“Your entire life has been about coordinating your comfort zone and your safety zone. Learning when to push and when to back off, understanding how it feels when you’re about to hit a danger zone…we’ve been trained to stay inside the fence, because inside the fence is where it’s safe—until it’s too late. We don’t have time to reevaluate the safety zone every time we make a decision, so over time, we begin to forget about the safety zone and merely pay attention to its twin sister, the comfort zone. We assume that what makes us comfortable also makes us safe.” Seth Godin in The Icarus Deception
My wife and I are working through a big transition right now. New places, new work environments. It’s all exciting. It’s exactly where we want to be doing what what we want to do. It’s bringing to fruition that for which we have been dreaming and praying over the past few years. It’s absolutely thrilling, but it’s sure not remotely comfortable. Moving, connecting to new community, finding a home, settling down, learning new work and new places all bring up uncertainty, fears and doubts.
I liken it to the first time jumping off a high dive. As a kid, the high dive was a substantial obstacle for me to overcome. As a portly youth (husky, big boned, chubby, etc) the swimming pool brought up enough anxiety. Shirtless situations were highly undesirable for husky kids like me. In an attempt to shield myself from that anxiety, I at times wore a shirt to swim. Note: wearing a shirt was actually a worse idea. It was the late 80s. Shirts were often bright, I mean neon bright. Picture this: soaking wet chubby kid, bowl cut (not a hairstyle I’d wish on anyone), with a drenched neon green shirt stuck like shrink wrap against every bulge and fold of my body, standing at the top of the high dive. Not ideal for wanting to go unnoticed. Once I made it to the top of the high dive I was practically a bright neon billboard hovering above the pool in fear.
My experience atop the high dive went something like this:
Everyone sees me up here. Crap!! Now what do I do? Initially, I step back. Then, I look back. There, at the top of the high dive ladder, some other kid’s head pokes over the top blocking my retreat. Plus, climbing back down would only heighten the negative attention. So, I refocus on what’s ahead. There it is. The end of the diving board hovering, what felt like hundreds of feet above the water’s surface. I’ve never gotten this far before. Prior attempts yielded early retreat. But now, staring down what felt like my impending doom, I waddle to the edge. Well, not quite all the way to the edge. Just to where the side rails ended. Hands, with white knuckles, gripping the side rails I peer again over the side of the diving board. The water looks dark, cold, almost blackish blue and miles away.
[Have pool people ever considered the issue of depth perception when the deep end is 14ft deep? That 14ft plus the 10ft of the diving board plus the 4ft(ish) up to my eyes means that I was staring down what looked like a 28ft leap.]
The longer I stand here the more swimmers and sunbathers below notice my neon clad frame stalled well above the water’s surface. This is NOT comfortable. This does not SEEM safe. But, I have seen so many others jump. Even kids far younger than myself. So, maybe I’ll be ok. Maybe I won’t meet my demise. I slowly pry my own hands loose of the side rails and toe my way to the edge. I stare down a little longer. Slowly to the edge. And slowly, I lean off the board to plunge into the blackish blue abyss of the community pool.
Well, I survived and have even jumped off a high dive since. By pushing beyond my edges of comfort I redefined safety. Being comfortable and secure are not synonymous with being safe.
Comfort asks, “Will this be easy?”- NO
Security asks, “Is this certain?”- NO
Safety asks, “Can I survive this? Do I have what it takes?” – YES and YES
So, my wife and I are pushing beyond what’s easy and certain. All sorts of fearful emotions come up. Questions of comfort and security race through my mind daily. But, like the stocky, soaking wet, neon clad youth atop of the high dive, we’re leaning into the transition and through our fears in order to expand our safety zone and discover more about ourselves, each other and our possibilities.
How do you know the difference between comfort, security and safety? What questions run through your mind? How are you stepping out to redefine your safety zone?
What keeps you from diving off of your comfort zone?
Postscript: Thanks to the written and audio work of Seth Godin for challenging me to think beyond comfort and security. Consider reading his work. See reading list to the right for some suggestions.