The Comfort Zone

With apologies to Rod Serling:  You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey to a dreadful place where you hyperventilate as your heart pounds, you break into a cold sweat and you have to do things you don’t like.  You are leaving…The Comfort Zone.

My earliest memories of being in an operating room were from when I was 7.  My arms were strapped down after an IV was inserted. I was mildly sedated. I looked up to see the giant, black anesthesia mask descending. The gas smelled strange, and I felt like I was suffocating. It was at that moment that I realized I was claustrophobic. My panic attack probably lasted only seconds before I was out, but when I woke up, I remember feeling like I had just surfaced from a deep ocean dive, gratefully sucking in fresh air. My claustrophobia is fairly mild. I don’t freak out in elevators, tunnels or anything like that. But I won’t wear those awful plastic Halloween masks with the microscopic holes where your nostrils should be…or a full-face motorcycle helmet. For me, the fear has always been about not being able to breathe.

So when I had the opportunity to go snorkeling in the beautiful, clear waters of Hawaii, I was torn. It meant wearing a mask that tightly covered my nose, and relying on a thin plastic tube as my life line to the surface…and air. But it also meant engaging in a wonderful sports activity with my family and entering a gorgeous environment with amazing sea creatures.  I had to get out of my Comfort Zone. I took the plunge, literally and figuratively–constantly, silently talking myself off the ledge throughout the entire process. And the benefits were beyond my imagination. While snorkeling off the Makai Pier, we were treated to a visit by several majestic sea turtles. I got to swim right next to sea turtles! How cool is that? And it would never have happened if I didn’t push myself into the Discomfort Zone.

Besides being a mild claustrophobic, I’m also a closet introvert. Mingling at business functions is definitely out of my Comfort Zone. But more than two decades of practice in the business world have taught me how to put a game face on and dive head first into the ring. I don’t enjoy making small talk with strangers in designer suits at cocktail parties, but I do it. And the business benefits have been rewarding.

Ultimately, to get out of your Comfort Zone, you need to first ask yourself,  “Self, what’s the worst that could happen?” and respond with confidence that there is probably a 90% chance or greater that the worst won’t happen. (That second part takes practice.) Then you have to remind yourself of the many good things that could occur. For instance, you could swim with a sea turtle! Or the new person you meet at a party could become your next client, business investor, best friend or significant other.

Having trouble getting out of your Comfort Zone? Be willing to ask for help. I’m sure you have family or friends who would be happy to provide direction. And don’t forget the GPS (Get Past ‘Scared’). Being brave isn’t a lack of fear. It’s moving forward in spite of it. If you can push past the hesitancy, you’ll find there are so many wonderful opportunities that await you…outside…The Comfort Zone.


  1. Sue Bucher says:

    Once again, awesome article. Right now I am being forced to leave my baby in Greensboro until Christmas. Talk about DISCOMFORT zone! I’m sure she’ll be fine….it’s really me I’m worried about. Thanks for sharing. I didn’t know about the mild claustrophobia. I definitely talk too much and don’t listen enough…I should have known this about you!

  2. Barbara says:

    This has become a daily challenge for me – and, as always, your perspective and help are always right on – and always there. Thanks, Donna for the support for us all!

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