Is your job AMAZING or just adequate? Do you think you’re happy at work or do you know, definitely? Does a cushy corporate job fill you with excitement at the thought of finally being stress free? You’re most likely on a one-way path to danger-zone, and Kenny Loggins isn’t going to be there to save you!
Many of my friends and colleagues are perpetually searching for that perfect job, that job that will give them all of the comfort they’ve ever dreamt of. A few of my friends have actually found it! How amazing would a job like that be?
The truth is, that thing you’ve been searching for your whole life, that’s your comfort zone. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from every one of my mentors and trainees, comfort zones are poison, and it is all too easy to become too comfortable at your job..
Let Me Introduce You to Your Comfort Zone
What is your comfort zone? I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase several times in your life. A comfort zone is any situation or place in which you feel completely stress free and safe.
This feels amazing, doesn’t it? How great would life be if it was completely stress free?
… It would actually be nonexistent.
Stress is an essential part of life. Without stress there is no growth, there is no life. There is nothing.
Why the Butterfly Died
I would like to share with you a short fable I heard a long time ago about a boy, a guru, and a butterfly.
The little boy see’s a guru with a strange thing in his hands. He asks the guru what it is and the guru responds with, “It’s a cocoon.Inside the cocoon is a butterfly. Soon the cocoon is going to split and the butterfly will come out.”
The little boy asks if he can have the cocoon. “Yes,” says the Guru, “but you must promise me that, when the cocoon splits and the butterfly is trying to get out, and is beating its wings to get out, you won’t help it. Don’t do it for him. Let him do it by himself.”
The little boy promised, took the cocoon, went home with it and then sat and watched. Finally, the cocoon split. Inside was a beautiful, damp butterfly, frantically beating its wings against the cocoon, trying unsuccessfully to get out. The little boy desperately wanted to help. Finally he gave in and disobeyed the Guru’s orders. He pushed the two halves of the cocoon apart and the butterfly sprang out. No sooner had it taken flight, it fell to the ground and was killed. The little boy picked up the dead butterfly and in tears, went back to the Guru and showed it to him.
“You see, little boy” the Guru said, “you pushed open the cocoon, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I did,” replied the little boy.
And the Guru said, “You didn’t understand, you couldn’t see what you were doing. When a butterfly comes out of a cocoon, the only way it can strengthen its wings is by beating them against the cocoon so its muscles will grow. When you helped it the way you did, you prevented it from becoming strong. That is why the butterfly fell to the ground and was killed.”
The little boy wanted to make the butterfly comfortable. He wanted to remove the stress of life from the butterfly. In so doing, he sentenced the butterfly to death.
This is the danger of the comfort zone, and the danger of a comfortable job and comfortable life.
When we remove stress from our life, we abandon ourselves. We put our growth in the hands of the child instead of our own hands. When we choose comfort, we choose death.
The Fetishization of our Comfort Zone
Unfortunately, our modern consumer driven culture has fetishized our comfort zone. As a culture, we are completely obsessed and consumed with gaining and staying in comfort.
Every commercial has the exact same message: “Buying our product will provide you with comfort. Buy our product and live in comfort because comfort is good.”
Every commercial also says the corollary: “Discomfort and stress are bad. You don’t want stress, you want comfort.”
The reason for this is simple: As humans, we are wired to seek comfort. By hijacking our drive to seek comfort, companies can sell us things more easily. The problem is that, as a species even just a few hundred years ago, we had to work very hard to attain comfort, and it was fleeting.
Our bodies, minds, and spirits weren’t built to handle this much comfort.
Stress is Good for You
For the past century, scientists have been saying stress is bad for you. This, in part, is what drove the fetishization of our comfort zone.
Over the past decade new research has come out with a different story: stress is actually good for you.
One of these scientists is Kelly McGonical. She used to be one of the psychologists telling everyone that stress is bad for you. She’s since changed her tune, much to her own dismay. If you have the time I highly recommend you watch her TED talk:
To summarize her research and findings, what you believe shapes how stress affects you. If you believe stress is unhealthy, then your body responds in unhealthy ways to stress. If you believe it’s good for you, then your body actually gets healthier under stress.
