Why staying in your comfort zone is killing you

Why staying in your comfort zone is killing you

This is my couch. It has a slight dip in the middle that’s perfect for lounging and watching episodes of “The Bachelorette” with my roommate.

I have since moved and this is no longer my couch. It's bittersweet.

I have since moved and this is no longer my couch. It's bittersweet.

We’re both not sure how the Dip came to be-- this couch was provided to us by Dell for the summer, free of charge. Like all good free furniture, it had a life before us and we respect its privacy. We’ve lost change, pens, and free time in the cracks between these cushions.

It’s easy to waste an entire Saturday nestled in that comfortable dip, scrolling through the internet and pinning pictures of travel destinations to my Pinterest page.

In a professional environment, it’s just as easy to show up at work or school every day and do only the bare minimum. In your personal life, it’s easy to say you’re going to start that novel in your free time and never get past the first sentence.

You don’t have to put in extra effort to get your basic work done. You can relax, be comfortable--if that’s all you ever want to accomplish in life.

I call this attitude “The Dip”. My advice? Don’t get stuck in the Dip.

Of course, you don’t have to sprint ahead all the time. The Hustle can be exhausting, so think of it more like a non-competitive marathon--and eventually you’re going to need a break. This is a struggle even the hardworking and ambitious have. It’s difficult to maintain that pace, so at some point, you’re going to hit a wall.

For me, this happened towards the end of my first year in the MBA program. I got stuck in the Dip and was completely burned out. It felt like my brain could no longer process ANY MORE INFORMATION. I confessed this once to my Finance professor in the parking lot after class. He told me “your brain is probably operating right now at around 50% capacity. Most people don’t even get that high, but you can still do better. Try for 60%. That’s accomplishing something.”

I thought I was at the end of my rope, but I found I was actually able to push myself just a little bit harder the next day. Then a little bit harder the day after that, and so on, with great results--at least for my GPA. The trick was taking it day by day and allowing myself to periodically relax so I didn’t get overwhelmed.

As Mark Twain once said:

The secret to getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.

When you find yourself drowning in the Dip, give yourself a break.

Take a vacation, even if it’s you alone in your apartment playing video games for a weekend. Just don’t let that become the norm.

And while you’re sitting watching reruns, decompressing after a long day at work, think about your goals (beyond what you want for dinner).

Try to do just one extra thing to help you reach them: maybe reach out to a fellow alumnus for career advice, or read an article about what’s new in your industry.

Just don’t stay comfortable.

What ways do you avoid staying comfortable? Tell me in the comments!