I’m not talking about basic needs. This isn’t a story for that. I’m talking about once you’re fed, clothed, and the heat or AC is on, once you know that you’re not on the street next month, or the month after that.
Comfort. We all want it. We mostly strive for more of it. Everything in the modern world is geared towards it.
My father worked the same job for 35 years and drove down the same road five days a week. He stopped for a poppy-seed bagel and cream cheese at the same place for decades. He knew everybody along his same journey. He was comfortable with the same landscapes, workplace, language, marriage, friends…. He knew exactly what to expect every day; he resisted any change the jeopardized his routine.
As an old-school New York Italian who enjoyed the external show, he wasn’t one to open up his internal world. But on one rare occasion, he did while driving me to school.
As we crossed a bridge over a small creek in the countryside he said, “I need something more in my life.” His eyes sank with sadness. “Something exciting, something different… I just need something… I feel stuck.”
I felt the resistance permeating from him; he was almost in tears. But I didn’t have any advice, I was a kid, and that’s how I felt about going to school that day.
Perhaps it was those simple sentences that started me on my path, or perhaps it was something in my DNA, but his words echoed around in my head like a loud noise in an empty apartment. Becoming stuck sounded terrible.
Comfort was killing him.
Right now I’m uncomfortable. I live outside of my country. My language skills are rudimentary here. I own a business in the US that’s a challenge to run from halfway around the world. I’m moving towards a more purposeful path that’s full of the unknown. I have to get to the destination without a map, through trial and error, by finding my own way through the fog; by hacking through the proverbial jungle with my own machete. Some things work, some things don’t; I have to take on criticism. I can sometimes be my own worse enemy….
This uncomfortable way is my choice, or perhaps it chose me. But I’ve realized without discomfort and challenge, I don’t feel alive. And right now, I feel very much alive.
I’m using my father as an example, but this is a battle for many of us. A life that becomes so familiar, it starts to kill our excitement about life. For those of you who have reached a high level of comfort, and realized that something is missing, then you’re not alone.
What I saw with my father and his friends as they aged were two distinct outcomes: those who continued to learn and push their comfort zone, and those who wanted the same routine every day with absolutely no change.
The ones who pushed themselves were much happier and quicker in their minds.
The degree of pushing outside of the comfort zone depends on the individual. For one person it might be a 5k run, for another, it might be playing a new instrument, starting a hobby, or traveling alone to a different place.
Whatever it is, it’s that activity that requires you to take on a dose of personal discomfort.
The system sells us the message of happiness through comfort and predictably; for happy survival, we all need a level of this. But the lie comes when you’ve technically succeeded at the game of comfort and find the most important thing about life is missing—the feeling of being alive!
While my father craved something different in his life, he was too stubborn and conditioned to ever experiment with the unfamiliar. He was on the train tracks but could never get off the train to wander around in the mysterious forest full right next to them. Many of us are scared of this because it takes effort and facing fears.
Breaking oppressive comfort can start with one change in a daily routine. A different hobby or task. A new job, or a different place to live. A new type of food to eat. It must not be something drastic. A small change can have profound results.
Comfort. We all want it. We mostly strive for more of it. Everything in the modern world is geared towards it. But be careful, too much of it will take the very thing we innately want the most, to feel alive.