I am not a life coach, but if I was, I’d say things like “step out of your comfort zone.” This is pretty solid advice in my opinion. I’d deliver this advice while slowly taking my glasses off. Maybe I’d cross my legs, too, and nod thoughtfully.
“Step out of your comfort zone.” This is what I would say if I were a life coach, which I am not. Although I am pretty sure I could get a license to become one in five minutes on the internet.
But this essay isn’t about becoming a world famous life coach who gets frantic calls in the middle of the night from celebrities and heads of state. “Step out of your comfort zone, Oprah,” I’d say, or “Be the change you want to see in the world, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.”
No, this essay isn’t about that fantasy. Or, at least, not entirely. This essay is about not stepping out of your comfort zone. Sometimes it is okay to stay put. “Don’t step out of your comfort zone,” is also advice I would give were I a life coach.
So, before I go any further, I want to implicitly state that personal growth requires a little push into the unknown, now and then. I don’t want anyone to read this and think “this fake life coach doesn’t think people should expand their horizons.” By all means, step out of your comfort zone.
I think we understand each other. You have choices.
Personally, I would never have learned to love the Middle Eastern eggplant dish baba ganoush if I hadn’t stepped outside of my comfort zone, and tried some, and I love baba ganoush with a lunatic’s passion. I think confronting fears are very healthy.
But, if I were a life coach, I’d also suggest that the comfort zone isn’t so bad. That, sometimes, it is correct to stay within your comfort zone. It’s called a “comfort zone” for a reason, and that reason is: it is a zone that is comfortable. I like comfort. I like cushions, and pizza, and never picking up a ringing phone because, honestly, no one important, or human, calls anymore.
It is perfectly fine not to push yourself. The modern world is crowded with photos of exotic adventures and inspirational quotes demanding that the day is seized. Judging from my social media accounts, half of my friends are jumping out of planes, literally and metaphorically, and the other half are confronting hardships with pluck and verve. Meanwhile, I’m scrolling through their accomplishments from my bed—the very heart of my comfort zone. I am genuinely excited when a friend of mine declares they’re taking life by the horns (I like to think of life as a trombone section.)
I do not, however, feel I have to pressure myself to live my life the way they are living their life. I have been known to leap before I look—I do that every time I sing karaoke. I take a risk every time I publish an essay. I am mindful of living a life of balance, and so I am very deliberate when I make a choice to either reach for the stars or reach for the remote control.
There is nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone so long as you’ve made the decision to stay in your comfort zone. I aspire to be as well-rounded a person as I can be, though. So while I love to stay in Friday nights and binge-watch Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I also try to make sure I never go full Hobbit. Why, just this past weekend, I went to a new farmer’s market and bought some spaghetti squash for the first time. Spaghetti squash, I have since learned, really is more squash than it is spaghetti.
This may seem like a small thing. It is certainly not waterskiing, or learning a new language, or finishing a marathon. But this was me gently stepping out of my comfort zone, going outside to do a new thing, and then stepping, gingerly, back into my comfort zone.
There are all kinds of zones out there. There’s the twilight zone, which is a fine zone, especially if you’re into ironic life twists. There’s the friend zone, which is a zone that doesn’t really exist, except in the heads of people who can’t process romantic rejection. The danger zone is, well, dangerous and if you’re a fan of comic books, there’s also the phantom zone, the prison dimension where many of Superman’s greatest villains are trapped. The timezone is important if you want to know when to do things. These are all perfectly adequate zones in their own ways, but none of them is the comfort zone.
My comfort zone is full of pillows, and candles. There’s a record player and plenty of records to play. I have books, and a TV, and a small mutt with a ridiculous underbite. I can also take my comfort zone with me: when I close my eyes during my work lunch break I can escape to my mind couch, a safe, astral place where I can breathe, think, and consider my next action.
This essay isn’t about empty platitudes, or my own secret desire to become a life coach with his own brand empire. It’s an essay about taking care of yourself. Sometimes this means having the courage to climb mountains. Sometimes it means having the courage to curl up in a blanket with a sleeve of crackers and read a book about magic swords and dragons. Knowing the difference is everything.
Don’t take my word for it. I am neither a life coach nor a mental health professional. I’m just a high-strung guy who regularly gives himself permission to take it easy, get comfortable, and recharge. To stay put. Try it out.