MOVING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Our comfort zone is the environment in which we feel safe - the big 'comfy sofa' of our lives. It is physical, emotional, cultural, intellectual and financial. It is made up of the expected and the accepted - the edges are defined by our assumptions and prejudices, by our fear and laziness.
There are two good reasons for moving out of our comfort zone: for our own growth and well-being, and for the growth and well-being of others. Sometimes we are forced to move out by circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes we choose to step out and discover the world beyond our assumptions.
A geographical move is the most obvious way of moving out of our comfort zone, when we must take on a new way of life, make new friends, learn a new language, etc. But there are many other ways in which we can leave our comfort zone, such as: letting go of a hurt, making a sacrifice or changing our attitude. It is uncomfortable, for example, for white people to understand the reality of racism as experienced by a black person. Likewise, it is uncomfortable for the privileged to understand the problems of homelessness and poverty - especially when they are on our doorstep.
Our comfort zone often shields us from uncomfortably truths - it enables us to 'look the other way'. It can also encourage us to live with what we know to be lies, because to admit the truth would be too humiliating. Just as our big 'comfy sofa' protects us from the world outside, so it hides the parts of ourselves we don't want others to see.
Moving out of our comfort zone can be embarrassing, frightening, painful, traumatic. But it is probably the single most important step we can make towards creating peace and understanding in our hearts and in the world.
My days as a refugee will remain in my memory as one of the richest experiences of my life. I was only nineteen years old. More than anything I feared not seeing my beloved parents and grandmother again. I like to remember my grandmother as she was when I was a child. She made the most delicious bamboo soup.
With the communist seizure of Laos in 1975, thousands of refugees crossed the Mekong River from Laos to Thailand. The Pathet Lao, the communist regime, organised assemblies for the ideological instruction of the population, while civil servants and students were sent for weeks to do physical labour in the countryside. Some high-ranking officials were sent to re-education camps. As a student I didn't have much time to concentrate on my studies.
I had no hope, no future... and I feared I would be forced to join the army. There was no option but to leave my beloved country, family and friends. I fled to Thailand as a refugee.
The Thai authorities considered refugees as illegal immigrants for entering the country without a visa. Most refugees there experience the anxiety of not being protected by any law and try to reach a refugee camp as quickly as possible. There they become 'Displaced Persons'. I spent almost four and a half years in a refugee camp before being accepted by the Australian Government. But life in the refugee camp taught me a lesson of great value. Life becomes more valuable if you experience hard times - fear, loneliness, pain.
Living in Australia has changed my life immensely. I have come to a country that has a different culture, language and way of life. I have learnt to integrate even when it has been uncomfortable to do so.
Fortunately, I had the opportunity of living with an Australian family who I adore as much as my real parents and family. I've learnt to live with two cultures. It has meant accepting the Australian way of life and learning to speak another language. It has forced me to move out of my comfort zones of language and culture. But has life has changed for the better. I can't believe how much warmth and love I have received from my Australian family. They have restored my confidence and enabled me to live in this adoptive country - I don't feel a stranger anymore.
It's a challenge to move out of your comfort zone, but there is always someone or something waiting to help you - as long as you are prepared to help yourself.
Phonephet Chantharasy, Laos/Australia
For the past thirteen years, I have been employed as a military engineer in the Air Force. This profession required me to develop abilities that did not utilise my natural skills. I wonder why I have stayed so long - why am I still here?
For fear of moving out of my comfort zone, I have convinced myself that fringe benefits have somehow compensated for my lack of interest in my work. I have placed too much emphasis on the benefits of materialistic gains. As a result of my urge to maintain financial security (and my comfort zone), I have sacrificed my prospects of a career better adapted to my personal needs and interests.
Lately, I have been questioning how 'comfortable' my comfort zone really is, when it means spending ten hours a day doing a job I don't find fulfilling. It is time to overcome my fears. In spite of family pressures to maintain financial security at all costs, I feel the moment has come to redefine my 'comfort' zone. I have decided to finish my two year contract in the military, and to pursue an education and a career in psychology.
