Is Your Comfort Zone Holding You Back?

I admit it. I have an unusual penchant for chairs. Old chairs, child’s chairs from the 1800s, mid-century modern chairs, and sleek millennial creations that are, for me, pure objects of desire.

An 18th century chair may sound like an odd source of comfort, but for me, it is exactly that. A source of stories, a human stand-in, and beautiful design. I have several diminutive chairs from other centuries, tucked in corners of the living room and on top of bookcases. There are adult chairs as well – too many, I know. But they’re so human, and welcoming.

I love to sit in them, to touch their worn surfaces or nubby fabrics. And I wonder about their stories, especially those that were crafted two hundred years ago.

What gives you comfort when you are alone?

Chairs are connective, and they comfort me.

Other things comfort me as well: coffee, hot and strong; writing, almost always; potato leek soup, just one of several comfort foods. There are my favorite films on DVD at night; I know the dialogue nearly by heart and the voices feel like friends. And there are passages from much loved books; words uplift and offer well-worn flights of fancy.

What is familiar soothes. It doesn’t question or provoke. We feel safe, less alone, cradled in aloneness rather than isolated by it.

Do you know your comfort zone?

We talk about our Comfort Zone in so many contexts – often relative to professional objectives, but also in terms of the way we live, our environments. It is human nature to seek comfort, to find ways to comfort ourselves, to define ourselves within a framework in which we are not at risk, or stressed.

When we’re young, we march off into the future with some trepidation, but filled with eagerness and bravery. We are enthused by adventures because they are new. Our bodies encourage it; our limbs surge with energy and capacity.

Rietveld Zig Zag ChairAs we get older, like children, we have greater need for comfort. Reality can be harsh; we seek physical ease and logistical simplicity in a complex world. Perhaps we feel we’ve lived enough adventures. With coupling and parenting we have a tendency to “nest.” We settle – in all senses of the word. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But what if your comfort zone is holding you back?

The familiar versus the unknown

I chose to raise my children these past several years in a tiny home in order to remain close to where we once lived, keeping my sons in their same school system, and relatively speaking, near their friends. I purchased a house that resembled the former family home, but in miniature.

My sons responded immediately to this place; it felt familiar to them, which made the transition easier. As for me, I readily admit that I needed familiarity as well, then. To drive the same streets, to shop the same stores, chat with the same cashiers I’d known for years by name. While some say that stress makes you choose the less familiar in certain areas of life, when it came to a home, I chose familiarity during a time of turmoil to offset unwanted change.

It has been the right decision for my sons. For me, it’s not so simple.

New choices, personally and professionally

I believe that change is good, pushing ourselves to change (for the better) is good, but too much or too fast or poorly timed change… that’s another matter.

In challenging times, choosing the familiar over the unknown is about much more than where you live or how you make your home. Do you dare to try a new career, even at 45? At 60? Can you toss out stereotypes and patterns in your choices of partner, and try something new?

There’s no question that the prospect of change is more difficult as we age, but does that mean it’s impossible? Is clinging to the comfort zone preventing us from achieving, or even, from being happier?

Is your comfort zone holding you back?

I am no longer 20 or 30, or even 40. I enjoy my comfort zone, but I’ll just say it. I’m stifled in this city. I long for something different, a place and people that challenge me, that fit me better.

Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Chair 1929My home is cozy and welcoming, and I love my zig zag chairs and my Barcelona chair and the tiny children’s chairs from other centuries. But I am alone a good deal. I have filled these rooms with children, but not adults. As consoling as my small comforts may be, are they enough? Will I be brave enough to leave behind the familiar when I can, or will I allow my comfort zone to hold me back?

Analyze your comfort zone

When you think of your comfort zone, what does it entail?

  • Have you created a comfort zone to feel accepted and safe?
  • How do you comfort yourself when you’re alone?
  • How easily could you relocate, if necessary or desired?
  • How much harder is it, when you’re a little older?
  • Is your comfort zone holding you back, personally or professionally?
  • What prevents you from pushing beyond your comfort zone?

