One of the great things about being single, an adult, and being independent in so many ways is that I don’t have to do much I don’t want to do. The flip side of that is that I can do what I want to do, more or less. That is both a great enabling thing and a terribly debilitating thing.
As midlife men, single midlife men at that, it can be more debilitating than enabling, I fear. Below is a sentence I got from somewhere, so I put it into quotes only because I know it wasn’t mine. But I think it captures a challenge that we each face as we get older and more fixed in our way.
“Winners are not those who have never lost or failed, nor are they the ones who have never tried anything beyond their comfort zone.”
I’ve italicized the last half of that quote as it is my focus for today’s discussion. First thing, of course, is that we have to come to grips with what ‘winner’ means, but I’ll just call it some variation of success in life and be done with it.
The point is that I’m uncomfortable with how comfortable I am with my own comfort zone. It’s comfy. Suppose that’s why they’re called that.
Well, what exactly is a comfort zone? We hear the phrase often enough, maybe even use it, but what do we mean by that? Do we mean that we have arrived at a certain place in life in terms of what kind of people we are and we aren’t really planning on doing much more than what we have already done. Basically, what you see is what you get, for good or ill.
Wow! When one puts it that way, it doesn’t sound so nice, or very progressive, or enlightened.
On the one hand, we might readily admit we have this or that weakness or failing, or areas we simply don’t want to confront. For me, I know there are things I could do, even should do, but probably won’t do. I could have a bucket list, but never got around to writing one. And if I did, I don’t really plan to do much with it.
On the other hand, well, I’m not THAT bad a guy, so no big deal.
And so the days march on and we get more comfortable with ourselves just the way we are. We might just label it a season of contentment.
Now I vote for contentment. I like being content. I always thought Jabba the Hut looked contented. He had all the goodies in the world around him, and he seems a good example of the ‘love me the way I am’ kind of thinking, all fat and drooling parts of him.
I think that is similar to the notion of happiness. I’m happy. I choose happy. I don’t choose misery.
But, discontent has its place in our lives, too. It is like the stone in my shoe that irritates me and reminds me it is there every step I take. It taunts me to do something about it – take note and take action, is its message.
It is in seasons of discontent where growth can happen. It is not in victory or smooth sailing we learn our greatest lessons, but in defeat, misery and frustration. The quote says the ‘winners’ are not winners because they managed to get through life without a ‘big screw up’ or any disruptive experiences. In fact, it suggests the opposite.
Operating within our zones of comfort may keep us safe from mistakes and big uglies, but it also keeps us from becoming our best selves. And that has something powerful to say about our legacy.
So, how does one get himself into a place of discontent? I’m not sure if one does. Often it seems to find me, I don’t need to look too hard for it. But I also know that I tend to be a person that is always pushing and striving and this probably accounts for why discontent finds me. In fact, I think he lives with me. I invariably run into my own insecurities and fears when I’m in pursuit of boundary-pushing things.
What might we learn from this? One answer might be to sow intentional seeds of discontent. By putting ourselves into situations we know we don’t like very much, discomfort will meet us there. And it is there where some new area of personal growth will be found.
If we feel awkward at dancing, we sign up for dance lessons. We don’t like to travel, we book a flight. Don’t like large social gatherings, we buy a ticket to the next concert or fundraiser, and go.
It would seem that our zones of comfort should be ever growing. It seems our world, speaking mainly of our inner world, should be bigger at the end than it was at the beginning – and that by intention.