Lucie Monet, Canada
The very first time I stepped out of my comfort zone must have been when I was born. I'm sure it was rather an unpleasant experience. Since the I've gone through less significant stages of moving from one zone to another: getting out of bed every morning, breaking up with a boyfriend, or the first time I blew someone else's child's nose, for instance.
The next big move, however, was when I gave up cigarettes. I'm sure dying of cancer would be much more uncomfortable than this, but I found the process very difficult.
I think the point and the problem of comfort zones is that you actually have to get out of them to see how good or bad they are. Withdrawing for a period of time maybe? Once you've moved out of one comfort zone (this is a process that can be both long and painful), the next move is easier to make.
I guess it's like a toothbrush - a new one feels too hard and hurts your mouth, then it becomes more comfortable with use.
Astrid Eskeland, Norway
I am 28 and a civil engineer. Two years ago I got married to Joung-Suk. I worked for my company for two and a half years in Korea. And then my wife and I resigned from our jobs to go to Australia for two years to do voluntary work in Melbourne.
It was not easy for us to give up our settled, material life. One night after our decision to go to Australia, I asked myself, 'Why don't we just stay in Korea and take it easy?' It might be all right for me to go - but what about my wife? I realised that going to Australia meant a very uncertain future. For several nights I couldn't sleep. I thought, 'If you don't go, won't you regret it?' The answer was, 'Yes, of course, and I know if I don't go this time, I will definitely want to go as some other point'. I found what I was really looking for was inner freedom.
We've been in Melbourne for eight months now, and we know it was the right decision for us to come. If you don't try, you will never know.
Yeon-Yuk Joung, Korea
Travelling or working overseas literally distances you from your family, friends and country. A different country and culture means that you have no choice but to take chances. Visiting secondary schools in Britain, as part of a visiting program, I learnt how getting out of my comfort zones, and talking about issues that I would ordinarily be uncomfortably talking about in public, could be used to help people who may one day be in a position similar to my own.
By offering friendship or an insight into another way of life, thinking or feeling, you touch the lives of others. Listening is an undervalued skill that builds trust between people. Never underestimate the importance of this quality. Any small personal contribution, where you give emotionally or spiritually of yourself, may help, or even prove inspirational, to those struggling with similar problems. Showing your vulnerability makes you human and weak. But everyone identifies with this, whether they admit it or not.
A supportive environment in which to be yourself is not always available. But if you start by changing yourself or by offering support to others, in time they will reciprocate. I believe there is a real need amongst young people for positive role models. Teenagers appreciate people who speak honestly about their emotions and thoughts and, like most of us, they need to be listened to - not just spoken to.
Jean Roberts, Papua New Guinea/Australia
In December 1989, a rumour spread throughout Liberia, West Africa. It warned that on Christmas Day there would be rain. If the rain touched you, you would die. On December 25th, rebel soldiers invaded Liberia from the north in an attempt to overthrow President Samuel Kanyon Doe. The so-called rain was a rain of bullets; the rumour had been the rebels' way of warning people. Seven years later, Liberia lies devastated by a brutal civil war as various rebel groups continue to vie for power. That Christmas Day changed the lives of Liberians forever; it also changed mine.
I first set food on African soil at the age of four. My father was a dentist who came from a poor background and had live his life in pursuit of money. Having reached this goal by the age of thirty-two, he felt a deep void, realising that if he had experienced all that life offered, perhaps there wasn't much point in living. Through a friend, he found a personal relationship with Jesus that brought the peace and purpose he had been searching for. Out of gratitude to God and a desire to help others, he sold his thriving dental practice, large house and two cars to embrace a new and uncertain life as a dentist in West Africa. Thus, my family made Nigeria our home.
After eight years in Nigeria we moved to Liberia. As a teenager, I quickly grew to love my new home. My international school provided a safe 'bubble' and weekends were spent at the beach with friends. Life was easy, comfortably, predictable.
Then in March 1990, my world fell apart. Since December, the rebel soldiers had slowly been taking control of the country and by March controlled all except the capital city, Monrovia, where we lived. Tensions were high. One night, as my family sat huddled around a short-wave radio, the news came: the US embassy was 'strongly advising' all US citizens to leave immediately. I arrived in school the next day to find half the students already gone. Many of my friends left before I could say goodbye. To this day I have not seen them again.
