Uncomfortable Comfort Zones

Posted on Posted in general study skills, Uncategorized

I reread the email and my mouth hung open and my heart sank.

Obviously, things had not gone as planned and now I was forced to rethink my strategy. The most pressing objective for me to figure out was what I was going to do next. It’s hard to pick yourself up off the ground when you’ve done the work, but not everyone was happy about it.

Another one of those cold realities of life; you can’t please everyone all the time. Once again it was time for me to expand my horizons and push past my self-imposed comfort zone.

Of course, that’s how this whole episode started, which got me thinking about why we push at those boundaries.

There is more to being forced out of your comfort zone than just the added anxiety it brings. These challenges can—maybe even should—be an invitation to improve ourselves. We improve not only by facing these challenges, but also by how we face them. We can choose to accept the challenge, push the boundary and expand our comfort zone, or we shy away. We also choose how we deal with the result.

First, what would cause you to venture into unknown territory? Would you be willing to push it to gain a promotion? To save someone? To get the lead in the school play or the coveted solo in the concert?

As we know from life, there is always a dark side lurking out there. This is the side that begs another question that must be investigated: what is the cost? This answer will likely have multiple parts. There may be a monetary cost, or a time investment. You may put your reputation, or even more extremely, your life at risk. Is it worth it?

As you can see, this isn’t a one size fits all answer.

If your answer to any of the questions comes back “no”, perhaps this isn’t a boundary worth pushing.

The hard part about pushing a boundary is that you may not succeed.

This is where I found myself earlier this week. I had pushed my boundaries of my comfort zone to a point where I was on the ragged edge by accepting a tutoring assignment that was out of my normal scope: Chemistry at the collegiate level.

I hadn’t seen this particular material in close to 25 years. I told the client that, and I hadn’t taught it at the high school level within the last decade, so why do it?

She was desperate for help.

Besides, my youngest is taking chem in high school right now so it would be a good review and I thought it would be fun.

I was enjoying he challenge of re-learning topics that I’d let slide. I’ve always enjoyed knocking off the mental rust. Even though preparing for these sessions took a bit longer than normal, it was quite doable and fun.

At least it was until I got an email from the client only a short time before our session requesting to go over a practice test. While I was fine on the areas that I had prepared (topics she had specifically requested help on) I was not able to recall enough from 25 years ago to do the job well.

The end result was a lost client and me rethinking how I wanted to work.

Overall, my plan is continue tutoring, but I’m going to limit what levels and subjects I’ll work with. Middle school science and high school level physics (through AP) and earth science. I might consider opening it up to chemistry in a bit. I’m a bit gun shy right now.

With these experiences would I still challenge by comfort zones? Sure would. My own philosophy is that every mis-step is an opportunity to start over again more intelligently. That’s the plan. Focus more on the areas that I’m very comfortable in and then expand my comfort zone slower and one level at a time.

Maybe in another year or so, I’ll feel confident to try a collegiate level again. Until then, I’ll just flex that boundary instead of giving it a good old shove.

For each of us the cut off point will be different, so I hope that my little rant here gives you a few points to ponder. But when you get the chance, give that comfort zone a little nudge and see what happens.

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