I used to resist discomfort.
And breaking norms. Stepping out of the box. Disappointing people.
I used to build entire social structures or lack thereof around my own comfort.
For the longest time, I just did the easy thing. I avoided people. When I was a boy, I used to run from one end of our townhouse to the other, watching the other kids play outside. All the while, I vicariously joined their adventures from the comfort of my own home until my mom kicked me out of the house, forcing me to make some actual friends.
In middle school, I became friends with one of the most popular guys in school by chance. We did everything together: lunch, recess, parties. He was cool, and so, by association, I was cool. Seventh grade was a blast, because of my link to this cool friend. But then eighth grade came, and like many things, my coolness was short-lived. I got into chat rooms, landed myself an Internet girlfriend, and became the laughing stock of the school when a friend found out. Once again, I was alone and afraid.
This is the pattern we all face. Comfort leads to complacency, which is only disrupted by something cataclysmic.
In high school, I got picked on for being chubby and short and a little bit smarter than the rest of the pack. So I did my best to disappear from the bullies and pretty girls alike. I didn't want to be exceptional. I wanted to be mediocre. I wanted to blend in with my surroundings, matching the lunchroom linoleum.
But then Doug died.
Doug wasn't a close friend, just a classmate. Everyone liked Doug. He was hip and popular and most of the girls wanted to date him. I don't know what it was about his collapsing on the gym floor one afternoon that pushed me to get off the couch and take more risks. I started calling friends, asking them to go out. I started talking to more people, breaking out of my comfort zone. That was only the beginning. I took up running, started losing weight, and went on my first date with a girl. It was junior year. And it was the beginning of the rest of my life.
After that year, I began exploring colleges I would attend. I traveled. One brave decision after another all because of a death that taught me how to live.
The greatest changes in our lives happen to us; they force their way into our lives. And we have little choice but to resist or persist. That s what happened to me that year, and it carried on for the rest of my life.
In my junior year of college, I boarded my first plane to leave the country. On that seven-hour flight to Spain, I was scared. Not of my crashing, but of the people I knew I would have to interact with. The new language I would need to learn. The foreign culture I would have to adjust to. I was afraid of making new connections, taking risks, and investing in new relationships.
It seemed strange to feel so afraid again, especially after overcoming it in high school. But that s the thing with comfort: it always creeps up on you when you least expect it. Over time, I had once again grown comfortable. I was complacent. This new adventure required me to risk once more.
Though it was hard, I slowly started to step out of my new comfort zone. Every night, I went out, visiting flamenco bars and coffee shops, meeting locals and tourists. I asked questions, introduced myself, and adopted the Spanish name Pepe. I immersed myself into the lifestyle of Seville.
This was just the beginning. That semester abroad, I learned the importance of forming deep relationships, wherever they could be found: my host family and brother, study abroad classmates, even the people I ran into on the street. One relationship at a time, I was challenged to grow, to step out of my shell and make new friends, allowing their influence to shape me into a new person.
After this first trip abroad, I went back to Illinois, but I wasn't the same. I had changed. A year later, I graduated college. I traveled the world. I went to Europe and Asia and Mexico, made my way across the U.S. I began to live and breathe new experiences, sights and sounds that I had only lived through others before. For a year, I lived in a van, playing music all over the country. Eventually, I moved to Tennessee to see about a girl, where we're starting a whole new adventure.
Life became an adventure only because I walked through my fear and into abundance. Because I decided to step into discomfort. Because I didn't resist. It wasn't easy, but it was worthwhile. And every day, I wake up and try to do it again.
Do you resist change? Share your story with us in the comments.
Jeff Goins is a writer, idea guy, and difference maker. He works for Adventures in Missions and lives in Nashville with his wife and dog. He is finishing up his first book Wrecked. You can find Jeff on Twitter or his blog.
Photo by jenny downing.