Contemplating change

Theoretically, in two years I could start over – professionally and personally. I’ve done it a dozen times before, but it was easier when it only involved me, when I was not the caretaker for my sons’ sense of “home,” and when I was younger.

I have no idea what options will be available in a few years’ time any more than I can know what my mindset will be.

I suspect I may not have a choice about leaving the comfort zone. That will mean emotional goodbyes, not so much to people, but to dreams. Still, where ever I might go, there would be room for some of what comforts me, including a few chairs.


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  1. says

    I’ve worked very hard at creating a comfort zone. Over the past year things have taken place that took me out of that comfort zone. I find the more stress I have in life the harder I hold onto that which brings me comfort.

    Painting or creating something comforts me when I’m alone. At this point the thought of relocating to a new environment produces anxiety… isn’t going to happen.

    What holds me back? The need for security. I’m no longer someone who forges new frontiers and no longer want to be that person.

  2. says

    Listen, Wolfe, when you move to France in two years call me first and I’ll put out the red carpet to protect your leopard stilettos and yes by all means bring everything you love.

    I arrived with one child and three dogs from the SPCA in Bedford, NY. You know you can do anything if you really, really want it more than anything in the world.

    I have total confidence in you. And then imagine — you writing from here. Like happiness, you can make dreams come true.

    Still haven’t answered you about happiness, but will do so in bits. One thing that makes me happy, which makes a lot of others anything but, is the train-train de la vie — I like and crave certain routines. My husband saying to me every morning half in English, half in French: “There’s mon amour.” Then there is the thump, thump, thump of dogs’ tails; later a fire in the fireplace with a glass of wine. It’s bliss. More later.

    The older I get the less I need/want to make me happy. I don’t really wish for “things” except maybe that jacket by Ricci. . .

    Have a lovely weekend. Just to make you suffer: It’s gorgeous here. We’ve had an extraordinary autumn.


  3. says

    The idea of a comfort zone has morphed for me. When I was young, it was the marriage. Later, when I went numb from the pain, it was kids and then work. I realized work was no comfort and focused more on the kids.

    I have very few comforts in this life outside of my family and I don’t need them.

    I lie. My biggest external comfort is music.

    I live simply. I moved to a foreign city and started over completely alone. New job and pretty much a new life, but with the benefit of having the comfort of my children still in my life.

  4. says

    I definitely live in a comfort zone. Everything I do in my life is to make me and my family comfortable. I suppose if we were to be uprooted (a definite possibility as we might move to England one day) I would simply rebuild the zone. I do believe (as I think I’ve said before) wherever you go there you are… I think the trick is to be comfortable wherever you are (even in uncomfortable circumstances).

  5. jason says

    I love this post.

    Through the pain of divorce I have looked for comfort and cut out the things that were uncomfortable.

    I live in a city of neighborhoods and I stay in my neighborhood or go to one or 2 that are comfortable. I don’t go to the neighborhood where my ex lives, it is uncomfortable (even though I lived there when I first lived in SF and we lived there together before we moved to this neighborhood).

    I go out with my friends that I am comfortable with and avoid the couples of my married years because it brings too much discomfort.

    I too, listen to music for comfort, I put on my headphones on the way to/from work. Sometimes it is the music that is comforting, and it is also the headphones that allow you to hide in plain sight, sometimes that is comforting.

    Ms. B, if you cannot move to France, perhaps San Francisco is a good choice. It is a bit expensive but there are many French people here. It is a big city in a small size with lots of shoe boutiques to browse, we have some of the best coffee, and lots of dogs to pet. The weather is almost always mild and comfortable.

  6. says

    You have a really awesome concept on all your posts. The questions you pose at the end are spot on and always relevant.

    I have moved so many times that, in the past year, I decided to stop it and just stay in the same city. We financially bombed last year and we were forced to move out of our house. We could have moved anywhere, but I was so tired of shifting and never feeling comfortable that we just moved half a mile down the street. I take comfort in, like you say, shopping in the same stores and dealing with the same people every day. Even if everything else is changing around me I can at least grab onto that. But, if I needed to move again I could probably do it in about a week. I’ve thought about it, and it wouldn’t be hard. I just don’t really want to yet.

