It’s difficult to get to middle age without learning a few things. Of course, I often forget the lessons and sometimes have to learn them over (and over) again. Now is one of those times and I find myself (re)learning several things at once. Maybe you can relate.
First is a growing sense of mortality. Though I’ve yet to die, evidence suggests that I will at some point and time is precious. Anything I’m wanting to contribute to the world before shuffling off the ol’ mortal coil better get done sooner than later.
Second, is that comfort zones are complete and insidious [FILL IN YOUR OWN FAVORITE NSFW DESCRIPTOR HERE]. Our brains are hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain and there’re a whole lot of ancient mental circuitry dedicated to preventing physical or psychological discomfort. That’s good when it prevents us from doing something potentially fatal. The problem is, the deep down scared-of-lightening-and-loud-noises part of the brain can’t distinguish between true threats to our well-being and the risk, discomfort, and pain required to learn and improve.
My most important lesson has been simply this: whenever I’m not as successful as I want to be in any area of my life it is a flashing Las Vegas style neon billboard of a sign that I’m playing small. It’s a warning that I may think I’m going full out, but I’m staying well within my comfort zones and am simply going nowhere very, very quickly.
Any wisdom I’ve gained comes from putting those three lessons together. Time is getting more scarce every day and I can either continually improve and create the impact I want to have in all areas of my life OR I can be comfortable, but I can’t do both. It’s too easy for me to live in smug assurance that I’ll do great things in the future, but no future is certain. I may never get another tomorrow so I need to take full advantage of today.
Similar to most people, I like to think I’m a pretty decent person. I like to think I’m a nice enough guy with some unique skills and knowledge for helping people and companies improve. I like to think I’m a good husband, father, son, and friend. I like to think I look after my health well enough. At least that’s what my comfort zones would have me believe. If I listened to that inner voice I’d get tricked into thinking I could coast along and be fine. But I know – know! – that every day I’m not improving is a day I’m falling behind. Time moves forward regardless so every step I delay is one step further away from my goals.
When I’m honest with myself, it’s pretty easy to see the areas of my life that are lacking. And the gap between where I want to be and where I am is not the absence of vision or goals or knowledge. It’s my daily habits providing me with a comfortable life that get in the way of creating a fulfilling, meaningful, and significant life. It’s easy to convince myself of all the changes I’ll make Tomorrow and much tougher to simply do it Today.
I see it and I know it and I try to change. It’s the daily battle to be better and do more in this precious short time I have.
The only solution is to be bold. To enthusiastically pursue the challenging goals that force growth. To take joy in the discomfort of upping my game, increasing my capacities, and being a better me in every corner of my life. To appreciate the results of focused self-discipline despite the uncomfortable self-denial it requires. To revel in being the eagerly unknowing novice fumbling with new ideas and skills. To seek out situations that challenge my skills, experience, knowledge, and beliefs.
To stop playing small and start playing bigger.