Donald Trump famously said, “Avoid your comfort zone – it’s probably outdated anyway.” It is very good advice for people who are exceptional, but what if you are not exceptional? You probably learned in college that no matter how good you are at something, there are always other people who are better than you.
Are you humble enough to say you are not exceptional? And if so, isn’t it possible that your comfort zone is where you belong? Just because you are in your comfort zone, it doesn’t mean you don’t crave success. Champion boxers never leave their comfort zone to take part-time jobs as a typist. Consider the fact that your comfort zone is the place where you will enjoy the most success.
Why “Comfort Zone” Advice Seems So Correct
Once again, breaking out of your comfort zone may be the right thing to do if you are exceptional. It is especially true for exceptional people because breaking out of their comfort zone is often the only place where they can grow. Yet, that is not the only reason why breaking out of your comfort zone seems like good advice.
The truth is that most people confuse being in a rut with being in their comfort zone. For example, the middle-aged executive who stays in his dead-end job because it is safe, rather than starting a new business selling parachute lessons, is not staying in his comfort zone, he is sticking with his rut. If people tell the middle-aged executive to get out of his comfort zone, they actually mean he should get out of his rut.
However, take the same middle-aged executive who is well respected at work, whose job is not a dead-end one, whose social life thrives because of his job, who’s bringing up children, investing, and who is healthy because of his job. If this same person were to leave his job to start a parachute training company, he would be leaving his comfort zone and most probably be making a great mistake.
Isn’t the Grass Always Greener On The Other Side?
Taking the previous example, what if the middle-aged executive left his job and his parachute training company offered him all the same things his old job offered him except better? Isn’t it always a good idea to try and fail rather than to never try at all?
The question and sentiment is fine, but it is not real life. Ask a person who has tried everything and ask a person who tried a bunch of stuff and then found something he/she enjoyed, and ask which person is happiest. Just because you “Didn’t” try something doesn’t mean you are missing out.
“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side!” – Ricky Gervais
What About People Who Broke Out of Their Comfort Zone?
There is an old “Will & Grace” episode from 2002 called, “Went to a Garden Potty.” In it an old man says a line that goes, “I’m Stan’s old partner. We started the mattress store together, then he wanted to branch out into other businesses but I said, no I’ll just not take any chances, so now I’ve got the one little store and he’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars.”
The mattress store story sounds familiar doesn’t it? You have read about similar stories in motivational books, but what you rarely read about are people who didn’t take risks and still became successful millionaires. A book called, “The Millionaire Next Door” addresses this discrepancy by featuring people who became millionaires by selling caravans and by being dentists. It shows how people who work the same job their entire lives are not schmucks, and that their unexciting success stories are still success stories.
Do not confuse taking risks with being outside of your comfort zone. In the “Will & Grace” example, the character Stan felt outside of his comfort zone with just one store. Stan’s comfort zone was taking risks. Stan didn’t leave his comfort zone when he went off making millions of dollars, he entered his comfort zone in order to do it.
The people who risk it all on a penny-share company are not doing it to break out of their comfort zone, they are doing it because they feel uncomfortable if they are not taking risks.
“Unexceptional” People Can Be “Exceptionally” Successful in Their Comfort Zone
“I don’t like to be out of my comfort zone, which is about a half an inch wide.” That line is a quote from Larry David, the guy who wrote “Curb your Enthusiasm” and “Seinfeld” and he is worth $400 million.
Stephen King was 27 when he sold his first book, and he was writing long before that. King hasn’t left his comfort zone since he was out of college, and he is worth $400 million. One could even say that Stephen King rarely leaves his comfort zone creatively since his stories almost always feature a middle aged man, and many times the middle-aged man has a creative career such as being a writer, painter, etc.
Danica Patrick, when asked how she became the best female racer in the world responded with, “I never do anything out of my comfort zone.” Does that mean this woman, who is worth $60 million, never takes risks? You would know the answer if you had ever watched her race.
Do not forget the psychological damage that repeated failure can do to a person. People who say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” have clearly never gone through a terrible time because terrible times often make you weaker.
Repeatedly trying to break out of your comfort zone, only to be kicked back and stomped into the ground (metaphorically speaking) takes its toll and will often sap your enthusiasm to keep going forwards.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” – Dale Carnegie
Conclusion – He Will Be Back
Have you considered that exceptional people do not have a comfort zone? Take Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose last name has found its way into every spell checker program on the planet. He was a world-class bodybuilder, a record breaking actor, married a Kennedy, and became a US governor.
Some people say he was so successful because he never became comfortable being the best at just one thing. Maybe that is the reason for his success, maybe he wasn’t trying to break from his comfort zone…maybe he was trying to find it.