Why Your Chase For Comfort Is Actually Causing You Stress
Paradoxically, chasing comfort in an effort to avoid the anxiety of discomfort might be what’s causing your stress.
I was so confused.
My family and I were in the car heading towards our cousin’s house for dinner and we had been talking about where I was deciding to go to college. My mom wanted me to stay in state to be closer to family and save money, but my dad was surprisingly open-minded. He asked me, “Why don’t you look at other colleges in other states? Try living somewhere else?”
I answered, “Well, I like Seattle. I’m comfortable here.”
And his response has stuck with me since.
“Comfort is why you’ll never grow.”
SEE ALSO: Why Forgiveness Is An Inside Job
Those are some harsh words
How do you feel when you hear that? I felt angry at him for calling me out and prescribing my future as if he knew me. Plus, why shouldn’t I strive for comfort? Isn’t that what we all want? To be in a place of satisfaction, contentment, and happiness? Is that such a bad thing? But the more I reflect on that moment, the more I realize what he was really trying to tell me. That comfort in itself isn’t bad. It’s when we let that comfort lead us to stagnation and limit our perspectives and learning experiences in this life.
I joined my district’s Little League baseball team when I was 11, which was late compared to most kids who had learned to swing a bat before they could walk. But even though I came in late in the game, I was so good at it. I picked it up quickly and was kind of a big shot.
*No autographs, please.
Then high school came around and my skill level started to cap while everyone else got better, faster, stronger. I could blame it on genetics and a late growth spurt, but the fact is, I ended up being one of only two people who didn’t make it to the varsity team my junior year. I’m sure you could relate when I say that was very embarrassing as a high school kid. There’s no happy ending where I power through the obstacles and become a star, so don’t hold your breath. I loved playing baseball, but instead of improving my game, I decided it just wasn’t for me and quit.
Moral of the story? I was spoiled when I accelerated to a comfortable level easily, which gave me the expectation that everything else will be easy. And when things got tough, I stopped challenging myself. I let my preference for comfort limit my ability. I was afraid of adversity and settled for mediocrity. I was taking it too easy. And this bled into so many other parts of my life.
Dammit, my dad was right.
Comfort causing anxiety?
Suffering is such a necessary part of the human condition that we will naturally create our own suffering if it isn’t directly thrown at us. And our imagination is most often worse than reality.
I continued doing comfortable things. I went to the school that was closest to me, kept my head down, studied what I was good at, took the first job that was offered to me and off I went into a safe and secure life. After witnessing everything my parents and grandparents were struggling through with their relationships, money, job security, I wanted to avoid all of that and correct course. It worked. I’ve built myself a safe foundation that affords me the privilege to even question all of this.
But now what?
Are you in the same spot as I am? Having done everything “right” according to your parents and the rest of society, but nothing that felt right for yourself? Are you comfortable, but bored, unsatisfied, unfulfilled, even useless? I guess being comfortable is not as great as it sounds. That lack of motion actually makes us antsy, uncomfortable, stuck. And I don’t know about you, but the more I try to avoid the suffering, the more prevalent it becomes. When you have nothing to worry about, you end up imagining more problems for yourself anyway, and sometimes, they’re worse than the real ones.
Is this a life crisis?
Comfort as an achievement is an illusion. We think we want it to become worry-free, but then we’re freer to worry when we have it.
I guess this is my quarter-life crisis. I know, you’re reading this and you think, Victor, you’re just being overly dramatic. Stop worrying so much! And I would agree with you! It’s what I’ve been telling myself all these years, but it also meant I’ve been shoving these feelings aside instead of cleaning it up. I am aware that my crisis might not be as intense as a lot of other people out there, but if you’re feeling anything similar to what I’m going through right now, I want to tell you, don’t dismiss it.
That’s the thing about feeling stuck. It doesn’t have to be this monumental crash where everything falls apart in order for you to address it. I realized this after spending the last year witnessing replays of my life, just in different environments. Sure, I worked on multiple projects within my company, but it was still the same thing over and over again, for people and companies I did not care about. When things get repetitive, it becomes familiar, and when things get familiar, there’s no growth, and when there’s no growth, there’s no real life. Living things don’t stay still.
Do me a favor: seek discomfort
I get it, being uncomfortable sucks. It’s scary, it’s unstable, it’s weird, it causes anxiety. If you were like me, we’ve been focusing too much on the negative aspects of discomfort, which is a very human thing. We’re wired to prepare for the worst because we’re survivors.
But what about what happens after this uncomfortable experience? What would you have learned? What would you have improved? What kind of opportunities might you find? Who knows, maybe if I listened to my dad and went to an out-of-state school, say Brown University, I would have met Emma Watson just as she started her studies, and we would have become best friends, and we would go scuba diving together every 3rd Friday morning.
I can dream, right?
Or maybe I would have stuck with baseball and got a full-ride to college and played in the minor leagues, eventually major league, where I would meet Ichiro Suzuki, and we would have become best friends, and we would make play catch together every 3rd Friday morning.
I don’t say all this with any regret, thinking, “Shoulda, woulda, coulda.” We can’t do anything about our past, so it’s no reason to stay stuck living there. The point is, I could have found myself in a more exciting, fulfilling, internally connected place if I didn’t care so much for comfort. Those dreams 100% did not happen because I didn’t take any chances. We all know the view is better at the top of the mountain, but it doesn’t come without the hike up. Appreciation is only deserved after hardship.
Will you do it?
Everyone has their own way of figuring out the importance of growth and progress, but I presume you’re one of those people who want to get ahead of things since you’re reading this right now. I hope that maybe some part of my experience could help you get out of that rut or prevent you from ever getting into one!
But I will also challenge you to say ‘no’ to things that you’re already familiar with (e.g. your friends, family, your current job, that new movie with the same plot as all the other ones), and say ‘yes’ to things that you’re scared of or don’t yet know what to expect (e.g. weird food, traveling to a small, foreign country, posting your thoughts or advertising your skills online). Seeking discomfort is an awesome strategy to increase your emotional intelligence and live the life you want. You’ll start to realize that comfort isn’t what it’s all cracked up to be and it’s way more satisfying in the end to be able to manage our discomfort and live a life worth writing about.
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