The Uncomfortable 'Comfort Zone'

May Koura - Nov 19, 2014

I was bored. The workweek was killing me, but so were the weekends. I dreaded weekends; they lacked the routine I abused to distract me from thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life. I was living in my “comfort zone”, which oddly enough was uncomfortable and didn’t feel like a zone but more like a cage that no longer fit.

My sister was telling me she had booked a trip to climb Mt Toubkal, and I don’t know what happened, but something took over, and I blurted out in a cry of desperation "I’m coming with you!". There was a moment of silence. The words shocked me as much as they shocked her. I had often mocked her for her travel choices, but I was now desperate to break free from the numb state I had gotten myself into. I longed for something similar to an electrotherapy session.

We often use the phrase “comfort zone” synonymously with the word “familiar”. I challenge that notion. Mt. Toubkal was far from familiar; I had no previous understanding of what breathing at high altitude was like, how tiresome carrying a backpack all day would be, or that a trip like this would mean my boots would be covered in mule feces. But I found comfort in that there were no soft skills required and no beating around the bush. If you were cold, you wore what would keep you warm and didn’t care if your look was frumpy or “so 1995”. If you were hungry, you ate what was available.  My choices took on a different perspective. There was a clearly defined objective that everyone understood and was committed to: we were going to climb this mountain. For the duration of 3 days, life was simple.

I had rarely been as at ease with myself as I was when I was breathless, sweaty, and tired. The simplicity was unfamiliar yet everything was clear, genuine and pure. My senses were all aligned with my thoughts. I could feel, smell, hear, and see what my mind was processing. All of me was in the same place. I was reminded that I was part of something grand, that I was part of the greater scheme of things, of an ecosystem, of a universe. I was tiny and trivial, but I belonged.

The climb was not easy, but then again, most things worthwhile aren’t. My eyes witnessed views of sheer magnificence that my imagination will never be able to accurately recreate. I was quick to abandon my camera, which proved completely inadequate at capturing the awesomeness of the mountain. I decided to simply and wholly absorb the moment. My mind, heart and soul were living in the present.

My perspective had been forever changed. I figured that I don’t have to stay in any situation that drains me. I don’t have to act, behave, or think in any particular way. What is perceived as out of character for me could easily become characteristic of me. 

What I had once labeled as a comfort zone, was actually a figment of my mind - a prison cell carefully constructed by unfounded fears. On the journey to Mt. Toubkal I discovered I was capable of things I didn’t think possible. I experienced a sense of being whole, a state I didn’t know existed. I don’t know if I’ll ever understand why I had so diligently “protected” myself from experiencing my life on a deeper level. I was missing out on so much.

Comfort should be viewed as a “state -of- mind” not a “zone”. By using the word “zone” to describe how you go about living life you’re bound to hit disappointment and frustration. The word literally carries a static connotation not a dynamic one, and hence is counter intuitive. It’s only natural for us to want to learn, to see, to feel and to explore and only by doing so can we really consider ourselves alive.  

I am no longer obsessing over what I want to do with my life, I’m going to go out there and live it!

May Koura -