Last week a friend of mine had a going away party. He had decided to leave his life as a banker; nice house, loyal pet, and great car included, to join the Peace Corps in Nicaragua. It wasn’t a spontaneous decision; he’d applied to the Peace Corps months ago and had just now been accepted. He’d accomplished what many people want: a comfortable, secure, stable lifestyle, and he was leaving it behind. People at the party talked about him with both admiration and suspicion: “how brave, how noble. Is he crazy?”
My friend’s choice to leave comfort behind and venture into a challenge is not uncommon. Outward Bound has over 500,000 alumni – people who intentionally chose to leave their cars, phones, and beds for a tent floor. We all know that there is benefit to discomfort, right? Otherwise why put one foot in front of the next when it’s pouring rain and you have three blisters, or keep climbing up when the view turns your stomach? So is stretching out of our comfort zone worth doing in daily life? It is!
Pushing past comfort and into the stretch zone requires characteristics that make us proud: discipline, courage, and self-confidence. Stretching ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually means asking more of ourselves. Asking more of ourselves inevitably leads to growth.
There is nothing wrong with the comfort zone. It’s a great place to be: you know what to expect, things are in place, routine is nice. But when you step out into the stretch zone, things happen. You get scared. You risk. You grow. You become. You get a little insight about how you function. And more than anything, you are awake and experiencing things you’ll remember.
In a culture that meets our every need, from heated car seats to fogless shower mirrors, we are comfortable. The stretch zone gives us an inner change of scenery. How refreshing!
Make the stretch zone part of daily life. Imagine, right now, five things you could do next week that would give you a sense of pride and accomplishment. Run farther than you ever have, or ask for the promotion you don’t think you’ll get. Whatever challenges you pick, make sure they mean something to you and will lead to a sense of growth. Do all five of them, and see if it reminds you of topping the climb or finishing the long day’s hike. As you learned on your course, stretching takes effort and courage, but the payoff is big. The effort alone can be enough to catapult you into new and uncharted territory. Happy Stretching!