Our natural state is to view stress as healthy and natural, just like the butterfly emerging from the cocoon.
Two Kinds of Stress
Not covered in Kelly’s TED talk is that there are two kinds of stress. I call them acute and chronic stress. Acute stress is short term, while chronic stress is constant. One is healthier than the other, I’m sure you can guess which one.
Your body is prepared to handle short acute stress responses. Imagine seeing a bear in the wild, you get your fight or flight response and it lasts until you’ve outrun the bear (or you’ve been eaten). So it comes and goes throughout the day in short bursts.
Chronic stress, on the other hand, lasts all day and doesn’t go away. Imagine someone worrying all day if they’ll be able to pay their bills, or they’re driving all day and experiencing stress the entire drive (everyone in Los Angeles can relate), Imagine having a terrible boss hovering over your shoulder all day (I’m sure some of you can relate). That’s the same as if you could never get away from the bear you ran into in the forest. Completely unnatural and unhealthy.
If you really want to dive into more of the science of stress, I highly recommend starting with this article as it does a good job of introducing all of the research and providing lots of great links.
Now that we understand what the comfort zone is, what stress is, and why it’s important, we can look at our job (and life) and determine if our jobs are too comfortable, too stressful, or just right.
How Comfortable is My Job Really?
Your job is too comfortable when you’re not growing. It’s as simple as that. If there were any healthy stress involved you would be growing. Healthy stress leads to growth, it’s inevitable.
On the flip side, if you’re not growing at all your job could be too stressful. Too much stress overloads us and shuts down our capacity to grow.
What does growth actually mean? This is harder to define. I define growth as an expansion in one or more areas of your life. Areas of your life that are subject to growth include:
To determine your comfort level at your job, I want you to make three lists. For the first list, write down each area of life you’ve grown in since starting your job. For the second list, write down each area of your life that you’re growing in currently at your job. For the third list, write down each area of your life that you want to expand in.
I want you to look at all three lists. I want you to feel how each list feels. Are you happy with each list? Are you stressed by each list? Are you indifferent? If you’re indifferent, write down in more detail about your growth. Get as detailed as you want.
What you’re going for is creating a complete detail of where healthy stress is being applied at your job.
If you’ve experienced no growth, that means you’ve been either too comfortable or too stressed out. Are you relatively happy with your job? Then there’s not enough stress. Are you feeling worn out at your job? Too much stress.
Where do you fall in the spectrum of stress on the job? Not enough, too much? Enough in some areas of your life but not enough in others?
To Thine Own Self Be True
Now that you have a deeper understanding of how comfortable (or uncomfortable) your job really is, what do you do?
You only really have two choices, resolve to stay or quit. Quitting can be rife with stress but I highly recommend it as you’ll grow from it (especially after having read this article). Once you’re prepared for stress, every stressful situation is a ripe opportunity for growth.
If you’re not ready to quit your job or simply don’t want to there is still plenty of opportunity for you to introduce new stress in order to grow at your current job. You can volunteer for new and challenging work, you can talk to your manager or boss about getting into a new challenging career trajectory, you could start a new challenging side project. Your options are limitless.
I only ask that you take the steps to grow in at least one new area of your life right now.
If your work is too stressful, you may have less options. Some workplaces are simply toxic environments and the healthiest option will be to quit. Other workplaces, you may have a toxic manager or client to deal with. A transfer request may help with that.
You also have the option of reframing a chronic stress into a healthy stress that will help you grow. A toxic micromanaging boss may be something you can learn how to deal with for your own personal growth. It’s entirely up to you.
You are in the driver’s seat now. This is why introspection and self-growth are so critically important to you as a human being. They empower you to take control of your life. Suddenly you’re no longer reacting to life, you are moving through it willfully, with purpose and power.
Reclaim that power now by taking personal responsibility for your own growth.
If you’ve had to deal with too much comfort or too much stress on the job, tell us how you’ve dealt with it in the comments. Help others gain back control of their own lives…