In my early military days I attended ground combat skills training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. Attending technical school was one of the steps I took to have a fun job in the Air Force. I learned the importance of putting the needs of the team first, I learned how to find my warrior spirit and I learned I’m one of those oddballs that enjoyed my days as a Boy Scout so much I really like to use a map & compass. Before Basic, I had never handled anything other than a bolt-action .22 rifle at Scout camp and I had no idea how to even aim the damn thing. Now here I was learning the operations of crew served weapons. I learned how to make things go boom. I learned how to make the earth shake. It was beyond any and all comfort zone I had. It was what my life needed the most. And it was really cool!
Dr. Abigail Brenner, a Psychiatrist in private practice writes moving beyond the safe and familiar is essential for growth. According to Dr. Brenner, “each of us has our own “comfort zone” which, more than an actual place, is a psychological/emotional/ behavioral construct that defines the routine of our daily life. Being in one’s comfort zone implies familiarity, safety, and security. It describes the patterned world of our existence, keeps us relatively comfortable and calm, and helps us stay emotionally even, free from anxiety and worry to a great degree. Creating a comfort zone is a healthy adaptation for much of our lives. But so is stepping out of our comfort zone when it’s time to transition, grow, and transform.”
After recognizing the current iteration of the comfort zone Dr. Brenner goes on to encourage patients to “try to make small changes that take you out of the everyday and familiar yet are not too emotionally challenging. We are all such creatures of habit. Change your daily and/or work routine. Try something new—food, music, activities you’ve never done. Undertake a creative project of any kind where your thinking is channeled in a whole new way. Add newness to your life. Be open to experience.”
Once I got away from the frame of mind I had developed and the genetic architecture I inherited where I grew up in Newark, Delaware I realized I could be whoever I wanted to be. I know to some that might sound crazy. At the time I had no idea who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do so I asked the military to figure it out for me. Its amazing isn’t it, the thing we value the most (our lives), so many of us are often willing to give in exchange for some semblance of internal value and conscious purpose? I think if the military had offered me the opportunity to hand out towels in the gym or stack boxes in a warehouse corner I would have either gone crazy of boredom or developed piss poor work ethic simply because I wasn’t challenged. It’s easy to sit in the rear with the gear. It’s genuine when you are willing to put yourself out of your comfort zone.
As it were, people who fall into my career almost 100% of the time come from poor backgrounds, in my case abuse poverty and homelessness. I think the foundation of little to no comfort zone is what allows so many of us to adapt to rapid deployments, high ops tempo and the incredible stress while we are active. The problem is once we get hurt, make a mistake or our minds crack there is often no foundation to rest and heal upon. Especially when you are forced to change units and no one understands what you have been through. And really, why should they? Especially when your meds are making you act weird.
Establishing and maintaining that foundation has been very revolutionary for me. Our foundation is our comfort zone. We can travel outside of the immediate confines of our comfort zone so long as our walls remain up to keep out intruders and provide a safe haven we can return to should we run into trouble.
Staying safe all the time stifles growth and encourages a sedentary lifestyle so obviously that is not a viable option for sustainment. Every now and then we have to venture out and push those comfort walls out with us, extending our boundary of comfort. If we are not stretching we are defending. If we are defending, we are only one step away from losing a level of comfort.
If we push our boundaries and stretch for a new level of comfort, we may fail at some point but it is better to fail and try again on a higher level than to allow ourselves to be stuck in an endless loop of mediocre comfort on a lower level. And who the F wants that?
You’re Welcome. Internet.
Brenner, A., MD. (2015, December 27). 5 Benefits of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-flux/201512/5-benefits-stepping-outside-your-comfort-zone