In the past week I have received the message, “Comfort is overvalued” twice.
First, within Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do with Your Life, a book which promotes self-discovery as a means to developing one’s career. Roadtrip Nation, the author of the book, is an organization that organizes cross country road trips where participants have the opportunity to meet with professionals who practice their passion. Within these stories I was moved by the way that many of these professionals re-made themselves based on their evolving interests.
The second occasion was at a Black Lives Matter talk about whiteness. The panelists were discussing civil discourse, and recognizing that it is not irregular to feel discomfort when discussing identity. It is fine to feel discomfort, even anger, but to learn, you need to stick around and participate in a dialogue in spite of discomfort.
Your comfort zone is safe. This zone includes a good dose of The Daily Me (media that reaffirms your own ideas), being surrounded by people that look and think like you, and understanding the structure within which you live.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone takes work, it can be as hard as moving to a new place, or as simple as trying a new food. Currently this blog is the way that I am stepping outside of my comfort zone. Up to this point I have not had much experience with online posts. Through blogging I am processing new ideas and learning about writing and presentation. Roadmap and the Black Lives Matter talk have helped me frame “being uncomfortable” as a skill to practice. I understand being uncomfortable as the result of not understanding something well, it may be a space, people, or ideas. What I have also learned from my studies is that discomfort doesn’t last. Especially in an academic setting, being uncomfortable can be an indicator that you need to learn more. By the time I am no longer uncomfortable, I have developed a new skill!
In America, there is the notion that by a certain point we should have “figured it out.” I reject this. Life is a process of developing oneself. It is common to ask children what they want to be when they grow up. They could say anything, but how do they know when there are so many jobs they haven’t heard of? And many more constantly being developed? As we grow up it is common to develop skills that we can apply to our work. Roadmap and the Black Lives Matter talk have reminded me of the ways that we develop ourselves through new experiences. We are work.
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a lifelong question.
-Roadtrip Nation, Roadmap
This was my favorite quote from the book. What I like about this question is the implication that you haven’t figured it out yet. Once you have determined that you know what you want to be, exploration stops. Growing up, one interest leads to another. I have definitely experienced this in my college studies. Exploration pushes us to be better, better friends, better family, better workers. There is a different sort of engagement in activity when one is exploring.
Mindset is key.
The authors of Roadmap stress that trying new things isn’t easy. The point is that, even though it is hard and uncomfortable you do it anyway. It is difficult to part with ideas, jobs, places, or people, yet these changes do have potential positive results. Keeping in mind that it is more dangerous to not try something new, can be helpful. You could stay the same! Who wants to be the same person they were five years ago?
Uncertainty and discomfort are temporary. It is what you take from the interaction that matters. I experienced this the first time I attended a Black Lives Matter event. As a white student who had not had previous engagement with this movement I didn’t know what to expect. In the chapel where the event took place, I felt comfortable and enjoyed the speakers’ discussion. You have to show up. What you learn will influence how and what you explore next. Maybe you have gained a skill, knowledge, or have a better vocabulary to talk about a challenging issue, so you no longer feel quite so uncomfortable. This skill opens up new opportunities which may also initially make you feel uncomfortable.
In the future, whomever you meet will only see the person you have become. All the mishaps, and challenges you have overcome to be eloquent, knowledgeable, and polished remain in the past. When you make a new acquaintance they will see you as the person you are at that moment.