It is normal to be drawn to what you know. As humans, we are constantly searching for patterns in life. We appreciate the predictability of experience. We judge others based on their reliability and their consistency of behavior.
Subconsciously, we set expectations of others and our environments and wait for those expectations to be reached. Sometimes, it looks like reaching out to a parent when you’re feeling low, expecting to be comforted. Other times, it’s going to the library to study because you expect a quiet environment.
Seeking comfort in scenarios like this is natural. However, there are many times when stepping beyond those expectations leads to experiences we didn’t think possible before. Placing yourself in situations in which you don’t know the outcome and you can’t predict the way that you will feel often leads to the most growth.
If you had talked to me a year ago about my journey so far in college, you would have likely gotten a very negative response. I would have told you about how I felt like I was missing out on my “college experience.” I would have told you that anywhere else, anywhere but Southern, I knew I would thrive. And to some degree, I was right. Where I was in life, I would likely be more confident and feel more validated in a different environment. Not that Southern was necessarily bad in any way; I just felt that Southern wasn’t for me. Oddly enough, I would’ve also replied that I “weirdly felt called to be at Southern.”
Today, I am so grateful to be here. While some may argue that I should’ve left for an environment that I felt more comfortable or supported in, I have my own perspective. Staying in the environment in which I felt the most uncomfortable forced me to challenge myself and my beliefs in ways that they wouldn’t have been anywhere else. What I have learned over the past two years is that if any belief you uphold can’t stand a little pressure, you probably want to question where that belief comes from as well as the belief itself.
Using discomfort to your advantage isn’t limited to big life lessons; it is even more applicable to the small discomforts we feel daily. These discomforts include raising your hand when you have a question that you think is dumb. They include saying “yes” to new opportunities that excite you but you feel unqualified for. They can even include complimenting the outfit of that seemingly-really-cool-person you see at a coffee shop.
An almost surefire way to diffuse these small discomforts is by questioning how you would react to someone else doing the exact same thing you’re worried about. Would you think another student is dumb for asking clarification on a subject? Would you scoff at someone accepting an entry level, experience-earning job? Would you be upset if someone thought you were cool and complimented your outfit in a coffee shop?
One of my favorite Youtube channels, “Yes Theory,” actively encourages its audience to “Seek Discomfort.” They invite strangers on the street to sky-dive and take subscribers on impromptu trips across the world, all in the name of discomfort. Although the things they recommend may not be for everyone, I find many of their videos inspiring.
The beautiful thing about choosing to step outside of your comfort zone is that you don’t need to be crazy spontaneous (although you totally can be) in order to get better at being uncomfortable. Something beautiful about new experiences is that almost always, you can immediately recognize the added perspective that you gain. So go forward and ask that question, take that opportunity and compliment that stranger. What do you have to lose? Or, more importantly, what new perspective can you gain?