There's something about jumping (or being pushed) out of your comfort zone that really focuses the mind; gives you an appreciation for things that you previously took for granted. It’s all too easy to get comfortable with a certain way of life; an established set of beliefs; a particular group of friends. As humans, one of our primary instincts is to pursue pleasure and avoid pain. So, why would anyone actively spend their time (and, often, hard earned cash) seeking uncomfortable experiences?
I should probably set the tone early on by clarifying that the “uncomfortable experiences” that I have in mind have less to do with being tied up or whipped (sorry, perhaps a topic for another day), and more to do with immersing yourself in foreign cultures, striking up conversations with people you wouldn’t normally approach, and doing things that the sensible, grey-suited part of your brain tells you probably isn’t terribly bright.
I’ve had more than my fair share of uncomfortable experiences (alone and lost in a bad neighbourhood in NYC (in the pre-Giuliani era) late at night without a taxi in sight; staring down the side of a very steep mountain from the saddle of an out-of-control bike with unworkable brakes; walking, half-dazed and dehydrated, into a boxing ring in front of thousands of spectators and TV cameras for my first professional Thai boxing fight). However, not for a moment do I wish that I had not endured any of those experiences. Friends might try to tell me that it’s easy for me to say that now because I didn’t get mugged at gun-point; didn’t fall off the mountain on my wonky bike; wasn’t humiliated on national TV by a better Thai boxer. Well, to them I say: good point! But, shouldn’t life be about taking risks occasionally; enjoying that surge of adrenalin?
In another life, if I were to do some of the things I’ve done again, I’d probably be dead by now. Seemingly enraging a drunk looking, heavily armed Thai police officer on an overnight train from Bangkok by speaking very poor Thai to him (and quite possibly inadvertently insulting his mother in the process), and going for a “nice long walk” on my own just before dusk in the Daintree rainforest (look it up: it’s full of large, toothy, carnivorous creatures whose preferred prey are white-skinned, inquisitive, lone backpackers) jump instantly to mind as being perhaps a touch too risky to repeat.
Nonetheless, I’m still here (just - the out-of-control bike was just a smidge too uncomfortable to even look back on fondly). I can now reminisce about those experiences with a sense of satisfaction and personal pride - that I did things that I didn’t necessarily want to do at the time (because of fear of the unknown, or just because of good, old-fashioned fear) but that, having done those things, I’m glad that I did. They made me more adventurous, more willing to take a chance; to see what life can offer me.
It may not feel like it at the time but challenge and adversity makes us grow as humans. An easy life, free of drama and adversity, and soothed by hereditary wealth sounds like the ideal to many of us (me included, particularly when studying law at University and struggling to make ends meet). However, if you accept that life is about experiencing as much of the world as you can (and not just 5* hotels in Bali; fine dining; and the opera but also dingy backpacker hostels; remote landscapes in far-flung, sparsely inhabited, infrequently visited corners of the world; and encounters with people from all walks of life), then it is axiomatic that we have to continuously strive to take ourselves out of our comfort zones; to engage in activities that might at first appear (or, indeed, continue to be) daunting in order to experience as much of life as we can.
Footnote: I am currently in Australia, fighting the urge to run away from all of the snakes, spiders, crocodiles, sharks and other creatures that look to be licking their lips whenever they catch a glimpse of me.Posted by Dom Ward