As is the way with common sayings, the act of their becoming routine in our daily lives creates a paradox; they are the lessons learned by generations past meant to serve generations to come, and yet it’s almost as if their constant repetition inhibits our ability to truly understand what they mean.
Thus, we hear these phrases often and while our ears detect the words, our brain doesn't really fully process their meaning, and the cycle is re-enacted — it is our individual experiences in life which allow us to arrive at the same conclusion. Maybe you're forced to go on a trip abroad and find you love Thai cuisine even though you'd sworn off exotic foods due to a previous bad experience. It's only then that you realize that the "comfort zone" is actually a phenomena, and you had been so cozy in yours that you might never have discovered your affinity for Thai food. Words like "comfort zone" would now hold newfound importance in your life. Perhaps this is a new lesson in and of itself: the art of absorbing and understanding centuries-old wisdom, so as to learn from the mistakes of others. It was stumbling ungraciously out of my own comfort zone that allowed me to learn this lesson, and also to learn more about myself.
I made this discovery last year, at an academic summer camp I attended in Oxford. The application to attend the camp was hurriedly completed, the expectations were low, and the acceptance into the program was met with denial, almost right up until the day I arrived on site. I had considered myself an extremely outgoing, adaptable person until then, and yet all the confidence I had in my strong, vibrant personality evaporated within an hour. The people, the environment, the air itself was foreign to me, and with a jolt I realized that my personality was just a product of the environment I was surrounded by at home. My city was a small place: everyone knew everyone, and their interests and hobbies were all the same. In the comfort of this familiar place, I had found myself free and confident, a butterfly whose wings stretched far and wide. You can imagine my disgust when I arrived at camp and found myself succumbing to the anxiety in the pit of my stomach, a feeling that I would discover later as my fear of the unknown.
This fear conflicted with the person I thought I was — someone who was confident, funny, fearless — so profoundly that I became convinced I was, in reality, an apprehensive person who was nervous about talking to new people, scared of being rejected, awkward, and not at all charismatic. A thousand paradoxes that I found within myself left me baffled.
Unknowingly, however, I was operating under a dangerous assumption: my surroundings were alien to me, that was true, but I was assuming everyone else knew what they were doing. I realized this as a girl of small build and wide, anxious eyes approached me quietly and, with a shaky voice, said, “Hello." All the apprehension enveloping me evaporated. It was just one word, and she said it quietly, but I recognized the same fear that I felt. Perhaps that was when I realized that stepping out of my own comfort zone had reaped an invaluable companionship with everyone present, and the universality of that feeling made me feel rejuvenated. The people around me were of different cultures, casts, creeds, and yet they were all young, scared, and foreign in this new place.
Only a few minutes earlier I had been disconcerted and confused, pondering who I really was, and now I was left feeling ecstatic and slightly amused at how quickly I had let myself fall prey to the voice inside my head. A smile found its way onto my face and I greeted my new acquaintance confidently. I began talking to other girls, and I found myself with several friends by the time the day came to an end and I resigned myself to sleep.
Classes began the next day and I found I had a knack for building marshmallow towers with spaghetti sticks, but that punting in the rivers was not my strong point. Clothes I would have labelled superficial now seemed cool and bold, and raw fish could apparently taste oddly delicious. These were the littlest of things, and yet they left me pleasantly surprised each time, for I knew had I not been willing to step out of my small city, I never would have discovered this new quirky, hip side of myself. My initial discomfort and self-loathing only led me to believe in myself more fiercely, for I had overcome the voice in my head and had become a wholler, truer me.
I had felt as if I knew myself entirely and yet, a simple summer course laid that version of me to a rest, and gave rise to someone who, above all other new qualities, will be fearless in stepping out of her comfort zone. I found a new me, and with self-discovery, I had also made dozens of friends from all corners of the globe. Perhaps the most important thing I learned is that complacency is the subtlest and sweetest of fallacies, because while you can always live comfortably and happily in your bubble, you must make a conscious effort to resist the comfort of familiarity in order to truly understand every fiber of who you are.
Fizza Raza is a 15-year-old from Lahore, Pakistan. She spends most of her time contemplating the glass ceiling or the ethics of modern-day capitalism.
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