But to me, that’s not comfort. That’s feeling numb. The issue isn’t one of comfort, but of familiarity—maintaining the status quo.
I was raised with the idea that you should be ambitious and strive to reach your goals. That comfort, indeed, made you numb and indulgent. So I took the saying to heart; I wasn’t ‘soft’ or ‘complacent’ with myself. I stayed, purposefully, outside of my comfort zone.
During the past decade, I’ve lived in three different countries and learned two new languages. I’ve gained a specialisation in my work. I’ve made friends, lost friends, got to know how and why some people despise my country, went through that whole tsunami of becoming a mother and finding a new sense of balance and purpose. I also broke through an extremely thick barrier of self-doubt in order to write my first full-length novel. In short, I spent a lot of time outside that ‘comfort zone’—I’ve been no slouch.
I’ve been dutiful, hard-working, dedicated. In short, I’ve been a good girl.
From good girl to hermit crab: my journey in self-care
I did feel tired and anxious sometimes, especially when it came to accepting yet another freelance assignment when my schedule was already full, but I ignored it. It got worse after my daughter was born. I’m aware that I’m her role model, that I’m providing her with a blueprint of womanhood, and I want that blueprint to be good. I didn’t, and still don’t, want to be that kind of person who doesn’t make the effort to fulfil their dreams and blames it on their child. So I worked and wrote during the small hours and made myself impossible demands and berated myself for not meeting them.
In the meantime, I joined a group of non-violent communication, then read Marshall Rosenberg’s Words Can Be Windows Or They Can Be Walls.
Once, I overheard a conversation between a man and a woman sitting next to me before a show. ‘After I had this disagreement with so-and-so, I started meditating,’ she said thoughtfully. ‘And I told myself, “you really are a piece of shit.”.’ Truth be told, I was a bit like this woman: doing the non-violent communication thing, the meditation thing, all the trappings of modern self-help and still being harsh to myself. How can it ever be acceptable to call yourself a piece of shit? That can’t be self-care.
I had to force myself to think differently. It became my mission, one I wrote down in my planner to make sure I didn’t forget: be kind to myself. For 2018, I chose to have ‘imperfection’ as my word of the year to remind myself that although I am imperfect, I do have value and deserve to take my feelings into account.
My life changed at that moment. As I asserted myself more and more, I realized that I interpreted ‘staying out of my comfort zone’ a bit too literally: ‘disregard my own well-being, because well-being equals comfort, and comfort is not to be trusted’. But comfort isn’t what’s familiar, it’s what makes me feel good, happy and safe. What gives me joy.
I had to act like a hermit crab. As the hermit crab grows, they can’t fit in their old shell anymore, so they have to look for another one. They don’t care about preserving the status quo. The hermit crab cares for comfort, and that means to be aware of the way they grow, attuned to how they feel, and willing to change. This is self-care.
The care of magical comfort zones
As I exercised self-care, I felt that I was going towards my comfort zone instead of running away from it.
A comfort zone is where I can be authentic. Driven Woman, for instance, is one of my comfort zones. It’s also where I can express the best of my abilities and enter a state of flow. It’s my responsibility to find, or create, as many comfort zones as I can. It can mean changing my mindset, or even what I do.
It’s a bit like taking care of my home. A home should neither be taken for granted, nor neglected; it needs to be cleaned and de-cluttered regularly. My comfort zones can be expanded (by learning new skills, for instance) or tightened (by cultivating a sense of focus and eliminating time-wasters or energy-drainers). But I’m not going away from them anymore.
Although ‘comfort zone’ is used as convenient shorthand to mean something familiar, but eventually numbing, it might be useful to flip the script and choose words that are just right for the way you feel. Comfort means joy, safety, even reassurance, and we need all that to live to the full.
I am taking care of my comfort zones. That’s where the magic is happening.
Sabine Sur is a member of DrivenWoman Switzerland, a freelance translator and a writer.