The Pain and Reward of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

I’m sure you’ve seen this image before.

I hate it.

I hate that it says there are two places to live life: in your comfort zone or where the magic happens. I also hate that according to this graphic, these two places are mutually exclusive. You are either in your comfort zone, or you are where the magic happens. Apparently magic can’t happen in your comfort zone.

Here’s another one.

I hate this one even more. It says that if you live your life in your comfort zone then you’re just a loser. And clearly only 2% of the population are willing to go outside of their comfort zone.

No one lives their life exclusively in one or the other. It’s a mix. And it’s not all or nothing either.

This year, I volunteered to be the race director for a charity 5K. Last year was the race’s first year of existence and if no one stepped up to direct it this year, the race would end. I figured it wouldn’t be that difficult if all I had to do was contact the vendors and sponsors who participated last year.

While that assumption was mostly true, I quickly figured out that there is a lot I needed to learn about directing a 5K. This proved to move me outside my comfort zone.

But that move didn’t look ANYTHING like either image above.

Instead, it looked more like this.

Planning the 5K put me in a stretch zone. Then things started happening that moved me to the risk and danger zones. It was during those times that I vowed I would never volunteer to direct a 5K ever again.

My volunteers started disappearing. My contracted t-shirt company backed out on the Monday before I needed the shirts on Friday. No bottled water was delivered with the food order. A pointer sign on the course directed people another half mile farther than the 5K course everyone was expecting to run or walk.

All of this rained down huge amounts of stress on me. I don’t consider myself a drama queen, but it was hard for me to hold it together when it felt like the odds of putting on a successful race were increasingly being stacked against me.

But now it’s all over.

And no one died.

Someone got a paper cut, but I had a first aid kit in my car.

And for all the bad that happened, I found consolation when people stepped up and volunteered at the last minute when I wasn’t expecting them to. Those people helped me more than they know.

And so, in the end, I think getting outside your comfort zone on occasion can be beneficial. Calculate the risk and weigh the return on investment of time and energy. If there is potentially a large amount of learning and growth to be gained, then a step outside of the comfort zone and into the stretch zone should be warranted.

I learned a lot about project management and a lot about myself as well. Some of this is growth I would not have gained if I hadn’t moved outside my comfort zone.

But a better graphic to depict this experience would be this.

Whenever possible, move out of your comfort zone and into growth and opportunity, confidence and bravery. This is where learning takes place. This is how YOU make magic happen. The things that were once uncomfortable, once mastered, become comfortable.

Maybe you’ve never written an operations manual or hired anyone before. Maybe you’ve never designed an online newsletter or run Facebook ads before. But you can learn and grown. Stretch yourself a little and watch what happens. I think you’ll have your moments of doubt and your moments of triumph.

If you find yourself in the terror zone of paralysis and overwhelm, ask for help. Those that step up to help can get you back into growth.

Or, if necessary, stop completely and go back to your comfort zone for a while.

That’s called failing.

Did you know that the founder of PayPal created four failed companies before succeeding with PayPal?

You can have your own “PayPal moment”. But not if you don’t get outside your comfort zone and stretch yourself a bit.

The race I directed was not a big success in my mind. But now I know better and now I know myself better. The reward of growth does not come when you never venture outside your comfort zone.



  1. Jocelyn

    Personally I enjoyed the push to run a little farther than I would have – I think you did a great job! And I vow to bring at least three people with me to this event next year. Thank you for all your hard work!

    1. Elizabeth (Post author)

      Thanks Jocelyn!


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