The Prison of the Comfort Zone

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Comfort Zones seem like such nice places. There are cozy pillows to rest on, cups of chai and hot cocoa near every reading nook and calming music wafting through the air. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a place like that?

It is always so tempting for me to just curl up in my comfort zone like a child on her mother’s lap, and to spend my days resting there without a care. The problem is, there is also a part of me that is screaming to get out of that zone. There is a part of me that longs for a challenge, that yearns for relationships that can only be fulfilling if I take steps outside of the cozy corner I’ve constructed for myself. I have a very insatiable curiosity about people, and love meeting people from all over. I love to hear languages I don’t understand. I love to discover how people in different parts of the world do everyday things like shop, go to school, celebrate special events, and pray.

After awhile, my comfort zone starts to feel stifling. It feels like I’m being smothered under a mountain of thick blankets that were once lovely, but now need a good airing out.

This is where I feel some people get stuck. It sort of seems as if there are a good many of us who like to surround ourselves with people who are very much like ourselves, watch programs on television that confirm conclusions that we’ve drawn about life – the kind that make us feel secure and good about ourselves. Too often, in these prisons of comfort, we don’t even realize we’re locked in, and that there is a way out. We’re so comfortable, like a frog sitting in a nice warm bath that is getting hotter every second, hot enough to boil him to death in comfort.

We begin to construct elaborate explanations as to why other people are not just like us. Mostly those explanations boil down to, “they are not as smart as I am” or “they are not as good as I am.” In short, “they are stupid, and/or evil.” Those “others” suddenly become the kinds of enemies we feel good about disliking. They don’t deserve us taking a second look at them, after all.

Life suddenly becomes about taking the easy route, the path of least resistance, the one where our brains don’t have to stretch or grow. We are nice and cozy and have life all figured out just right. Now, we can coast on throughout the rest of our days on cruise control. Ah, life is grand – even when we’re complaining about the others. Because complaining is also sort of comforting.

It’s the cozy prison that is such a danger to ourselves and society, I think. I am so glad that life (and God) didn’t let me stay as safe as my natural inclinations wanted me to be. I am happy that I met a boy who grew into a man and who grew restless with what life had in store back in our hometown. I’m so glad I followed into the risky world where we were bumped and bruised and even battered because it was there we met the most fascinating people and had the most incredible adventures.

Joining the Army was a great part of that. Such a diverse organization! In basic training, our platoon looked a little like the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland. My group of friends were all about my same height – short – and of various ethnicities and complexions. We were blonde, redheaded, of Japanese descent, African American, from the Philippines, Italian descent and Polish. From basic, it was on to journalism training, then first station in El Paso and then West Germany (before the wall fell).

My best friend in Germany was a German young lady who was the translator for our unit. In El Paso, my captain was Puerto Rican and my command sergeant major was a black man who did the unthinkable, and constantly called me by my first name. He became like a father to me and I adored him.

In the Army, I had my first taste of matzo given to me by a Jewish soldier who I had come to know at Fort Benjamin Harrison as I trained to become a journalist. The school I attended there was the Defense Information School and there, I met international military members – from Korea, Egypt, Italy, etc.

Over in Germany, we had Allied Friendship Days and met Dutch, German, British, Italian and French soldiers. The Dutch were so much fun, I can tell you that. They knew how to have a good time. During that time of celebration, soldiers from all nationalities were swapping and trading various pieces of their uniforms so that by the time it was over, commanders were having fits over how wrong everyone looked in their jumbled uniforms.

All of this was way outside of my comfort zone. In Germany, I was homesick like crazy from the very beginning. I was surprised at just how intensely I missed the USA. But, you know what? I have some of my best memories from there and now long to go back.

What I’m trying to say to myself (and you may listen in if you’d like) is, “don’t stop now. Don’t revert back to your comfort zone out of fear or a longing to rest, because you know you will not be happy there. Keep moving ahead and keep growing. It is the only truly satisfying way to live.”