Take a moment and imagine that you’re a freshman in college; you’ve recently started school in a brand new state ten hours away from home, and the only person at the school you’ve spent more than half an hour talking to is your roommate. You’re reading the daily activity e-blast sent out by your school (for maybe the only time that year), and you see a notice saying: “Freshman Class Officer Interest Meeting Tomorrow at 7.” You haven’t ever participated in student government, much less had the desire to run for a role being in charge of your entire class. And you notice a feeling rising from the pit of your stomach. Is it anxiety? Fear? Potential embarrassment? Nervousness? You push that feeling aside, and the next thing you know, you’re not just running for any class officer position, but for president. You campaign, the students vote, and then they wait. You wait. You hope. You play the dangerous “what if” game in your head: what if I lose? What if I said the wrong thing? What if I missed my shot? And during this time, you feel vulnerable.
Regardless of the results, you pushed aside all these thoughts and found yourself doing something that you never thought you would ever do. You didn’t take a leap, or even a step, outside of your comfort zone. You found a way to grow it.
Imagine a balloon. You blow the balloon up, and then let the air out. The balloon grew to a size that it had never reached before, and as the air was released, the balloon flew around the room in a way that you couldn’t exactly predict. At the end, rather than going back to its original size, the balloon stays somewhat stretched; the more air blown into the balloon, the more the balloon will stay stretched.
“The balloon grew to a size that it had never reached before”
Our comfort zone grows similar to the balloon as we continue to stretch and grow, with comfort zone expanding experiences stretching us even further. Unlike a balloon, however, starting off expanding your comfort zone is the hardest. Although it becomes difficult to blow the balloon up to its full size towards the end, the challenge of growing your comfort zone is remembering to take the deep breath that will let you allow you to start blowing up the balloon as large as it can be. With a strong start, the rest will come easily.
“...as the air was released, the balloon flew around the room in a way that you couldn’t exactly predict”
One of the more intimidating points of expanding your comfort zone is that you never know where it will take you. Even with all the assumptions, all the hunches, and all the planning, life will do weird things. As you venture into the unknown and push yourself to new challenges and new heights, you may have a clue as to what lies ahead, but you may surprise yourself with how you get there.
“...rather than going back to its original size, the balloon stays somewhat stretched”
As soon as you do something that challenges or pushes you past the point of comfort, you never return to the same exact point that you were at before. Each new adventure and new experience that grows your comfort zone makes it harder and harder to return to where you once were at. Your experiences contribute to, if not make up the majority of, your personal growth; the most important thing to remember is to try to make this change positive and meaningful.
“...the more air blown into the balloon, the more the balloon will stay stretched”
When encouraging others to push or challenge themselves, remember that growing is good; breaking your peers, or popping the balloon, is not. Remember that there is a distinct difference between “comfort” and “safety.” Learning and growth happens as we venture towards the “uncomfortable” edge of the comfort zone, but completely leaping off the edge results in barriers being thrown up, and people will end up shutting down and shutting you out.
In growing your comfort zone, you expose yourself to a life that otherwise would be nonexistent. The question isn't are you ready to start expanding that comfort zone, it's when will you take that step, that leap to the edge of your comfort zone, and start its expansion.
When will you blow up that balloon, let the air out, and see where it goes?