I love words and decorating my life with them. I have signs throughout my bedroom and living room with words like dream and smile. I fill my planner with stickers that say things like be unique. Even my body is marked with words that are important to me; an outward expression of who I am inside, most of my tattoos are phrases that I need to literally carry with me when my inside forgets them. It takes rain to make a rainbow to show that can find good in the bad, and that in fact, we must. Because without both, we’d appreciate neither. Happiness can be found (even in the darkest of times if one only remembers to turn on the light) to symbolize my ability to create happiness in the down-periods. Have a magical day to remind me of my escape even on days where finding the magic is difficult. Just keep swimming, etched on my thigh, is what I know I have to do when I don’t know what else to do.
As a writer, words are my means of understanding and my source of power. I use them to process life. Choosing the “right” words allows me to make sense of life, and see the bigger picture I am being shown. I can live my days over again using words, tasting the sweet parts once more as I write about whichever details I want to preserve for eternity. Words are how I make you understand, too. The things that need to be understood and the things that need to be celebrated…with my words, I can get you there, too. I can make you feel sublime as I bring you to places you love and state of beings where you are safe and comfortable and happy. Or if I chose to, I could make you feel the exact opposite. I can drag you down to hell with me and spit you back out wherever you happen to be reading. To be able to transport you to where I want, to facilitate your transcendence above where you happen to be, is an amazing thing. Twenty-six letters, mixed and matched as I please, give me that power.
I realize that the majority of people aren’t quite as aware of the importance of words as I happen to be. But their importance always remains there nonetheless. They influence us. That’s why those decorative signs exist, why those stickers exist, why people (even non-writers) get words inked onto their skin. It’s a communication thing, a symbolic thing. It’s a human thing.
Alright, maybe it’s mostly people like me who have this obsession with words. My affinity for them may very well be solely related to my self-given title of Writer. But my point is that ascribing particular meaning to one can be a phenomenal influence.
The reason I’m bringing all of this up is that in my therapist’s office, there’s a block with the word evolve on it. I noticed it when I first saw her, but it wasn’t until she related what I was saying to the word one day, excitedly pointing at it across the room, that I felt myself really thinking about evolve.
It looked cool written on that white block, thanks to a font I particularly enjoy. I liked how it sounded, how it felt in my mouth when I said it. It also sounded cool rattling around in my brain, and it blended well with the other thoughts rattling around, so I kept it there. And there it has stayed. Evolve. It’s a great word, but I want to decide why it’s a great word. What better way to do that than with more words?
What I Realized About My Carefully Constructed Comfort Zone
I’ve always had trouble getting myself from where I am to where I want to be. I have these ideas in my head that are so big they overflow onto the ground surrounding me, and I certainly have enough enthusiasm to water each one until it begins to grow. But the growth is halted just shy of actually blooming into flowers. I don’t know how to finish what I start in terms of reality, how to make ideas from my head take hold in the real world. It’s disheartening, to say the least.
I tell myself that no one begins by being finished. If we all began at the finish line, no one would be doing anything or going anywhere, and that’s not what life is. We don’t start out where we want to be because we have to get ourselves there. We have to embark on the journey that starts at point A, growing and changing and developing gradually, adapting and improving as we internalize what we’ve learned, until we are able to reach our point B. We have to evolve. Because that is what life is.
This thought-process works on another level in addition to that more metaphorical one: When you look up ‘evolution’ you’ll find an explanation of how living species on our planet have become what they are. Over like, a super long time, a given species will go through small changes in characteristics that ultimately lead it to become more adapted and developed. It will “internalize what it has learned” by way of beneficial genetic mutations being passed down through reproduction, until a species is ultimately actualized. Humans didn’t start out as humans; we had to work our way here through the evolutionary pathways. Talk about that journey, right?
So to continue my line of thinking using the analogy, who cares if I’ve spent “too much” time closer to point A than point B?
Which brings me to a somewhat tangential point that I’ve JUST realized is absolutely relevant and that lead me to title this section the way that I did: point B lives outside of this thing called a Comfort Zone.
If you read the first portion of this essay-thing of mine, you won’t be surprised to hear that I looked up the term. (Yeah, I already knew what it meant, but isn’t the definition a great place to start an in-depth analysis? Because that’s what you’re in for, so strap in.) A comfort zone is “a place or situation where one feels safe or at ease and without stress.” It’s a mental state, I guess. It’s where things feel familiar, where life can be controlled. It is safe from anxiety and stress.
The general connotation of the term is a negative one, and a quick search for “comfort zone memes” proves this. Good things can only happen outside of it, apparently (picture a Venn Diagram where the ‘comfort zone’ circle and the ‘good things’ circle don’t overlap). The quote “you’re only confined by the walls you build yourself” also shows up in that search, meaning that our comfort zones confine us, keep us away from those aforementioned good things. And even if we don’t label the term ‘bad,’ we still get the overwhelming feeling that there’s nothing productive or helpful about the concept of staying in one’s comfort zone. We won’t grow or move forward if we remain in their safety. And aren’t growth and forward motion kind of key in life?
Isn’t evolution key in life?
