From the moment we are born, we crave comfort.
We cry when we are hungry, we avoid talking to new people, and we pick the easy subjects at school.
This avoidance of all discomfort works its way into our professional lives as well. We interview for multiple jobs and take the first one that will hire us, even if the salary isn’t quite what you wanted or the job isn’t quite what you were expecting.
We don’t particularly like our job, but the thought of interviewing again and finding something different is even more uncomfortable.
The comfort zone doesn’t have to be comfortable, just less uncomfortable than the alternative.
So what do we do when we don’t like our job?
We stay there for another 3 years, we get irritable, we complain, get stressed, argue with our spouses, anything but go out of our comfort zone and look for something different.
As humans, we have a great ability to adapt.
I remember reading in Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning” that the inmates of the concentration camp quickly got used to the terror that surrounded them. Even in these extreme circumstances, humans find a way to adapt, even if that means becoming emotionally numb to their surroundings.
To a much lesser extent, this occurs in our working lives as well. We might not enjoy our work, but it is familiar and overtime we adapt our comfort zone to include our job as well.
Our discontent with our jobs usually happens at such a slow pace that we barely notice it. Maybe it is a snide comment from one of the managers. The ridiculously short deadline that you know you can’t make without working overtime. It all builds up over time.
Like the frog placed in a pot of water on the stove. As the temperature of the water gradually increases, the frog gets uncomfortable but not uncomfortable enough to jump out. Slowly, the temperature increases, but the frog doesn’t notice until he loses consciousness.
You may not realise it, but your comfort zone could be slowly killing you.
So how do we escape it?
The first step is to really ask yourself if you are happy with the way your life is going.
Then ask yourself, “Do I want to do this for the rest of my life?”. If the answer is “No”, then why wait another year or more.
If you don’t want to spend the rest of your life doing it, then why are you doing it at all.
People think that quitting and starting over is risky. The real risk is getting to 65 and realising you have wasted your life doing something you didn’t enjoy.
I can hear you already, “I can’t quit my job, I need to pay the bills”.
I am not suggesting throwing yourself into financial hardship. There are a many jobs you could be doing and still earn a steady paycheck, if that is what you desire.
However, it is often that steady paycheck that keeps you in the job that you hate. The safety it provides lulls you into a false sense of security, and you never try to do anything else.
Why try out that side hustle when you are getting paid enough from your job? The problem is people become dependent on that paycheck even for high earners. They let their lifestyle inflate, in some cases to the point that they are barely getting by.
This is sometimes referred to as a “misery tax”. It is the money you spend on things to maintain your happiness and keep you functioning in your job.
If you managed to not spend every penny you earn, it is possible to build up a safety net that can give you the courage to change jobs or do something a little bit different with your life.
For most of history, people haven’t relied on a steady paycheck, it is a relatively new thing.
In William Whyte’s 1956 book, The Organization Man, he talks about how people after World War II flocked to organisations offering a steady paycheck and their parents were baffled. They couldn’t understand why their children were choosing predictable lives with a predictable salary.
Imagine your parents now trying to convince you not to go get a 9 to 5 job.
The problem with the paycheck is not the pay itself, but what you give up to receive it. It is often your dreams, passions and the things that make you unique that are the first to go.
Don’t become too comfortable. Don’t become the frog.