Craft By Zen

3 min read

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Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

Coffee sign
Coffee sign

Yes, coffee does solve everything. Even uncomfortable anxiety

Note: I originally intended to release this back in September, but I put it off until now. The advice is not outdated, but events in this story are.

Instead of pounding in the ever-so cliche phrase, “be comfortable with being uncomfortable,” it’s better to describe my most recent experience with this. Three months ago, I was packing up for a road trip from San Francisco to Chicago. As in previous trips, it dawns on me how much of my life can be packed into a luggage bag. I was to spend a week driving, stay in Chicago for 9 weeks, road trip it back to San Francisco Bay Area, and fly to Korea for another week. As my car was packed, I realized I was really uncomfortable leaving everything I had built up at home; friends and family that I wouldn’t see for a long time. But I told myself to “suck it up cupcake” and go on this adventure.

I drove solo through the mid-west, and it could have been incredibly boring, but it wasn’t with my countless hours of podcasts and audiobooks. When I got to Chicago, I found out I was scammed an apartment. I spend a night panicking, being thrown out of my comfort zone and feeling very unsafe. There’s a difference between being out of your comfort zone while being in a safe place versus an unsafe place.

There are four places you can usually be as your doing some activity:

Safe & Comfort Square
Safe & Comfort Square

A quick diagram I created to explore this point.

As I was road tripping across the west, I had all of the signs tell me I was going to have no apartment or living situation when I got to Chicago. I was putting myself in an unsafe place, but I was still comfortable. However, after realizing this, I quickly moved to an uncomfortable zone and felt very unsafe. When I settled the matter the following week and found a different place to live, I was finally in a comfortable zone and felt very safe.

Dev Bootcamp, the reason I went to Chicago in the first place, tries to push you in the uncomfortable zone while making it a safe environment. I felt very safe around my cohort peers because I was able to expose my ignorance and sound like a curious kid again. At the same time, I was pushing myself away from the things I already knew, or sticking with being in a comfortable spot. At the same time, I wasn’t over-whelming myself with the amount I was learning, described as the unsafe zone and being uncomfortable. This is commonly drawn as three concentric circles.

Body's different zones
Body's different zones

Source: Seth Sandler

I borrowed this picture from Seth Sandler’s blog post which shows where the learning zone is. I love this description because I use it in all other activities non-work related as well, like learning how to improve my communication skills. Given your environment, figure out how to find the sweet learning zone. It’s different for every person, so you’re going to have to experiment. Remember to enjoy this process, because if you find it useful, you’ll want to apply it everywhere too.