We won’t evolve if we aren’t willing to feel uncomfortable or vulnerable or awkward or even scared. The best parts of life happen when we push through all that crap and come out successful and proud on the other side. And even if we fail, whatever that word may mean, the effort of pushing our limits would still be valid. Effort is never wasted. You will still be closer to your point B having tried. You will still have evolved, in some way.
I’m questioning my personal comfort zone now (because exploring ideas through writing never fails to launch me into these near-existential crises). Where do I feel safe and at ease? Where am I without stress and anxiety? I’m gonna NOT make a joke about how I’m never without stress and anxiety, because using humor here would feel like a maladaptive coping mechanism. And because there are definitely a few places where I feel safe and calm.
For example, I’m in such a place as I’m writing this. I’m sitting at my desk which is tucked in a nook by my bedroom window. I’m warm and cozy. I’m surrounded by my books and decorations. I have my planner out next to my laptop (where I’ve written my to-dos for the week in pastel pens and added stickers that say choose happiness and dare to be different in matching colors). I have Disney World Area Music playing (the music you hear while walking around the parks, I find it incredibly relaxing). I am in my own world. Things are alright.
And I feel that way because I’m being a bit reclusive. And there’s safety in that. I’m alone, the way I want to be right now. I’m in control. My therapist pointed out that anxiety tends to breed recluses, but that in addition to being an anxious person myself, I’m also an extrovert. She’s right (she tends to be right quite a lot all the time). I crave human connection in a pretty obvious way. Which is why I also feel safe and secure when I’m with someone I know and love and respect and relate to, particularly when someone like that hugs me. I feel so comfortable in the protective hold of someone I love and trust. Letting myself melt into another person is my favorite because whoever has their arms around me acts as a shield against whatever worries had been harassing me only moments earlier.
Guess what, though? I can’t live my life inside the hugs of my friends and family. And I hafta leave my desk at some point. I’m fully aware of that. ‘Cause even though I wish I could live solely where things are comfortable, I’ve had plenty of incredible experiences outside of those places.
Seriously. One time I was doing this obstacle course, this Tough Mudder race, and I was on this platform like a billion feet above a pool of water. I had to jump. I had no choice. I was fucking terrified, but then some muscular dude took me by the shoulders and shouted in a forceful but not-unkind way that I had surely done things in my life that were much harder than this. So I took a running start and with every ounce of strength I could muster, strength that I got from surviving those harder things, I jumped. And holy hell was it the fun.
That’s a pretty specific experience. I could have cited countless other examples of having fun outside of my comfort zone, of finding these great aspects of life outside of where it’s safe. But I think that one sums it up nicely: I was scared but I pushed through, I learned a valuable lesson that I believe helped me mature as a person, and I came out more evolved (and sopping wet) on the other side.
Making The Connection (Finally)
There’s nothing wrong with spending time at point A. It’s probably a pretty great place. But that’s probably because we’re comfortable there. If we make an effort to get to our point B, if we work hard to finish what we wanted to start, we might, well…we might get there. We might finish. That’s scary. We might look around at where we got to and at what we finished, and we might not really love what we see. And then, dammit, we’ll have to call that place A and set out to find yet another B. But staying at that A is still easier than pressing on, so, ya know, the cycle continues.
Life is a journey (ugh that sounds so cliche but go with me here). It is full of different points and places and experiences. That’s kind of what makes it fun and great and worth it. But we have to move. Preferably in the forward direction, but sometimes any direction will do. We have to adapt and change.
I realize I switched tenses or something. I’ve been saying we have to do this, that, or the other thing. But I have to tell myself that this is what I need to do. And not hide in the safety of we.
Staying in my comfort zone is not conducive to living an evolved life. And I guess that’s really my reason for writing this? Clearly I had some thinking to do about the world EVOLVE, and it became obvious that I connected the word with letting go of shit that’s holding me back.
Before I started writing, I wrote down a bunch of words and phrases that I thought related to evolving. Things like “self-improvement” and “a positive or beneficial transformation” and “a deliberate awakening.” I dunno, I was just spitballing ideas. But all of that, all of those phrases I jotted down, relate back to doing things that scare me regardless of how anxious I am. How else will I improve? How else will I wake up to the wonderful things life has to offer me? I have to jump off the ledge because “I’ve done things so much harder than this” and because that’s how I’m gonna get through life.
You Made It To The Conclusion, Congrats
I think life has many different comfort zones and I think it requires many different evolutionary processes. I think we should enjoy the comforts we find and enjoy the processes we go through, so long as we keep going. Life’s about balance, after all. And although my life has been separated into opposite poles for so damn long (thank you, Bipolar Disorder), I think I can at least balance enjoying life and working at life. Plus, I’m a writer. So I figure this grandiose shit out in elaborate essays that I can reread at any time. It’s super helpful, I recommend it.
Anyway. What I’m saying is I don’t believe that staying where it’s comfortable and secure and controlled is always a bad thing. I don’t think I’m bad or stupid or weak for staying at any point A for too long. I just want to stop living there exclusively. I want to evolve into what I know I’m capable of evolving into, even if it means digging deeper or challenging myself or going beyond my perceived limits. Because I’m fairly certain the result of meeting all that with passion is gonna be really fuckin’ cool.