’ve been ordering the same thing at Starbucks for about a year now. I get uncomfortably excited about going to Chili’s whenever the idea of eating out comes to mind. I like knowing what my option is and discarding the rest. The consistency gives me comfort.
There was a point I believed I could live my whole life this way. Inevitably, though, life intervened (as it often does) to prove me horribly wrong.
It was in the summer of 2012 that I was fired from my job, a janitorial position at a restaurant. That steady paycheck I’d enjoyed suddenly disappeared, and with it my sense of comfort. Suddenly without money, everything seemed to fall apart for me. How was I going to afford my Starbucks?
As you can understand, with difficulties like these, I sunk into a few weeks of depression.
Throughout my sulking I was listening to motivational speakers – Les Brown, Eric Thomas, Tony Robbins and others – who insisted on this idea that change is good, and the only way to succeed was to break out of this ‘comfort zone’.
Frustrated and feeling as though I had something to prove, I decided to take charge and break out of my comfort zone by doing something completely out of left field, something that made me feel incredibly weird and uncomfortable.
I decided to go on a hike.
Okay, well, let me actually specify. I’d recruited two of my closest friends – Jacob and Jayson – to come with me to go through a 6 mile nature trail that was on the University of West Florida campus. The trail was long, dense with vegetation, swarming with mosquitos, and going to be very hot. The three of us knew about maneuvering in nature like we understood quantum physics. For sure, this would be a test of our comfort zone.
Did it work out like we planned?
Well … yes, and no.
To our credit, we did try. Jayson and I picked up some water, bug spray, and beef jerky to eat during the ‘hike’. We had both brought jackets. I personally didn’t own a rain jacket, so I brought a regular hoodie. It probably wasn’t go rain anyway, I thought with supreme confidence.
When we had picked up Jacob, he was wearing a T-shirt and jeans, with no jacket or umbrella, just a small backpack. Additionally, he told us he only got around three or four hours of sleep. He must have shared my supreme confidence that everything was going to go perfectly.
Our journey began with a half-mile boardwalk through Thompson’s Bayou over a dark swamp that contained turtles, ducks, and fish.
The first mile wasn’t bad. Even the second mile was okay, other than the weight of the backpack beginning to dig into my shoulders.
About an hour and a half in, however, we come to three unsettling realizations.
One, we had somehow traveled off of the main path and didn’t know how to get back.
Second, it was beginning to rain. Thunder boomed and that blue sky I was talking about turned dreary and gray.
Third, the beef jerky we’d been consuming was sapping us of water due to its high sodium content. We were going through water, and going through it fast.
As you can imagine, this put none of us in a pleasant mood. We looped around the same area a few times, tried to take a few shortcuts, and only ended up being more lost than before.
It wasn’t long before we started blaming each other. I personally blamed Jacob. Jacob started blaming me and Jayson, and recommended we listen to him more.
The rain fell down hard and heavy. Our feet squished in the mud. We trekked ourselves out of the dense forest, by some luck, and ended up in a wide field. About a quarter of a mile east of the field was a road.
“Look, guys!” Jacob said. “Civilization!”
This is all true. Jacob, Jayson, and I began running toward the road like survivors of the Armageddon. At that point, I didn’t care who saw us. We’d been walking for at least three hours and all I wanted was a reminder that there was a civilization outside of that hellish nature trail. My entire body was wet and shaking.
The road, however, led to this private government property, with a fence that read TRESPASSERS WILL BE FINED AND/OR IMPRISONED.
Our hopes were dashed.
We all began arguing again; I considered calling campus security, and Jacob threatened to leave us and find his way back alone.
There was a period, however, where we were sick and tired of – well, being sick and tired. We put our differences aside and used our energy to think of a way out. After putting your heads together for maybe five minutes, we came to a realization that the main path was – I kid you not – directly behind us. We were so close to it that it was embarrassing.
That story always makes me smile. Hopefully, it gave you a little laugh to brighten up your day. Though I initially believed that whole adventure had been a waste of my time, I later realized I’d been exposed to vital lessons on how to actually approach breaking out of your comfort zone.
Come prepared for rain. When unexpected circumstances arise, don’t be the guy who’s not prepared to face the challenge when it presents itself.
When the rain falls, you must keep walking. In your life, you will experience hardships and setbacks. Napoleon Hill said it best: “Every adversity, every failure, and every heartache carries with it the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit”.
Stay positive, and maintain your determination. Remember why you’re doing what you’re doing. Let that be your fuel to guide you even through the bleakest of moments.
The path is closer than you think. We loop and detour so much that the path to a successful, happy life seems light-years away. In actuality, it is close. Often times a mild tweak is all it takes to launch your life a whole new level. It is necessary, however, that we understand what it is like to be lost in order to value our strongest self when it is finally found. Anything that is worth having is worth fighting for.
Turn to others. No, this doesn’t give you permission to start complaining. Without positive, motivated people around you, it is difficult to maneuver the path alone. Begin finding guidance in someone, whether that is an online community, a friend, a mentor, a loved one or a family member. Their outside wisdom will offer insights that you are too close to perceive on your own.
All in all, testing your comfort zone is an adventure we all must face at one point, whether voluntarily or otherwise. I don’t believe it’s possible to reach a point where you will be fearless when expanding your horizons. It does get a bit easier every time, however.
If you’re curious, I did eventually find another job (that paid more than my last, my I add) and started getting my regular at Starbucks again. I wouldn’t want to re-live that day again, but I sure wouldn’t want to forget it either.
That's me on the left, Jacob in the middle, and my friend Jayson on the right. This was about two years ago. Sufficed to say, we discovered we were not quite wildlife-friendly people.