My family carefully packed three suitcases and put the rest of our belongings in large steel drums for safety. We all thought the war would end in a matter of months; I expected to be back in Liberia by the end of the summer. Our flight, however, was the last to leave before the rebels took over the airport, destroying buildings and blowing potholes in the runway. It has remained closed ever since.
We never returned to Liberia. By the end of the summer, the country was in complete anarchy. Our home had been looted and ransacked, and the twelve square mile compound where we had lived now housed over 10,000 refugees, many on the verge of starvation. We heard horrific reports of brutal ethnic murders, of parents killed in front of their children, of terrifying massacres.
I was devastated. Angry and bitter, I questioned God. How could he let this happen? How could he take away everything I loved? Our Liberian friends didn't deserve this. Where was the justice?
It wasn't until a year later, when we moved to Ivory Coast, that real healing began in me. My father was assigned to work with Liberian refugees. Hearing their testimonies of God's unfailing faithfulness in the face of death, pricked me. All I had lost was material possessions, yet I had turned against God. They had almost lost their lives but never their faith. I remember one girl of about fifteen describing walking across a river during her escape from Liberia and feeling dead bodies bump against her legs. She had also seen a desperate mother dump her baby into a river, unable to provide food for her child. Yet this fifteen year old's trust in God remained strong; she was grateful her family had survived. What a challenge to my own weak and faltering faith! I only trusted God when things were comfortably; thrown out of my comfort zone, I began to hate God.
God allowed the evacuation experience to force me out of my safe net and to teach my greater dependence on him. Ironically, my sense of calling in life grew out of my pain and bitterness. Four years later while at university in Chicago, I worked with Bosnian refugees who were trying to make a new life in a strange, unwelcoming city. My job was to buy and deliver relief supplies for newly arrived families, many of whom had experienced deep trauma. To my surprise, I discovered that I could relate to many of the emotions they were bombarded with: anger, confusion, despondency, grief and loss. My own experience became an entry point into their experiences. Being unwillingly torn from a beloved country and losing everything because of war was something I could understand.
I became very close to a young woman who had not seen her husband in three years as he was still fighting in Bosnia. Her five year old son did not remember his own father. She showed me photographs of her friends and relatives, many of whom had been killed or severely injured. I shared my experience with her and a deep bond developed.
I began to wonder how to prevent such tragedies and how to rebuild countries that have undergone terrible ethnic conflict. Many years in international schools had shown me that, when channelled, diversity can be a tremendous asset. I vowed to spend my life helping victims of ethnic conflict and to learn all I could about peace building. Soon I will start my master's degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution and I hope eventually to work with an organisation that seeks to bring healing to conflict areas.
I can now look back on all I experienced with gratitude; gratitude that God used a brutal and ugly war to show me that nothing is out of his control; that he can bring growth and healing in the midst of suffering. For me, it took an evacuation experience to learn to continually step out of the comfortably and to embrace risks. I once heart the saying, 'A ship is safe in harbour but that's not what ships are for'. I believe that with my whole heart.
Kristen Tiedje, USA
I'm one of those friendly 'checkout chicks' in an average Sydney supermarket. Six months ago I wouldn't have known one end of a cash register from the other, nor wanted to. I was cosy with my life in South Africa; I had my family, friends and a place at university. All was mapped out as I wanted it. God, however, seems to have had other ideas.
My parents were offered a year's sabbatical in Australia and I felt to take a year off and go with them. It wasn't until we arrived in Sydney that I realised how out of my depth I felt in the situation I had so naively jumped into. Moving out of the known and into the unknown has its pros and cons. Mentally I am able to see all the pros but emotionally I often feel the cons. By moving out of my usual parameters, I was forced to grow and reach out to others. I have learnt to smile when I feel like screaming, the customer always being right, and also to be tolerant. I have had to make friends and not rely on family. But often I feel aimless and without purpose. It is easier to look back and see the path that God has led you along, but all too often the present looks foggy and it seems you've lost the blueprint of your future. This is a lesson in trust which I am still to learn.
Moving out of your comfort zone is a chance for growth... take it if you dare.
