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The best, and simultaneously scariest, surprise I’ve ever received was my dog, Danny. I came home one day after work nearly two years ago to find my husband had bought, unbeknownst to me, the cutest little black pug puppy as a gift for my birthday, and my initial reaction was fear.
Could I handle this responsibility? Could I actually be a good dog mom?
Owning a dog was way outside of my comfort zone.
Comfort zones are the areas in our lives that lack stress and teem with familiarity, and discomfort zones are the areas in our lives that teem with stress and lack familiarity. And, often, there is a fine line between the two. You can feel right at home in your living room watching Food Network, but the moment you have to enter your own kitchen to cook, you feel completely out of your element.
As a person plagued with relentless anxiety, I feel like I live most of my life hovering over that fine line. I so desperately want to remain comfortable, but that’s simply not possible when everyday actions and interactions cause me hours, or even days, of worry. Almost hourly I have to choose between staying comfortable or being brave. And the only reason I can make this choice with any confidence is because I’ve learned what lies on both sides of the line.
Our comfort zones aren’t all bad. Sometimes we need to stay in one comfort zone because we are stressed to the max in every other area. It can be a much needed rest for the soul. But other times we get too comfortable in our comfort zones, and we stop growing. We stop becoming the kind of people the world needs, and this is a detriment, not just to us as individuals, but to our shared humanity.
Staying in our comfort zones can be a selfish attempt at protecting ourselves from the pain of others. We think if we shut our eyes and block our ears and close our hands into fists, we’ll be protected from feeling someone else’s pain. But that’s not true. Pain that is ignored doesn’t just go away.
We are all connected. We will still feel the pain of others in our comfort zones.
We’ll all just be feeling pain alone.
In her book, Braving the Wilderness, Brene Brown advocates for experiences of collective joy and collective pain because, as she says,
“They are so deeply human that they cut through our differences and tap into our hardwired nature. These experiences tell us what is true and possible about the human spirit.”
This is why living in the discomfort zones of life is so important. What I continue to find in the discomfort zones is a gentle reminder that all will be well – a reminder rooted in love and the triumph of the human spirit.
Yet, I understand it’s hard to believe or even acknowledge all will be well when stress and fear and the unknown are sitting on your chest, making it hard to breath. That’s why the first step, crossing the fine line between comfort and discomfort, is the hardest and scariest.
Leaving a job is a great example of this dichotomy. No matter how much you believe it’s the right time to leave a job, turning in a notice is never easy. When you walk into your bosses office to deliver the news, your hands start shaking and your heart starts pounding. You might stumble over your words and silently question your life choices. But once you’ve handed over your letter of resignation – once you’ve crossed the line – the tension begins to release. Within a short time the negative feelings become a distant memory and both you and your boss have moved on.
Once we’ve crossed into a discomfort zone, we start to see things in a whole new light. What we thought was going to be a house of horrors, turns out to be a greenhouse – the perfect environment for growth.
Our discomfort zones can help us grow into more empathetic people as we step into the shoes of people that have no choice but to live in those zones everyday. They help us to become braver individuals because, as I’ve said before, there is no bravery without fear. And our discomfort zones make us stronger, giving us the spinal fortitude to face giants or, in my case, cute little pugs.
Even though I was afraid to be a dog mom, I immediately scooped Danny up off the floor. My sweet baby pug licked my cheek for the first time, love took over and I knew all would be well.
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