Not too long ago, my family picked up Chinese food. I hadn’t read a fortune cookie for awhile, so I went for one. I tend to read into things a lot. I look for signs in everything and I see meaning in all sorts of happenings around me. So this time, I looked at the three cookies on the table and picked one up like a tarot card; I chose the one that I felt drawn towards. I know, a lot of overthinking about a takeout treat, but stay with me here. I cracked open a fortune cookie and saw the words “comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort.”
Immediately, I liked this idea. I recognized that I’ve given this exact advice to friends. When friends are stressed or feeling challenged, I find myself reminding them “Don’t be afraid of this. Your comfort zone has never stayed the same size.” I say to them, when we think of our limits or comfort zones, we can see that we aren’t comfortable with the same things year to year. You haven’t been locked with the same limits from age 14 to 17, or 19 to 22. How do you feel about that? The fact is, you don’t have to feel any particular way about it. That’s just life. Like I said, I believe that everything happens for a reason, and those reasons are usually lessons. Life is challenging and humans naturally adapt. Change is inevitable and you must get used to it, but the good news is that you always have, so you simply will adjust again. When you refuse to expand your comfort zone, it’s like making the border of that zone out of bricks. When you surround yourself with a brick wall like that and it can be a huge challenge to grow that space. Comfort zones cannot just be brick walls that keep up a solid barrier against change. In fact, if you view comfort zones this way, they might keep you feeling safe for a long time, but they can also keep things out or keep you from going anywhere. Life will give you plenty of brick walls; your comfort zone shouldn’t be one of them.
Once upon a time, I was assigned one of the best books I’ve ever read: The Last Lecture.
The book is a beautiful collection of stories and lessons that Randy Pausch has gone through, and he shares them from the perspective of a college professor, father of young children, husband, and someone recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. The Last Lecture’s stories are so profound and throughout its chapters, Pausch uses the metaphor of “brick walls” to explain how he achieved every childhood dream that he once thought to be impossible. He basically says what we all know to be true; nothing worth having comes easily. He uses this metaphor to explain that challenges and set-backs (brick walls) aren’t there to keep you out, they’re only there to stop those who don’t want it badly enough. Brick walls don’t have to be impossible. In fact, if you’re willing to climb over them, you’ve gone farther than most and you’re one step closer than anyone else has gotten. Life is full of brick walls and each one you climb over is another expansion of your comfort zone.
At different times in my life, I’ve embraced brick walls and sometimes I’ve given up. My life remained unchanged every time I gave up. I stayed in the same place, I was comfortable, and nothing scared me: my comfort zone never expanded. The best stories of my life have come from embracing brick walls. Every new club I joined, every leadership position I took, every job interview I did has scared me and tested me, but I’ve learned new things with every change. The most obvious expansion is, of course, working for the opportunity to intern abroad and getting a scholarship to do so. In that specific case, I saw brick walls in action. I watched many friends apply to go abraod and give up. Some are so daunted by the process. I’ve seen people that get so close and can’t follow through with the it, but even more people that never start. I’m proud to say that I climbed over a huge brick wall and arrived in Australia, but another thing about brick walls is that they don’t stop, they only change. There will always be another one around the corner, but you get to choose which ones are worth climbing and how badly you want to climb them.
My latest brick wall has been graduate school. I applied for graduate schools a few months ago, but with that there were so many issues, discrepancies, and failures. Recently I’ve committed to a Master’s program: this is my greatest brick wall yet. Few people in my family have been to college—with most of those being in my generation—and out those that have earned degrees, only two have attended graduate school, both in business fields. My future–in psychology–looks different from those in my family, and while I’m thankful to have their support, none of us know the next steps for this new journey. I’m about to make a big move across the state, join a new University, and be one step closer to a huge goal. I am terrified. In fact, I was ready to be terrified. I applied to three international graduate schools and two domestic schools, all the while knowing that I would be making a big move no matter the outcome. If I was accepted to any, I would move somewhere for school; if I were rejected by all, I would move internationally and work to gain citizenship somewhere new and find a job. Regardless of fully knowing my plans, I’m still nervous for the reality of change.
As anxious as I am, I know enough to know that when you’re scared of something, but you feel ready; that’s exactly the time to act. Just when I felt scared of change, I went ahead and sent a deposit. Like I said, I look for signs in everything happening around me, I also believe that everything happens for a reason, so of course it makes sense that I would receive a sign telling me to trust the change. I’m deciding to trust the fortune cookie that told me “comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort,” and I’m climbing over the brick wall. There’s something over there I have to see.