  7. says

    I struggle with that one. Ideally I’d like to get to a place where my comfort zone is directly related to my spiritual health. The healthier the spirit, the less outside distractions should matter. Daily though, that’s tough. I’m here in NYC only because my Ex is and refuses to leave. Our plan after marriage was to leave NYC for a better standard of living for ourselves and our kids. As time went on she dug in her heels and once separated I had to make a choice: start an expensive and long custody battle where there was a chance I could get no time with Miss M, or accept that NYC is now my home and do the best I have, assuring that I’ll get at least 50% custody. Honestly it wasn’t a difficult decision, so here I am. The big city is tough for me…I am most at peace in the mountains (Montana, West Virginia, Vermont) where it’s quiet and I can commune with nature. That does my spirit the best and puts me in my comfort zone. What I know emphatically though is that being away from my daughter any more than I already have to be would put me well OUT of my comfort zone. My heart is with her, and my spirit as well. Like you, my body will have to wait for a different geographical location once she has moved into adulthood.

  8. says

    I guess I am an anomaly among all of you. For me, I feel I became TOO comfortable about life. I accepted mediocrity for the sake of safety and comfort. I figured this is all that I was going to get out of life and I better be happy about it because guess what? I made my bed and now I have to sleep in it – I am too old to start over. Well, the sky opened up on me and I ended up in a terrible internal struggle because of that kind of thinking. Ultimately, I found the courage to face change head on and take my life back. Long after a separation and career change, I am still not in any sort of comfort zone by a long shot. However, even though I am in the infancy of a new life, I am finding real happiness and it is huge!

    Now I fear comfort! I believe that if you start getting comfortable with life, it is time to move on.

  9. cjrambling says

    Oh yes! My comfort zone is alive and well. Music is my one big comfort. Putting on the headphones and blocking out the rest of the world recharges me and strengthens me. I am a hider. When it all gets too overwhelming I want nothing more than to be alone with my thoughts so I can formulate a plan.

    I have been at the same job for 12 years. Opportunities to move, change careers and start anew have come and gone because I was afraid to try, to step out of the “safe” little world I’ve created here. Unfortunately, now I am beginning to feel trapped by my little world, wishing I could stretch my wings and fly. Fear and resources hold me here for now, but I’m chipping away at those bonds and one day I’m going to break out of my comfort zone and become that phoenix!

  10. Nicki says

    Comfort zone? It has always been a question that has been in the back of my mind. In recent months, with changes in many things in my life, it has pushed forward. I do think that I will pack up and go elsewhere when the youngest is out of the house. He has two more years of school after this and then, he is on to something else. The older kids will be in their own lives by then – hopefully. He can come to me, wherever that is.

    I do many things because they are within my comfort zone. Yet, I do many things because they are outside my comfort zone. I don’t think I have found the balance yet but am working on it.

  11. says

    Frankly, raising these two kids that are constantly changing in front of me right now is enough adventure!
    After I got settled into single parenthood, I did used to get scared that my life as it is would never, ever change again, and that thought terrified me. But there have been enough changes even without my really trying for me to know that life is never completely settled. New opportunities have come along – some have been rejected, some have been embraced. I find my comfort in knowing that everything is only for now.

  12. BigLittleWolf says

    This is probably one of the hardest realities for some of us, knowing we must be somewhere for the sake of our children, and everything else (even our own well-being) is secondary. Some would argue with that. To those, I would say walk in my shoes first and then see what you’d say.

    For what it’s worth, if it helps, the gift of being where your daughter needs a true and present parent is worth all of it. There are days when you may be wistful, or worn out, or frustrated, but when it’s a matter of a child’s comfort zone or your own – I agree with you. You put the child first.

  13. says

    I was in exactly the same position. Although, I had to move 1 and half hours away due to a job change, I still won’t go farther than that as my kids are the most important thing, and to be this far away is already difficult.

    Where I live is less important than being as near as I can to my kids.

    The music I listen to drowns out the environment around me, until it’s my time with my kids, as it just reminds me how far away I really am.

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