Twenty years ago, when I was a young woman working for Her Majesty’s British Government, I had a colleague who was two decades older than me, who joined the civil service press department the same time I did.
I mostly liked my job, at least at that point, she mostly hated hers.
So I asked her: “Why don’t you quit, then? And go and find a job that you’ll enjoy more?”
I found her answer shocking, even then. She told me:
“The pension is so good here, I’m just going to sit it out, until I retire.”
“But you aren’t going to retire for another 25 years!” I tried to argue.
Pointlessly, as it turned out, as no matter how bad the job was, how much it dragged her down and made her life feel soulless and empty, she was going to carry on doing it for a whole other half a lifetime, just to get a good pension.
In the meantime, I left the civil service – and all its fat perks and benefits – two years later, and my life has been anything but stable, safe and predictable since.
True, my friend probably has a much better pension than I do, at this stage (assuming the stress of being in a job she hated didn’t kill her a long time ago.)
But also true, that there is so much more to life than taking decisions just to stay safely embedded in the comfort zone.
Ah, the comfort zone.
So many of us think we’re striving for that, so many of us believe that the goal of life is to be comfortable.
I also had a bit of that going on still, until recently, when I had three months with no major drama, no major challenge, no big project to get my teeth into, nothing to exercise my brain cells or my praying abilities.
And you know what?
I was totally and utterly miserable.
I know, crazy isn’t it!
It took me a while to figure that out myself, because isn’t being ‘comfortable’ and having ‘stability’ what we’re all taught is the holy grail of being alive? Yet for me, as each stable, predictable, comfortable day passed on, I couldn’t get over the feeling that I’d somehow just flushed another 24 of my precious hours down the spiritual toilet, somehow.
Sure, I had nice chocolate to eat. A comfy bed to sleep in. Enough money to put petrol in the car and go somewhere, and enough time to actually do it.
But so what?
It was utterly and totally meaningless, and I didn’t come back from these days out feeling refreshed and happy. I came back feeling empty and pointless.
After a couple of weeks of this, I started to realise something profound:
It’s the comfort zone that’s killing us.
All of us, not just me.
How many of us are playing safe all the time, scared to offend, scared to step out of line, scared to try something different or be the person God really made us to be, because we’re scared of what comes next?
I.e., potentially being dragged out of comfort zone?
Maybe, if we stop playing it safe, we’ll end up having a real conversation for once, instead of all the fake, pointless inanity that passes for modern “discussion.”
How dangerous is that?!?
Maybe, we’ll discover that we hate our jobs, our lifestyle, certain people we hang out with, and that we really need to change things – in a big way – to start to feel happy and fulfilled again.
Again, that’s scary stuff, isn’t it?
But this is the actual fibre, the stuff of life. All those dangers, big and small, all those challenges, all those adventures, and discoveries and hard decisions.
This is what makes us really feel alive.
Sure, there’s a healthy balance to be achieved. No-one wants to be pinging from one self-induced crisis to another, like an Olympic bungee jumper.
But the other extreme, where we just wrap ourselves up in cotton wool, and make planning holidays and supper the most exciting part of our daily routine, is just as bad for us, it turns out.
It’s spiritual chloroform. It puts us to sleep slowly, slowly, until we spend so much time as screen- watching, comfort-craving zombies we don’t even realise how much life we’re really wasting.
The comfort zone is killing us.
I know it’s scary outside, but it’s also alive, and invigorating, and purposeful, and meaningful and real.
At least every now and then, we have to stick a foot out, and follow the path less travelled.
Otherwise, like my ex-colleague, we can spend the best part of three decades treading
water and wasting our time doing things we hate, living in places that don’t suit us, and trying to hide all our internal misery with ‘busy-ness’ and holidays to Marbella.
Your soul is calling you out of the comfort zone. That’s where you’ll really find yourself. That’s where you’ll really find God.
And that’s really where the pure stuff of life is located.