At some point in your life, you’ve probably had someone tell you, “You have to ‘step out of
your comfort zone’ in order to grow.” Sometimes hearing this is enough of an impulse to
motivate people to start to make a change, and I applaud that, because it isn’t easy at all.
But in my case and in many others’, this can be a bit confusing. It’s hard to get out of something, if you don’t know you’re in it.
I’ll use my story as an example of this very thing:
I started practicing synchronized swimming when I was 8 years old. My parents had seen my
passion for movement, dance, and water. I was the type of kid who made it impossible for
them to get me out of the pool on vacation. We put this together and found synchro. I was
very passionate about my sport and started asking for more practice hours and a higher
My parents decided to transfer me to an academy where I started practicing 4 hours a day, 5 days a week. This meant that I had nothing other than school and synchro going on in my life. At first I was so happy, but then things started to change. Little by little, the competitive spirit of it all started having a negative impact on me. I took it so seriously that I took everything that was said to me very personally.
As the years went on, I kept trying to suppress my feelings, but eventually I couldn’t do it anymore and I began to think about quitting. I spoke about this with my coach, and their response was that by quitting synchro, I was proving to myself that I was not good enough, that I would be ‘giving up,’ and that I would be taking the easy way out. This led to me persisting unhappily for another year.
One day I was speaking to my parents about life, and I just had this instinct that I was done
with mistreating myself. I wanted to quit. My thoughts had been telling me that I couldn’t do this,
that it was the ‘easy way out’, that I would be disappointing my teammates. I thought about
strategies like finishing the season, and eventually quitting and so on. I was so terrified of
what my life would look like after synchro.
I finally quit in the middle of the season, and as I predicted, I received harsh comments and
feedback on my decision that led me to think that I was selfish and worse. During the conversation I was having with my parents, I verbalized this fear of not knowing
what I would do once I didn’t have this thing occupying half of my life, this empty space that
synchro would leave behind.
Their response was very wise. Can you guess it? They said, “You have to step out of your comfort zone in order to grow.” The unknown is uncomfortable– that part I could understand–but what didn’t quite click was where the comfort zone in my case was.
I realized then that while I had built this comfort zone around synchro, it was also (and maybe mostly) around self pity and hiding behind the identity that I had made up for myself using my beliefs from the five years I was in competition. The comfort zone does not necessarily look like this happy place. A comfort zone can actually be horrible and the opposite of comforting. But once I realized that my comfort zone was one of self-pity, I learned something: the key is in understanding that comfort does not always mean well-being.
Once I started tapping into this way of thinking, I could clearly see that the easy way out was to stay within the known, within the false identity I had, which was the only one I knew at the time. The hard way was standing up for myself, discovering this unknown side of self love and creating a new and better reality for myself, starting a new life.
I then found yoga, which at first was appealing because I already had flexibility and strength, so the physical form of the classes were easy for me. Nevertheless, when I started delving into the philosophy and not just the asana (the physical practice), I noticed that I had brought my synchro mentality into yoga. I had brought the result-focused mindset, which left my body out of the game. In synchro I had not only learned how to silence my mind, but my body too, to the extent that I competed with a broken little bone on both feet.
Yoga is all about feeling the body and listening, not accomplishing a certain posture. Yoga is helping me rebuild the relationship with myself, and for that I am so grateful.
The moral of the story is that being able to identify our comfort zones, which often are very
painful, is a big step. And it doesn’t matter if you don’t step out of it, but you crawl or pull
yourself out of it. It is a whole process. It can hurt in the beginning, but it is definitely worth