“Life Begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
Neil Donald Walsch.
In spite of what every teenager on the planet thinks, it is really almost too easy to find yourself a niche. It may not be the niche that you thought you would fill when you were 18 and the world was your oyster. But most of us eventually get tired of going against the grain; of being the only ones who don’t belong somewhere; of being the odd man out, and we end up settling.
We find ourselves a job, a career, a neighborhood, a spouse, a home church or a circle of friends that we feel comfortable with and we allow ourselves to settle for “good enough” or “not that bad” even though the thought of settling for anything but our highest dreams and expectations would have given us the screaming heebie jeebies just a decade earlier. And then we wonder why it is that we become bitter?
Look around you. People you knew in high school and college; people that had high hopes and brilliant dreams and plans to change the world are now working dead end jobs to pay for the mortgage, their kids’ braces, car payments, a new roof and maybe a once-a-year trip to Orlando or Vegas where they can pretend that they are someone else for a few days; someone who has actually made it. Someone who didn’t give into the system, who still sees the wonder and the mystery in life; someone who made their dreams come true.
“Oh now, it’s not that bad” I had a friend tell me once. “My job pays the bills. Our family goes out to eat once a week. We go on vacation once a year. It’s not a bad life.”
Well, it’s not necessarily a good life either.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing bad about having a home, two cars, three kids, two dogs and a guinea pig named Munch. There is nothing wrong with being able to afford to go on vacation and being able to pay the mortgage and the car payments. There is nothing wrong with working 40 hours a week and saving up vacation days so that you can go to Disney’s Magic Kingdom.
It may not be a bad life, but that doesn’t mean that you are living.
At its most basic and fundamental level the term “living” means to be alive, not dead; to have an existence. But there is more to it than that. To be considered truly living you must also be active, thriving and vigorous, and not just (or necessarily) in body, but in mind and spirit as well.
Are you thriving and vigorous in mind and spirit?
Does your work stimulate you? What about the company that you keep, the books you read, the shows you watch; do they stretch the boundaries of your imagination and challenge your intellect? Do you find yourself waking up each morning with a thrill of anticipation as to what new adventures the day will bring?
If you are like most people, the answer will be no. It’s not because you’re a bad person. It’s not even because you’re living a bad life. It’s because you are living within your comfort zone. You’ve found your niche; your space where you can exist and are following Zipf’s law; the principle of least effort that almost all living systems fall into unless they are stimulated by something outside of themselves.
You’ve found a space where you don’t have to struggle or strive, where you don’t have to challenge yourself, where you can watch Monday night football and have enough money after your bills to go out on the weekends and maybe take the kids out for an occasional swim at the lake.
Perhaps in the back of your mind you realize that there is something missing; that there should be more to your life than this; that somewhere along the way you went from dreaming and planning your future to daydreaming about what might have been.
You know what the answer is, don’t you? Yes, you do, but you probably won’t like it.
The answer is to stop living within your comfort zone.
Life – real life – begins at the end of our comfort zone. It begins at the edge of reasonableness; where the mundane becomes the fantastic; where the accepted and the traditional scoot over to make room for possibilities.
You see, in order to truly live. In order to grow; in order to become something more than we are; in order to thrive we need to be shaken up. We need to have our limitations tested; our boundaries breached; our beliefs challenged, and if life doesn’t present us with these challenges, it is up to us to challenge ourselves so that we won’t slip into complacence.
We need to put ourselves in situations where we have to learn new skills; meet new people; come in contact with new ideas and ways of viewing the world and our place within it.
You see, the one constant in the universe is change, and if we refuse to change; if we find that comfortable little niche and tuck ourselves away in it, change will pass us by and we will slowly stagnate until we become everything that we ever hated and never wanted to be.
William Blake once said that “the man who never alters his opinions is like standing water, and breeds reptiles of the mind.” But it isn’t just our opinions that need to be altered; it is the very way that we view life – the very way we view living.
Go ahead – take that first step outside of your comfort zone to where the real living begins – and see just how truly wonderful life can be.