Humans run toward comfort. We always have. From our most ancient ancestors to today, we work our entire lives to achieve and enjoy comfort. It’s a reason why nomadic cultures become permanent cultures and it’s a reason why stone age cultures become bronze age and then iron age cultures and it’s a reason why individuals join with others to become communities.
There is comfort in strong, secure, permanent lives. And that desire for comfort is as important to us today as it was in our ancestors. It just looks different for us, of course.
In my own life, I have almost always run towards comfort: During high school and college, I was obsessed with getting a degree so I could get a good job. I worked hard at part-time jobs and ignored most extra curricular activities and other personal develop opportunities so I could save up money for school. It’s not a surprise that I ran toward the psychological comfort of a steady job. I was one of the first in my family to get a college degree and enjoy the prospect of a career that wasn’t a fickle trade.
In my junior year of college, I realized that I didn’t want a “job” but I completed my degree just to be able to complete it. That decision was incredibly freeing and helped me enjoy my college experience considerably more. And right after college I started my first business. Although it failed, that failure was an invaluable education that I value as much or more than the degree-achieved letters behind my name.
After the failure of that first business, I ran back to comfort again and got a job. My wife and I had been living in rentals the first couple years of our marriage and we wanted something permanent and comfortable. I worked for a couple of years and got that house in the suburbs and the car.
Then I grew restless again and fled from the comfort of a job and started another business. This time it did well and we’ve been enjoying the success of that business ever since. But business success, although wonderfully fulfilling, comes with an often overlooked negative: I become comfortable. I build systems and processes in my business, along with a measure of expertise and customer loyalty, all of which combine to allow me to run my business almost in my sleep.
Comfort sounds good but there’s a problem with it. We become dull, lazy, weak. We let our guard down. We don’t push as hard. We become in-grown. We become fat and soft.
It reminds me of those times when you sleep too much. You end up struggling through your day in even more of a funk than if you didn’t get enough sleep the night before. That’s what comfort does to our entire lives.
In spite of the way comfort makes us, I think it’s in our DNA to struggle to achieve comfort. We work for job security and a nice house and a comfortable retirement.
But I don’t think that’s how we should really be living our lives.
Consider anyone who has ever done something great. Consider anyone who has ever achieved success (however you define it) in your field of interest. Consider those whose names become the stuff of legend.
None of them ran towards comfort. They fled from it. They ran towards the unknown. They learned to tolerate risk. Anyone who has ever achieved a goal or dream in life did so because they stretched beyond their zone of comfort and risked something…
… while the rest of the world looked on in awe from our comfortable lives and proclaimed “I wish I could achieve something similar.”
As an example, consider something as simple as someone who has achieved a healthy, fit lifestyle. They didn’t do it by being comfortable — on the couch, eating chips, watching TV. They fled from comfort and sweated through the consistent discipline of eating healthy and working out… and the results are obvious.
If you have a goal or dream or desire in your life, you won’t get it by pursuing comfort. You’ll only get it by fleeing comfort.
I’m not saying that you need to sell your house or quit your job (but maybe you do need to do that). I’m not about to sell my house or shut down my business because it’s successful. And I think it’s good to have some sense of security — a sort-of “homebase” in life that you can return to when you’ve been battered by the storms.
I am saying that you need to consider your goals and realize that comfort can actually keep you from those goals.
Maybe you should keep your house (especially if you have a family) but maybe it’s time to cut back on the hours you’re working at your job or putting in front of the TV and explore how you can redirect that new-found time toward the goals you’ve been delaying. Yes, it will feel uncomfortable to make that change… that’s the point.
I’ve been complaining for a couple of years that I’ve reached a plateau in my business that I need to break free from.
And in the past year, I’ve tried to break free by doing different things: Building new brands, implementing new business models, investing in real estate, refining my target market even more, publishing a book, pitching more aggressively, implementing more joint ventures, studying like crazy… and more. It’s been good and the results are there. But when I am completely truthful with myself, I realize that I’m not really stretching beyond that zone of comfort like I should be doing. I’m not really fleeing from comfort. I’ve been doing all of these things from the relative safety of my comfort.
And that needs to change.
So this week, I’m pushing myself even further. Further than I ever have before. I’m stripping my business of a variety of comfortable aspects and I’m implementing some entirely new systems and methods for growth. As I write this blog, I’m super-nervous, almost to the point of not sleeping at night.
And that’s awesome! I haven’t felt this way in years about my business and I love it. I feel like I’m on the cusp of something exciting but I’m also worried that if I find it to be too much of a challenge, I’ll slip back toward comfort in my business.
I need to think on this more. And I’ll tell you more about it at the end of the week. (Right now, I’m up to my eyeballs in change).
In the meantime, I’d like you to think about what you’re doing to run toward comfort and whether your dreams and goals are actually only achievable if you flee from comfort.