“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield
Imagine with me for a second. You wake up, roll over, and blindly reach to hit your alarm to start the routine of the day. Make the same thing for breakfast. Maybe go to a new coffee place…nah. Same place. Go to work on the same route to the same job you’ve been at for years.
After a long day of struggling through your daily responsibilities, you come home tired and slink back into the comfort of your TV and couch. Watch the same shows. Pass out. Repeat. At long last, the respite of the weekend finally comes. You go to the same bars, and hang out with the same friends, and before you know it, it’s Sunday night. Time to repeat the whole process over again.
Somehow down the road, you begin to feel like everything turned into too much of a routine. Nothing new happens anymore, and you can’t even remember the last time you really grew or progressed at something new—the last time you felt that burning sensation in your heart, that incomparable feeling of venturing into something new and scary.
That was me.
When I was a kid, I remember having this recurring nightmare. I was in prison, and my prison job was making license plates. That was my job for the rest of my life.
I had to find every combination of letters and numbers, and if I ever made a mistake, I would have to start over. There was no goal. There was no challenge. Just repetition and routine. (There were a lot more intricate details, but I’ll probably just give myself anxiety trying to recall them).
Anyway, I would wake up in a pool of sweat every night, wake my mom up, and tell her I was having the license plate dream again. She would just look at me like I was crazy; I don’t think I was very good at explaining why it freaked me out so much.
I don’t think I knew why it freaked me out so much.
Fast-forward a couple decades. I fell into a rut after a long period of falling into the same routines, day after day. Same jobs, long commute, long days, same weekends. It wasn’t even that I disliked my jobs—I worked in the music events and festivals industry. But my life had turned into such a routine, without challenges, without fear—just the same jobs, the same bars, the same everything, day after day.
I woke up one day with a thought that scared the hello out of me—when did it all end? I didn’t even know what goal I was working toward. The license plate nightmare had manifested itself into real life.
That day, I quit both of my jobs and bought a one-way ticket to Southeast Asia. On this trip, I went through just as many cliché life realizations as the next traveler, but one stuck out far more than any other.
The safety of my comfort zone was what was holding my growth and happiness back.
I realized how crazy comfort—one of the biggest roadblocks to our growth—is something our bodies crave the most. However uncomfortable and unnatural it may feel to jump out of our safe zone, the benefits outweigh the initial discomfort drastically. It’s just hard to see the other side sometimes.
Although the individual acts of leaving that safe space might vary from person to person—whether it’s quitting your dead-end job, traveling to a foreign place, finally talking to that person you’ve been too shy to engage, or simply diversifying your daily routine—I’m going to tell you some concrete reasons why leaving your comfort zone is so important for every person, and why you won’t regret it once you do.
1. All development comes from outside your comfort zone, especially from failure.
“We are all failures – at least the best of us are.” ~J.M. Barrie
Let’s start with the basics. People tend to forget that struggle and discomfort are where all growth happens. Remember when you were a kid, and every single day was a challenge at something new? Your parents forced you to try scary new things you didn’t want to do, and either you succeeded or failed—and either way you were growing the entire time.
Somewhere along the line, your parents stopped forcing you to do things, and your responsibilities added another layer of chaos into your life, forcing you to retreat into a comfortable routine to achieve a form of stability. In that process, many people start daring less to take a step outside of their comfort zone.
Subconsciously, we attribute “learning” as a phase that only happens when we’re kids. That’s ridiculous. The learning process never ends, and there is always opportunity to grow, no matter what age you are or situation you’re in.
We don’t like to try new things because we fear failure, but we need to understand that failure isn’t the end of the road, it’s the beginning. We learn and gain more from failure than we do from succeeding—and way more than if we never took the chance in the first place.
Whether you succeed or fail at whatever you’re doing, it’ll be a hundred times more valuable to your growth than if you never took the chance in the first place.
Whether it’s the soreness of your muscles after a long workout, the exhaustion of staying up all night chasing a goal, the fear of venturing into the unknown, or the feeling of failure, one old cliché always remains true: no pain no gain.
Either you succeed and you grow or you fail and you grow, but trying anything is better than doing nothing.
2. You’ll discover passions you never knew existed before.
People often look for new hobbies that’ll fill their life with passion, but many are not only afraid to try new things, they don’t know where to look. They trudge through their daily routine, hoping something new will pop out of nowhere and save them from the repetition.
Hey, sorry to break it to you, but it’s not going to happen. Nothing’s going to fall in your lap. You have to go find it.
Not only will leaving your comfort zone help you take a crack at the things you’ve always wanted to do, but you’ll discover other things you never even knew you might’ve liked before.
When I decided to quit my jobs and go on this trip to Southeast Asia, at one of my darker and lonelier moments (don’t ask), I found myself needing to write something, just to get some emotions off my chest. Little did I know I had just discovered my passion for writing.
I started writing article after article, and decided to design a website to share them on. I started taking more and more pictures to combine with these articles, which even led to editing travel videos together.
That’s four things, if you didn’t count. Four things I had never knew I had interest in before. All these newfound hobbies were borne from one thing that I discovered just moments after I left the comfort of my home.
No matter how much you want to believe it, waiting around for something won’t get you anywhere, but the second you leave your comfort zone, you’d be surprised at how things just start falling into place.
3. You’ll become more open-minded and understanding, making you appear wiser and more intelligent.
Life is full of completely different and unique people, but when we get stuck in the same routine, we tend to gravitate toward people that are similar to us. When this is the only interaction in our lives, it leads us to become close-minded and cuts us off from the reality of the differences that exist between people.
