The Uncomfort Zone: a trite essay on changing one's life (sue me)
In his non-fiction book On Writing, Stephen King writes, "I think timid writers like (passive verbs) for the same reason timid lovers like passive partners. The passive voice is safe. There is no troublesome action to contend with.”
Over a few drinks the other night, my friend and I discussed this idea of passivity in other aspects of our lives, and how we surround ourselves with people who make us feel comfortable. A passive person will surround himself with passive friends, because for a timid guy, there’s nothing more uncomfortable than a wild, confident soul who meets life with guns a blazin’.
But of course, chocolate cake dipped in chocolate with chocolate sprinkles on top is still just...chocolate. And a passive person surrounded by passive friends will remain passive, despite his intentions to do something extraordinary.
We strive for the Comfort Zone.
But the Comfort Zone should actually be renamed to the Uncomfort Zone, because the zone you’re settled in is the same zone that denies you the place in life where you’d actually be more comfortable: having achieved your dream of publishing a book, or getting that degree, or starting your own business, starting that blog, yada, yada, yada.
Successful people surround themselves with successful people. Don’t like the word “successful?” Then substitute the word “passionate.” It all boils down to the same thing.
There are many examples of accomplished people who happened to know each other during their formative years. Bud Selig and Herb Kohl, Robin Williams and Christopher Reeve, Al Gore and Tommy Lee Jones, the Facebook and Google guys, etc., and the drive and passion of these people helped to instill drive and passion in each other.
When I was in college with a goal in mind, it was much easier – much more comfortable – to head to Schnooner’s for a dozen quarter taps of soapy Hamms than to write that paper, send that resume, attend that concert.
Twenty five years later, I find myself in a similar predicament of my own making (always of my own making – I point fingers at no one). I’ve been in a writers’ group for eight years now. Two of us have self-published books, one has a few short story awards under his belt, a few haven’t finished anything, but none of us has achieved what we set out to do all those years ago: publish a book through an agent and make money at it.
And here’s the thing: most of the time, we’re all okay with that. We get together and we read. If we haven’t written anything that week, that’s okay. We enjoy each other’s company, we give a bit of advice, and if we do mention specific goals, no one holds us accountable to them.
How warm. How fuzzy.
But do any of us actually drive the other person to achieve?
I think not.
The website, Live your Legend, asks the question: of the five or ten people you spend the most time with, are they passionate? Do they inspire you? If the answer is no, then it’s time to find new friends.
Please note that it doesn’t say, “discard your old friends.” But it does place responsibility on each of us to leave our comfort zones where we are warm, safe and settled, and try a different tactic that – if luck holds – will only make us uncomfortable for a short while.
I’ve been guilty of coasting through life. But if I can get enough people like me in a room at one time, then the drive and passion I have will be reinforced. Unproductive spells will be unacceptable. Goals will be communicated and adhered to. Networks will be formed, contacts made.
Onward to the Uncomfort Zone.