Comfort zones are a state of mind we’re in where our stress levels are at a minimum; we’re in a situation we’ve probably experienced before and therefore feelings of anxiety don’t usually creep up on us. We are constantly advised to step out of our comfort zones, and expose ourselves to new situations. The reason why this advice is preached so much is probably because you really have nothing to lose.
If you step out of your comfort zone, and try something new, you will either encounter something that you’ve never experienced before and would like to experience again, thus creating an added value in your life. The flip side is that you experience something that doesn’t ignite any interest in you, and might in fact cause you to regret having the new experience altogether. But ultimately, the argument goes, you gave it a shot. You can always go back to your comfort zone if things don’t work out. That option won’t be lost. If you choose to venture into something new and unpredictable, and you have the safety of knowing that you can always go back to where you started, it should decrease your anxiety to a large extent.
There is, of course, always the third option where your seeking a new adventure might result in extreme pain and death, but that shouldn’t really hold much ground since it’s very unlikely. On the surface, what I’ve said might seem true, but is it really? If you do step out of your comfort zone, and try new things, can you really ever go back to where you started? Will things really go back to how they were before you decided to go on your adventure? I wouldn’t be too confident in affirming any of these statements. The argument is simple. If you are experiencing something that you’re very used to, and that can be considered your comfort zone, going out of it implies something quite important. You will need to open your mind to new possibilities. This would mean that you would also start to have new expectations, new desires and ambitions, and it isn’t always true that it’s for the better.
Take John, a middle aged factory worker who’s had the same job, the same friends, and has been living in the same city ever since he dropped out of school decades ago. He’s told about this workshop where he be taught how do something else that pays better but obviously carries more risk. If John goes out of his comfort zone, and only gives this workshop a try, will his life ever really be the same? It’s quite clear to see how no matter what the end result of the workshop experience is, the only certainty is that he would have, at some point during the workshop, been exposed to new possibilities that render his current job far less attractive. The tragedy here is that he might fail, and this new adventure could potentially ruin his life.
This might be a cynical way of looking at things, and of course, it doesn’t apply to everyone. Some people, even most people, might likely benefit from new experience, and it could significantly enrich their lives in ways that they couldn’t have ever imagined, but whether or not anyone should do it remains a question. Raising a person’s expectations to an extent that outweighs their current ability, or potential ability is not a good thing. If you sell a sample of 1000 people the idea that they could be anything, you’re doing two things.
You’re creating a belief that might otherwise not have existed if you hadn’t instilled this idea in them, and as a result, new artists, entrepreneurs, athletes, and productive members of society would emerge, and this would create a tremendous added value. But if these people constituted 50 percent of the sample, or 500 people, then there is going to be another half of people who will probably be worse off than they were before they were exposed to this new idea. Comfort zones to some people are roadblocks to their success. They serve nothing more than hindrances to their potential, but for others they are a safe haven that shouldn’t be disrupted.
If you’ve ever seen one of the hundreds of talent shows around the world, you will notice something quite disturbing that you might have overlooked. For every success story, for every person who followed his dream and overachieved because he got out of his comfort zone, because he ventured into the unknown by taking risks and refusing to give up, there are many who became utterly miserable because they were unable to make it. The ethical dilemma then is pretty clear. Should everyone be advised to reach for the stars? Should everyone be told that they can be anything they want to be, even if it meant that it was very likely that they would ultimately be devastated and unhappy if they tried to?
The media enables a way of thinking that is very inconsistent with reality. Perhaps it’s warranted though, perhaps without naive belief, you would strip the world from so much imagination and potential. It could be that despite the fact that unhappiness is a natural consequence of promoting unrealistic ideals, many of the greatest works that we have seen were a result of it, and to so many of us, it is in those accomplishments where life’s meaning and beauty can be found.