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Your Uncomfortable Comfort Zone
Edward A. Pane, LCSW, MBA, CAADA

Ed Pane

My Blog

My client was discussing the angst one her aunts constantly put herself through. Day in, day out it was the same litany of complaints whenever she visited. She mused that there must be something in it for her because she showed no inclination to change anything, just complain about it. Then she said something wonderful.

“She’s in her uncomfortable comfort zone.”

The simplicity and wisdom of that sentence bowled me over. It was the perfect explanation for why some people stay in bad situations. And it applies to so many areas!

I’ve counseled many who weren’t happy with their job. It was a chore to go to work; they constantly grumbled about it. If I ask, “Are you actively looking for another job, one that would pay better, have better hours or maybe be more fulfilling?” some answer, “No.” The reasons include “I’ve been there so long why change now?” or “What else is there?” Counseling someone in a toxic relationship often produces the same answers.

From jobs, to relationships, to marriages, to a doctor who isn’t helping the person get better, the examples can be endless. I’m sure you can think of people who fit the profile – maybe you’re one of them.

Your “uncomfortable comfort zone” can be like an old broken recliner. Sure, it might have a spring or two poking out and jabbing you in the back. But you can put a pillow on it or shift how you sit and remember the good old days when it was new and felt good.

When I help a client explore their situation and options, some opt to keep things the same. And that’s fine. People have the right to choose how they want to live. But if the choice is to not change anything, I tell them they then sacrificed the right to complain about it.

Or as I like to put it:

“You’re straddling a fence with a picket halfway up your butt and complaining you’re uncomfortable. Pick a side!”

I have to pass along my all-time favorite “Dear Abby” letter and her reply. A 38-year-old wrote he was unhappy in his job and really wanted to be a lawyer. However, he bemoaned, “Abby, that will take 7 years. By then I’ll be 45 years old!” Her reply was priceless.

“How old will you be in 7 years if you don’t do it?”

This may be a good point to wrap up. We’re not always to blame for the uncomfortable situation we find ourselves it. No one enters a marriage hoping it will be terrible, a job hoping for miserable working conditions, or stays with a physician hoping they’ll fail to successfully treat them. But if change is going to happen, it’s up to us to do it.

Uncomfortableness exists to tell us to change something. It tells us to take the pebble out of our shoe, turn up the thermostat, tighten the dripping faucet or slow down on an icy road.

Uncomfortableness isn’t an enemy, it’s a teacher.

This year why not make a resolution to listen more closely to it and what it’s trying to teach. Then your comfort zone will truly be a comfort.