Thursday, May 13, 2010

Getting Outside Your Comfort Zone

All of us have a "comfort zone," a way of living that is familiar and comfortable. We like living in our comfort zone because it is safe and secure.

Yet, when I reflect on the times in my life when I have experienced growth--physical, psychological, mental or spiritual-- I have been pushed outside my comfort zone. The problem with staying in a comfort zone all of the time is that we risk becoming stagnant. Comfort zones are no-risk zones.

An example of getting outside my comfort zone has been teaching a World Religions course in a maximum security prison. When I drove up to this prison for the first time, I thought to myself, "What have I gotten myself into?" The prison buildings were surrounded by a three-story high concrete wall with guard towers every 200 feet. To get to the classroom building, I had to go through 8 sets of steel doors. The sound of these electronically-operated doors shutting behind me had a terrible finality to it.

The first time I walked into the entrance of the prison, I imagined the quote from Dante's "The Divine Comedy" of the words over the entrance to hell: "Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter."

Yet, my prison classroom has been a place of hope, learning and laughter. My stereotypes of prisoners have been turned upside-down this past semester. If I had stayed in my comfort zone, I would have not met these men and shared life with them. In teaching these men, I have learned and received much more than I have given.

I'm not holding myself up as a paragon of venturing outside a comfort zone. Like everyone, I spend most of my time there. Yet, there is something to be said for taking the risk to get outside a comfort zone. When we step outside our comfort zones, we will find that we stretch their boundaries and grow in unexpected ways.

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