We are all creatures of habit. As we age, our habits become our everyday routines. Our comfort zone, if you will. Breaking out of our comfort zone gets more difficult over time, but it?s something that is necessary if you want to experience life at its fullest. Don?t believe me? Have you heard of Don Gorske, the guy who has been eating Big Macs nearly every single day since 1972? That?s over 25,000 Big Macs. Do you think he?s ever tasted sushi? Ajiaco? Ceviche? Pho? Probably not. And as such, he has absolutely no idea how delicious those dishes are. It?s fair to say that he?s missed the boat on yummy food.
Why does Don eat Big Macs every day and never try anything new? Is it because there?s nothing more delicious to him than a Big Mac? Maybe. But I doubt it?s the only reason. I?d bet money that it?s also because he knows what it will be like. It?s predictable to him because he?s had it before. It?s not strange and new. A little boring, perhaps, but predictable. And he chooses predictability over strange and new.
My Experience with Comfort Zones at Work
For about 13 of the last 20 years at Terraine, I authored and/or reviewed environmental consulting reports. It was a ton of paper. Literally. Probably 500+ reports, maybe more than that. I even wrote an article recently about how I finally shredded all of those dang reports.
In the beginning, in 1992/93, it was all strange and new to me. I would doubt myself… ?I?m too young and inexperienced to call myself an expert?? ?I?m no underground storage tank guru, and my client wants to know what to do in this particular case….what am I supposed to do??
But over time, as I tackled more and more projects, I became more comfortable considering myself an expert and could handle pretty much any type of environmental contamination site. I slowly but surely started becoming the expert that I claimed to be in the beginning but really wasn?t.?It eventually came with practice, training, and time. I became comfortable with it. I even was able to mentor newbies on what to do in certain situations. Ultimately, I became the expert in my firm. And it came easily by then.
Coasting Along at Work
At some point, writing reports or reviewing them became routine and predictable to me?and boring as hell. Once I completed a report, another one would take its place. Sure, each project had its own unique quirks and differences, but the process was generally the same: establish a plan, propose the plan to the client, go out and do what was proposed, analyze the data, and write a report summarizing it all. Do this enough times, and it gets tedious and somewhat mindless. You could say that I was simply coasting along at what I did by this point in my life.
Then we picked up some NAVFAC work in 2002, and everything changed. The projects were much larger and, more importantly, different. The client was open-minded about trying new ideas. All of a sudden, work became exciting again?but that didn?t last for long. Review enough quarterly monitoring reports over a period of 5 years, where each report looks exactly like the previous report, and it also becomes mindless and boring.
One Life, Make It a Nostalgic One
I don?t write environmental investigation reports anymore. I just can?t do it. It?s too boring for me to take on. I?m 47 years old now, and I?m not going to trade my remaining time on earth coasting along doing something that I might be good at but that bores me to death. I?d rather do something else, frankly.
So instead, I?m building software apps. It?s something that is unpredictable, a little crazy, and scary. But it?s incredibly exciting! I wake up excited every single day, especially Monday mornings. And it feels this way to me partly because everything is so new again. It?s not routine. There?s no user guide, employee manual, or history telling me how to do my job. Every day is different. I can?t predict with certainty what will transpire tomorrow. And it feels great! It?s as if I?m a kid again trying something new for the first time.
So what does all this mean? Don?t spend your remaining days just coasting along because it?s easy, predictable, and safe. Don?t complain about your boring comfort zone. Do something about it instead. You know you can. It takes a little bit of courage, but you can do it, just like me.