Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

Finding your Discomfort Zone

What if I told you there is a place where:

Growth is abundant,
Skills are developed,
Weaknesses are exposed,
Character is strengthened,
Life is transformed.

Would you want to go there?

Such a place exists. I call it The Discomfort Zone.

Photo Credit Jon Clegg

Photo Credit Jon Clegg

Western culture is obsessed with comfort. Our couches are cushy. Our TVs are big. Our food is filling. Our cars have 15 cup holders. Comfort is King.

But I think comfort is over-rated. In fact, it can be toxic.

There is nothing wrong with a comfort zone. You need a place to relax and recover. But too much time inside your comfort zone results in stagnation and depression.

We were made to grow. (tweet that?)

If you care about developing and growing as a person, you must first leave comfort behind. You need to find your Discomfort Zone.

How to find your Discomfort Zone

Martin Luther King Jr. found his Discomfort Zone in 1955. A year earlier he became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama at the age of 25. While pastoring an African-American church in the South at that time was not exactly comfortable, it was nothing compared to what was to come.

December 1, 1955, a woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. A few days later Dr. King led the black community in a large-scale bus boycott. He crossed the line from pastor to civil rights leader. He moved into his Discomfort Zone and, eventually, took millions with him.

A woman named Allison recently found her Discomfort Zone by quitting her job, selling all her stuff, and traveling across the country to visit all 50 states.

My wife and I found our Discomfort Zone by moving to Bosnia in 2009 with two young children and a three-year-old’s grasp of the language.

We find our Discomfort Zones in different ways. Some by . . .

Sending a manuscript to the publisher,
Quitting a job,
Starting a business,
Asking her out,
Starting a family,
Going back to school.

Your Discomfort Zone is wherever there is a project, transition, or decision you know is right but are afraid to face.

Now, I’m not suggesting you go out and seek discomfort. This is not a pro-Masochist post. But there is a Discomfort Zone perfectly prepared for you, if you are courageous enough to enter it.

Four Tips for finding your Discomfort zone

Let’s get practical. Here are four ideas you can try out.

Enlarge your Goals: Set a goal that scares you and tell people about it (so you can’t wimp out).
When JFK set the goal to put a man on the moon very few people thought it was possible. It was.

Face your Fears: What would you do if fear were not a factor? Do that thing.
I was scared to death to ask my wife out the first time. She is so good-looking.  But I’m glad I did.

Change your View: Move to a new location for a month or a year or ten years.
I met a guy last week who, in his 50s, sold his house and all his possessions and moved to a foreign country for 2 years. Why? Just to see if he could do it.

Stretch your Mind: Learn a new subject, language, or skill.
This year I hope to take a Philosophy class in Bosnian. It will be painful at first, but learning keeps me fresh.

The beautiful fruit of the Discomfort Zone

In the Discomfort Zone there is insecurity, fear, pain, confusion. But, from the Discomfort Zone come life, hope, change, passion.

When growing grapes for wine, you want your vines planted in dry, nutrient-poor soil. This puts stress on the vine and forces a higher concentration of flavor into the grapes. A comfortable vine produces watered-down grapes.

The Discomfort Zone produces beautiful fruit.

Dr. King’s entered the discomfort zone and led a nation into greater equality.
Allison entered the discomfort zone and accomplished a life-long dream when she published a book about her adventures.
My family entered the discomfort zone and found meaning and purpose halfway around the world.

What will you find?

Share what step you plan to take.

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  • Great post, Josh! I’m in the middle of a major discomfort zone myself. Posted on Twitter and my FB page as well.

    • Josh

      Thanks Racquel. Hang in there. Good change is coming if you stick it out.

  • Many years ago I visited the Biosphere in Arizona. It was built to house a number of environments for the purpose of experimenting with space travel and, I think, terraforming. It was a huge structure that included trees. The relevant point is that trees that have no stress fall down.
    They discovered after planting trees for the various representative environments, the trees had no strength. The trees needed to be stressed and swayed by wind. In order to strengthen the trees, they installed huge fans to mimic the wind.
    In other words, the trees required the stress of the wind, the discomfort of being stressed by the wind, in order to thrive.
    I completely agree.
    My husband and I moved aboard our sailboat and headed out to sea for an adventure. We have been through many discomfort zones out there. When I described some of our adventures to my daughter, she said, “Mom, that does not sound like a vacation.” Like most people, she thought that the cruising life was an endless vacation. It isn’t. I call it the University of Cruising, because the learning never stops. When we head out to sea, no matter how thoroughly we prepare, we now know to expect the unexpected, and it is in the unexpected storm with roaring wind and tumultuous waves that we find strength and resilience and new insights we would never have found while lolling on the beach.

    • Josh

      Nice. I like that illustration. Thanks for sharing.

  • We were in a music store this week renting guitars for my boys. I saw that they rent violins as well. I’d love to learn how to play the violin! I immediately dismissed the idea but now, I’m not so sure. Seriously reconsidering… 🙂

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