Michelle Horn, Republic of South Africa
When I was 18 my family decided I should go to New Zealand. You may not understand what it's like, coming from an island like Samoa to places like New Zealand and Australia. We have very few modern comforts - our life is simple. People are very friendly. We take time to smile and greet each other.
The evening of my farewell, my father said to me, 'Now you are going to New Zealand where there are rich people with fancy houses and cars. However, never judge people by their appearance or what they have, but by their hearts.'
The next morning I left for New Zealand. It struck me what a beautiful place it is. I was amazed at the tall buildings, the houses, the traffic and all the electric lights. But it wasn't long before I began to feel very unhappy. Even with all the comforts and beauty, I felt there was something missing. I missed the simple, warm, smiling faces. So I decided to go home. I didn't tell my family; I just turned up in Samoa. My mother and family were pleased to have me home. My father was out but when he came back he just asked me if I was sick. I told him I was homesick and lonely and that I hated the people in New Zealand.
My father was silent for a while, then he said that I was a very selfish girl. 'Did it ever occur to you that some of those people might also be lonely? Who's going to take the first step to make friends? People only get lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.' He also said, 'The hate you have in you will poison you bit by bit. Only through love will you find happiness.'
I felt angry with myself because I knew he was right, and I was wrong. So I went back to New Zealand. I tried to live the way my father said, but when I came across people who called me names like 'Coconut', and said, 'Go back where you belong!', it hurt. I felt unwanted and began to feel ashamed of being Samoan. Then I thought of my life at home and how happy it was. And I realised that if I was ashamed of being Samoan, I would be ashamed of my own family.
I had to sit down and think about the good things from my home and country. I realised we have so much to be proud of, and that I needed to accept who I am. When I accepted it I felt at peace. I would like to apologise to any New Zealanders for my bad feelings.
Fetu Paulo, Western Samoa
Embarking on a visit to Syria in 1994, I felt nervous of my first real taste of the Arab world - so different from my comfortably Western existence. Television images of religious fanaticism, violence, anti-Western feeling and human rights atrocities were all too prominent in my mind.
But I was exposed to a picture of the Muslim world which differed greatly from the one I was half expecting. The people we encountered, none of whom we had met before, were extremely friendly, really opening their hearts when they heard my Dad speaking Arabic. I was struck by a level of religious devotion which I had never encountered before, and a much less materialistic culture than in the West.
The most important lesson I learnt was that the Arabs are just as human as we are. They have their faults, but then so do we. I had come to regard my Western lifestyle as the only true way of life; everything else was foreign and alien. I realised that it was this attitude, in both the West and the East, that was pushing the two cultures further apart. In an attempt to help bridge this crucial divide, I have decided to learn more about the Arab world by studying History and Arabic at university.
I honestly do not know where my studies will take me, I just know that what I am doing is right, and it will take me where it will.
John Everington, UK
My comfort zone became a discomfort zone when I realised I was willingly surrendering to the mediocrity of life. From week to week I shuffled along like a conveyor belt. Like many inquisitive minds with lagging decisiveness, I heard myself opening or closing casual chatter with 'there must be more to life'.
I have been given many gifts, including freedom of choice and mobility, in the quest for personal 'happiness'. I left my mob, family and friends and set off for England. As the eldest girl in a Vietnamese family, my parents did not approve of my decision. Somewhere over the Pacific it hit me that I had to make a life for myself in a foreign country, and there was no turning back. Feeling alienated would exacerbate my homesickness and become a 'two in one' knockout. One by one, I faced my fears.
I found a place to live and a work contract within a week. Very soon I had a library subscription, became a member of a church congregation and found the cheapest pint of milk around town.
A seemingly ordinary moment captures the essence of my spirit. I was strolling through Hyde Park, surrounded by the chaos of London. I was walking by myself. No companion. No chance of meeting friends on this Sunday afternoon. With dark skies above, light rain and wind, the odd passer-by may have seen a lost child or a broken-hearted girl. Miserable? ...I was as happy as a pig in mud! I was 12.000 km away from home - alone, but definitely not lonely!
The richness of life is yours to claim. Take a long, deep breath and come to life!
Goretti Nguyen, Vietnam/Australia