Comfort Zone as Irony

Spend enough time talking about professional development and eventually you’ll bump into The Comfort Zone. 

Sometimes, awareness of that imaginary land helps us see opportunities for pushing boundaries and climbing out of quicksand.   Other times, referencing our comfort zone is like playing a “get out of jail free” card.  The phrase automatically grants some sort of quasi-acceptable excuse for staying stuck.  We admit something from beyond the horizon is calling, but are put off by the perceived difficulty of the trek, so we legitimize the current position. 
Teams have comfort zones as well.  I’ve heard people talk about their group’s comfort zone as if it were some vortex sucking them down into unified mediocrity.  Once I worked with a group who clearly yearned for change but kept pulling back to the comfort zone defense.  In fact, little, if anything, was comfortable!  Their interactions were infused with distrust and territorialism.   The only things remotely “comfortable” were:

  • familiarity with the situation
  • a common language of dissatisfaction
  • a tacit agreement about the futility of pushing for better

These people clearly were rooted in some zone, but a better name might’ve been the Status Quo Zone or the Mess We’ve Made Zone.  Seeing the irony in their uncomfortable “comfort zone”, helped them realize they had little to lose by trying different things. 
How about you?  Ready to venture somewhere new?

To start, give your current zone a name which honestly reflects its characteristics.  What does it look and feel like?  What are the rules here?  (My zone is defined by the lilac scent of control, quickly answered emails and neatly folded laundry.  How embarrassing.)  

Now identify another place you may want to go.  Be more specific than Anywhere But Here or Aways Out Yonder.  Choose a landscape that will support your goals, desires and even barely whispered dreams.  Harmonious Partnering Zone or Creative Ease Zone, perhaps?  Imagine going through your day in this land.  What about it supports and encourages you?  How can you begin to build that zone as homebase?

*Originally published in Jump In newsletter September 2009.


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