See if this sounds familiar: we all want to grow, but we tend to protect the places in us that feel most vulnerable. The places that feel unsafe and vulnerable represent areas where we can grow most, where we can grow exponentially in fact. Here’s the hard truth: growth always happens outside the comfort zone. You may not see the two, comfort and growth, as being at odds with one another, but if you’re like most of us, when a growth opportunity presents itself that invites you to go outside your comfort zone, you may avoid it. This is a perfect example of thinking we can have it all: growth and comfort. The sober truth is, we can’t. We can have comfort, and some incremental growth, but for real growth, it’s imperative that we take a step into the great unknown, beyond the areas that comprise our comfort zones. No matter how big your comfort zone may be, it’s likely to be a confined space. Most of us don’t have a comfort zone that includes the widest possible set of possibilities, circumstances and conditions.
Deconstructing Your Comfort Zone
To understand why we construct the comfort zones we all seem to have, let’s take a look at what constitutes a comfort zone. However different mine might be from yours, they tend to have several qualities in common: we’re comfortable when things are familiar, predictable, and consistent. It’s safe to say most of us don’t like surprises thrown at us, or at least the sort of surprises that challenge us. We want to know what’s coming our way, so our comfort zone is an expression of how we think things ought to be. In other words, the comfort zone is a collection of what we feel to be reasonable expectations about the world around us. It’s the way we make the world feel safe, so the vulnerable parts of us feel protected. See what we’re doing? We’re attempting to construct a world that feels safe to us, so we won’t feel challenged by circumstances. By defining and limiting what feels safe to us, we limit the resources we’re able to marshal to meet the demands of the situation. In other words, we’re limiting our growth.
In my work, I often find clients opening up to me about topics they may have previously regarded as “off limits.” The clients who do this are inviting deep growth. These are usually highly successful people with numerous strengths. We all like to define ourselves by our strengths, which can be a healthy tendency. We want to be able to lead from strengths. Ironically, by hiding from the places that feel vulnerable, we’re defining ourselves by our vulnerabilities.
Before we can be willing to venture outside the comfort zones we’ve built for ourselves, it’s useful to be clear on a simple truth: comfort zones don’t provide safety, only the illusion of safety. The only thing we’re really protecting ourselves from is growth. Though it may seem otherwise, what’s inside our comfort zones isn’t really any safer than what’s outside of them. Step outside, and meet the rest of yourself.