When you’re surrounded by the same people, who share the same opinions about everything, you gain a confirmation bias, and you start to think that a certain way of thinking is how all people think, or how all people should think. (Need an example? Go look at any political party ever.)
Leaving the comfort of being surrounded by the people you are accustomed to will introduce you to different ways of thinking, which will not only lead to a better understanding of our differences, but an appreciation for them.
This can be a whole different kind of uncomfortable, but the next time someone that has an opinion you disagree with, instead of immediately trying to convince them your side of the argument, try to understand why they came about that thinking in the first place.
We all gather our opinions from a rich web of experiences and thousands of variables, yet sometimes we tend to think of other people’s opinions in black and white. Everyone has a reason for why they think the way they do, many of which are a lot deeper under the surface than you might be able to initially see.
Opening your mind to other people’s cultural views and understanding what their ideologies are based out of (as opposed to just trying to confirm your already established beliefs) is the first step to gaining wisdom that applies to all people, rather than just the social group you’ve become accustomed to.
4. You’ll gain clarity once you ditch mindless comfort-zone distractions.
When we continue our routines and watch the same shows, go to the same places, or look at the same apps, we tend to turn our brains off and just follow muscle memory without even noticing. These routines make us feel comfortable and often put our minds to sleep.
You’d be surprised at how much clearer your mind works once you simply turn your phone and TV off and go explore something new. Your brain will actually start going to work without you even trying.
Something easy you can do today: Turn your phone off.
Something harder you can aim for in the future: Turn your phone off for longer.
5. You’ll become a more confident and sociable person.
Talking to strangers is often an anxiety-provoking activity for people. We’re constantly fearing we’ll get judged or that we’ll say the wrong thing to the wrong person. First off, let me tell you, everyone feels the same way. That thought alone helped me become a more sociable person without worrying about the consequences of a “failed conversation” (sounds stupid when I put it like that, huh?).
Interacting in situations with people you usually wouldn’t interact with is a great way to get out of your comfort zone. Go compliment someone you don’t know. What’s the worst that can happen?
In a more non-direct approach, forget about other people for a second. When you spend your time trying new activities and experiencing things you haven’t done before, through the power of leaving your comfort zone, confidence eventually comes whether you were looking for it or not.
The very act of being bold enough to try something you haven’t done before will raise your confidence on its own, and that in turn naturally minimizes the fear of interacting with people you don’t know.
Confidence and social skills will be a byproduct of your breaking of the ordinary. Which leads to the next point…
6. You’ll become a better storyteller without even trying.
“No human ever became interesting by not failing. The more you fail and recover and improve, the better you are as a person. Ever meet someone who’s always had everything work out for them with zero struggle? They usually have the depth of a puddle. Or they don’t exist.” !Chris Hardwick
Just as confidence and social skills come naturally when outside of your comfort zone, so will the stories. When you make a conscious attempt to leave your comfort zone, you’ll be surprised at how weird, crazy, and awesome things tend to happen more to you more.
You’ll start amassing an inventory of interesting stories without even trying. All of your failures and successes somehow start to become more of a narrative, rather than a repetitive list of chores.
Make your life a story that people would want to watch a movie about.
7. You’ll discover entire worlds you never knew existed before and the communities that go along with them.
Lastly, you’ll discover tons of different groups and cultures that will amaze you.
Think about one thing you like to do. For instance, we’ll say you enjoy golf. Think about all the tiny intricacies, tactics, and elements of golf that make you love it so much, whether it’s the careful studying of equipment, the complexity of your body motion, the perfecting of a craft, or just the peace of enjoying a beautiful day. On top of that, think of the entire golfing community that you connect with because of a shared love of an activity.
Now think about the fact that these passions and communities exist for an infinite amount of activities out there. Foodies for every kind of food. Music lovers of every genre. Fans of every sport. Professionals of every craft. Thousands of different cultures and communities that you have never experienced exist out there—all filled with people that possess as much love and passion for their craft as you do.
Discovering and sharing new passions with people is one of the greatest joys in this world.
The possibilities are endless. Go find some new worlds today.
Feeling like there is no end in sight can be one of the most suffocating feelings in the world. I know from experience that deep, sinking feeling you get in your chest when you realize your life has become too predictable—when nothing new happens, when you feel like you’ve stopped growing as a person.
The good news is it’s completely in your power to take control of your life and experience what’s out there, and turn that suffocation into freedom, curiosity, and excitement.
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.” ~Chauncey Depew
Taking the first step is always the hardest, but I can guarantee you that once you do it, the only thought you’ll have in your head is “Why didn’t I do this earlier?” Every second you spend in this world is precious, and you shouldn’t waste a single second of it wondering if you should have done something. Life is waiting for you to take the reigns.
Imagine with me again. You wake up five minutes before your alarm, with a head buzzing full of ideas, ready to conquer the day. You go to work with a clear mind, with new goals formulating in your head at what seems like every minute of the day.
Before you know it, the workday has gone by in a snap, and you race home to start progressing to your next goal, or to write your next idea down, or to plan your next big getaway. Life has become exciting and full of wonder once again.
No more license plates.
About Elliott Pak
Elliott Pak is a musician, writer, and traveler who enjoys helping motivate people see life through new perspectives with a raw and unfiltered writing style. Subscribe to his blog, Dirty Maps and Mirrors, to gain honest and unique insights on improving your life in a relatable way, with a healthy dose of humor and sarcasm.
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