What You Are Seeking Is on the Other Side of Fear and Discomfort
I’m typing these words from my hotel room in Lisbon. I have been living my dream since yesterday: I am now a digital nomad. I’ve been wanting to do this for a year now, and it’s finally here.
And yet the predominant feeling is discomfort.
Days prior to my departure, I felt a growing fear. My stomach was in knots on the way to the airport.
A few years ago, I would have run away from these two feelings. Fear and discomfort. This is not what I hoped to feel when I made my dream come true. But deep down, I knew it was part of the package. At least in the beginning.
I would have run away because these feelings are deeply uncomfortable. They make you question everything. You end up wondering if you made the right choice or not.
That’s what the comfort zone thing is about.
Your comfort zone is like an elastic band.
Think of your comfort zone as a circle in the middle of which we stand most of the time. It’s warm, comfortable, reassuring. We can rest there peacefully, so much so that it is tempting to stay there permanently. In fact, that’s what most people do. The problem is that if you don’t leave it often enough, you end up anesthetized. Your life then seems more and more boring and useless, leaving you wondering where these unpleasant feelings come from.
I know that all too well.
You might then decide to change things and get out of that comfort zone. You take your courage in both hands, your backpack, and you cross the line that separates the comfort zone circle from the immensity of the outside world. But you don’t just carry your courage and your backpack with you. You can’t see it, but there’s also an elastic band, which pressures on your waist, doing its best to bring you back into your comfort zone.
This elastic band is mostly composed of fear and discomfort. You push on the tips of your toes to fight the elasticity that tries to bring you back. It’s tough. It feels like it’s endless. It feels like you’re going in the wrong direction.
What are your options then?
You’re wondering what kind of foolishness you’re doing. Why would you put yourself in this situation when you were so comfortable in the comfort of your home?
The answer is simple. That’s where you were before, and you found out it didn’t fill you up anymore. Don’t forget that. You may decide to give up everything and go back to your comfort zone. But what would happen?
“Aaah, it feels so much better”, you might think, lounging on your sofa. But wait a few days or a few weeks, and feel the feelings that made you leave come back.
They were initially there for a reason. Boredom is a sign that something needs to be changed in your life. When you feel low in energy, unfulfilled, when the fire no longer burns in your chest, it’s a sign that it’s time to cut with what composed your past and build your new present. These are the greatest signals that change is needed. Ignoring them and continuing to do what you are doing now will only result in missing out on your life.
Of course, I could stop there, listen to the feelings of discomfort I am feeling right now, and come home thinking “I tried, it’s not for me”. The fact is, this is just the beginning. I feel lost, I’m struggling to get back to my habits. Everything is so new. It’s normal. And it’s fine. It takes time to find a rhythm, a balance, in a new life. Expecting everything to appear right away would be extremely naive.
If boredom is a sign that you should change something in your life, then fear and discomfort are probably signs that you’re doing the right thing. Even if you’re feeling the exact opposite.
That’s why you must pursue fear and discomfort.
What is the worst thing that could happen? Besides giving up, I mean. In my case, it would be to continue to feel that way. Nothing more. This leaves me with two possibilities: either I continue to feel like this for the whole duration of the experience, or it gets better day by day until I find a balance. In other words: the elastic will keep its grip on me or release me. If it keeps its grip on you after a certain amount of time, it may be because, indeed, you are heading in the wrong direction. We will see this possibility in a moment.
What happens most often, if you trust your gut and your deepest feelings, is that you will feel fear and discomfort at first, and as the days go by, you will do your best to find harmony, and then finally the rubber band will let go of its grip. You will be free. The comfort zone will be far behind you and you will be free to explore your new environment. You will have overcome the initial discomfort of stepping out of your comfort zone, and you will be glad you kept pushing.
It’s like persisting in a dark tunnel and finally coming out into the light of day.
If you want to get something that you never had, you will have to do things that you never did. That’s why fear and discomfort are very good compasses: they are a sign that you are doing something outside of what you would normally do.
One thing I like to do is to give my projects 6-month trials. Setting a six-month period to fully experiment with something is like a net that saves you from two risks: the first one is to give up when you shouldn’t. The second is to keep pushing in the wrong direction for too long. 6 months is enough to get a pretty good idea of something.
All you have to do is set a date. Mine will be July 3rd. If by then I still don’t feel balanced in my new lifestyle, I’ll probably give it up and focus my efforts in another direction. But if I feel like stopping in the meantime, I won’t. Because the trial period won’t be over. That’s one of the worst risks: following fear and discomfort in the opposite direction and giving up something that would prove to be tailor-made for you provided that you get out of your comfort zone.
To Sum Up
You feel a call deep in your chest but are too scared to follow it? Great, go for it! Once inside, do you feel uncomfortable, weird, unbalanced? I’m happy for you. You are probably in the right direction.
If I had to summarize this life lesson I’m learning right now, it would be :
- Boredom is a sign that something has to be changed in your life. Just listen to what is whispered inside of you, assess the risks and opportunities, and do it. This is your life.
- Great things are on the other side of fear. Everyone should have this tattooed on their wrist. If you’re feeling fear (a healthy one, I mean), you’re probably going in the right direction.
- Discomfort is a sign that you’re moving out of your comfort zone (as the name suggests), and that’s a very positive thing. It’s uncomfortable, that’s for sure, but it’s the way to go. It’s just the elastic band of your comfort zone that doesn’t want to see you go. If you push far enough and long enough, you’ll soon be free.
And that’s where the real adventure happens.
Nothing is easy. If every time you made a change it felt easy, it would be boring. Follow your gut, trust the feelings your body communicates to you, and trust yourself.
You are on the path to great, great things.