Out of Your Comfort Zone

Dan Antonelli calls it “Transformation through Disruption.” We might call it simply “getting out of your comfort zone.”

Antonelli is the CEO and President of Ruiz Foods, a high-level food manufacturer based in California. Ruiz Foods made the decision to become a top-tier food company. Antonelli knew that to make the changes necessary to transform Ruiz Foods, they would have to fundamentally change how every department operates. No department was exempt: sales and marketing, operations, HR, media, purchasing, even administration. Every office routine was examined. It was, as you can imagine, an incredibly disruptive process.

But Antonelli recognized, “You can’t do things the way you’ve always done them and change…. [Doing this] forces you out of your comfort zone.”

I know a lot of folks don’t bother with New Year’s resolutions, but getting out of your comfort zone is the surest way to grow at any time. Disrupting your routine – even taking new routes when you drive somewhere familiar – can help our brains grow. Stephanie Hill, an executive at Lockheed Martin, notes, “Hard jobs help you figure out what you’re capable of.”

I didn’t make specific resolutions last month either. But I did determine to make some changes that would discomfort me – and help me grow. First, I began scaling back some routine roles and obligations I’d had as long as five years. They were taking time that I wanted to use in other things. Then I hired a new personal trainer. As much as I liked my previous one, this trainer is putting me through different and very challenging workouts. (I know her true goal is to find new places in my body that can get sore.)

I’ve started playing pickleball, which on my first day resulted in a pulled calf muscle, but after a week of healing I went back yesterday. And among more sedentary discomforts, I’ve completed my first short story, a challenging writing form for me.

These may be nothing like the challenges of disruption you could take on. But transformation inevitably costs us our comfort. The disruption of the pandemic has already forced a lot of changes that have pulled parents, teachers, clergy, department heads, nurses and business owners into very different routines. We hope that they will ultimately make us more flexible and more creative. Most changes do.

Some leaders – like our new Governor Youngkin – like to imagine that growth and change can happen without discomfort. It can’t. His drive to remove any account of history that would make students distressed or uncomfortable will only damage their ability to face unpleasant truths in their adulthood. It’s an anti-education stance. Some degree of unsettling the status quo is essential to grow as a human being.

And if, by the way, you’re looking for a book that won’t make you uncomfortable or cause you stress, for God’s sake stay away from the Bible.

Aiming for an existence without discomfort is a pointless way to spend your precious life. Sometimes discomfort is forced upon us, and that can be a major obstacle. But embracing discomfort, with an eye on growing and learning, is clearly an act of courage and wisdom.