Resolving to Vacate The Comfort Zone
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” Neale Donald Walsch.
As we move into the holidays I was thinking about New Year’s Eve and the resolutions we make, break, feel guilty about and then firmly promise to adhere to in the year following. Making resolutions is difficult, keeping them is close to impossible it seems. I’ve heard a few friends say; “This year, I’m going to resolve to get out of my comfort zone.”
I think that’s a good idea. To be our most creative, forward thinking selves getting out of the comfort zone is a must. You don’t test yourself, push yourself or discover more about yourself than when you’re operating outside the zone of comfort. However, the idea of moving out of the comfort zone can be rather daunting to some and, for those, I want to share an idea with you. Something I’ve discovered lately in my work.
For 35 years I have been an actor. I’m a character actor, which, when you break it down, really means I’m too ugly to be a leading man. I handle comedy well and I often play odd, quirky, ridiculous characters. It’s good. I understand it and it has been my bread and butter for a long time. Recently, and when I say that I mean as I am writing this piece, I was cast to play Macbeth in Macbeth with a very fine Shakespeare Company. I was offered the role and I balked. Me, a character guy, a comedy guy, a freakish guy, being offered a very powerful, very intense leading man role. My instinct was to say no.
This is where getting out of the comfort zone can cause most of us to fall apart. The instinct to say no. The feeling that you don’t want to fail, don’t want to look stupid or don’t want to let people down. Those are very powerful feelings and they have merit. Their merit lies not in allowing them to govern your choice but rather allowing them to motivate you to always strive for your best.
The comfort zone you’re in and thinking about getting out of was not always a comfort zone. At one point you had to enter this place, this arena and navigate your way around it, do well, understand it and conquer it. It became your wheelhouse, your place of triumph. For some reason doing what you’re doing in this situation garnered you success and attention, safety and security and you went on to thrive in it. There is nothing wrong with that.
So, why do we all want to get out of our comfort zones? Because it forces us to rethink, re-imagine and discover that, even though the comfort zone is good and has been successful, it may have dulled your edges and slowed your mind. What was once a good thing is now, perhaps, a little detrimental to your life.
I said yes to the director and accepted the role. I did all my homework, tore the play to pieces, charted the character’s arch, found all the active verbs I could play and still, I was uneasy about tackling this role for a few reasons. First, although I have done a lot of Shakespeare and I am nimble with the language, most of the clowns and goofs in Shakespeare do not speak in verse, they are prose speakers. I’m a whiz at making prose sound like every day chat. Trouble is, Macbeth speaks completely in verse and the verse, for understanding and lyricism, must be adhered to. Second, as I stated, I am not an attractive guy and I have this notion that a leading man must be good looking and women must find him desirable. And third, he is the title character and not one joke comes out of his mouth. So, as far as comfort zones go, I was so far from mine they weren’t even on the map. To say the least, I was terrified.
Why does making the move away from our comfort zones give us such unease? The obvious reasons; failure, disappointment, maybe getting fired from a job you love. All of those are very real and yet, not very real at the same time. Getting out of your comfort zone means you’re attempting something new and something forward thinking. Even if you mess up along the way, total failure is most likely not going to happen. Small failures, setbacks, will occur but, through those we learn and move forward. If you have a boss who sees the journey you’re on, understands that you getting out of your comfort zone is going to benefit the company, you can set aside the idea of being fired for it. I have discovered that the greatest impediment to us moving out of our comfort zone is the fear that nothing is going to be there. The tank will be empty. The plateau of the current comfort zone is as far as you can go and beyond that is an empty sucking void of hollow death. That is the fear and it is a terrible one. So, when the idea of moving from your comfort zone appears, it can shake you to your core.
I started rehearsals for Macbeth with a director I have known for 25 years, a man I trust implicitly, who knows the work, who knows me and I discovered a very important fact that made me able to transition out of my comfort zone. The fact is; when you move out of your comfort zone, all your experience, all your work, all you have learned in the past doesn’t just vanish. Although I haven’t played a lot of leading men, although I am a character actor, I have been doing it for 35 years and I have done well over 150 plays. All of that time, experience, the wealth of knowledge I’ve gained from being in stage, from working with great actors and great directors, all of that is still in me, part of me and supporting me. Experience doesn’t just go away.
This is very important to keep in mind when you’re planning to jump out of your comfort zone. You’re not starting at zero, you’re not a neophyte, you’re not without tools or experience. At some point when you started you realized that there is not a sucking void waiting on the other end of each completed project. You always found more and you will again. All that you’ve done, that has brought you success, that has gotten you to the place where you’ve come to recognize you have a comfort zone and you’re safely tucked in it, all of that is in you and all of that is useful. Moving out of your comfort zone simply means taking all your skills, knowledge, useful tools and using them to look, think, approach, attack in a different way. You’re not cast alone into the ocean without a boat, paddle, or life preserver. You have a strong base, a solid foundation that will serve you well, that you can use to change the angle on the approach and find new level of success.
When I started working on Macbeth, I didn’t need to learn how to act, I know how to do that. I know my craft and have the skill and tools to do it well. What I had to do was learn how to create a human being that was driven by love, ambition, desire, rage, confusion and portray that person without jokes, physical bits and the things that have been paying the bills for a long time. But, how to act, how to build a character, breakdown a set of wants, chose active verbs to play, talk and listen, no, those things I already knew how to do. So, when I leapt from my comfort zone with this role, I was not without skills and tools.
So, as the resolution time rolls around and you decide that, in the coming year, I am going to step out of my comfort zone, remember you’re not without tools and skills. You are not starting with nothing. Where you are, who you are, what you’ve experienced to this point is in you and available to you and all you need to do is use those tools, those skills, that knowledge in a different manner. It’s still going to be frightening because you’re leaving the comfort of the known zone for the unknown and the unknown will always make us a little queasy.
Macbeth is going well. I start rehearsals for As You Like It in a few days, playing Touchstone, a clown, a familiar, a comfort zone and yet, there’s no way I can approach this character the way I always approach a clown. I have stepped, fully committed, from my comfort zone and now I want to see where this takes me. That’s the good part, the part that you don’t often hear about, once you’ve moved from your comfort zone, it will always be there but, you get to decide if and when you want to go back.
When you move forward, when you step out, everything that has come before is now a tool for you to use when and if you want to. Remember this, as you raise your glass of champagne, smooch your date, shout happy New Year and embrace the idea of moving out of your comfort zone with a little more confidence and it will be a resolution you can finally keep.