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Get Comfortable With Discomfort

The important role of discomfort in the college journey.

*This post references a few books and readings: Plato's "Allegory of the Cave", Charles Mooney's "Made Up Minds", and the meditations of Descartes. Part of this piece was an assignment I had for an English class, but I really liked ideas I had going so I decided to continue the paper and publish it. 

Our beliefs define who we are as individuals. Many of our personal beliefs and values are developed throughout the high school years. One monumental belief I developed in high school was that being comfortable will prevent one from reaching one’s full potential in life. To elaborate, I developed the belief that in order to achieve my true potential, I had to push myself so far out of my comfort zone that nothing was familiar or essentially easy anymore. This included making sure that I didn’t go to college in or near my home state, taking on extra classes, working multiple jobs, and being a part of a variety of extracurricular activities and community organizations. As I progressed through senior year and the summer after, this belief began to evolve somewhat and become less intense. The belief that comfort is the enemy has been “watered down” for me now. I still believe that it’s important to venture out of one’s comfort zone often, but it’s also important to look out for one’s emotional well-being. My belief about the comfort zone changed because I began to realize that there’s a lot more to life than just academics and scholarships.

Once I got into a school away from home, got a good scholarship, went to orientation, and registered for classes, I began to realize that I had made my school decision for the wrong reasons. I was so preoccupied with choosing a school that was out of state and out of my comfort zone that I didn’t effectively consider what all I wanted from a school. Did the class sizes matter? Did the lack of an aquatic biology program matter? Did the overall enrollment size matter? Would the lack of a music composition program matter? None of those things were important to me when I made my decision, but they should have been. I didn’t consider them because I had a very made up mind as Mooney would say, about the location of my future college. My made up mind about the comfort zone caused me to fail to consider many factors that should have been important to ponder when making choices for my future.

I hadn’t read Allegory of the Cave by Plato before this class, but the general story of the cave and the people in it applies to how I felt about the comfort zone while in high school. I was convinced that I was out of the cave had truly seen the light about how my life ought to be lived. Looking back, I think I was actually pretty deep in the cave at that point, but working my way out. For me, the cave was my own belief. The people in the light, at least from my point of view at that time, were people who were happy, traveling, and “better than me.” The shadows in the cave were their social media posts, blog entries, college opinions, and other personal stories. What I failed to realize was that these things were in fact just shadows- a positive, but in many aspects lacking portrayal of these peoples’ lives.

The most difficult part of realizing a personal belief is wrong isn’t the actual realization in my opinion. It’s figuring out what to do next. Before coming to orientation, I was beyond excited for my new adventure. After orientation and the first few weeks of class, not so much. I didn’t deny that this was a fantastic school, I just knew it wasn’t right for me. Reading the article Made up Minds by Chris Mooney helped to lift my spirits and give me ideas about how to act upon my situation that I got myself into. Though it was a tough realization, Made Up Minds helped me see the reasoning behind the situation I was finding myself in. I felt a little less “lost” if you will. By realizing that my made up mind got me in this situation, I was given the first step to finding my way out of it. After orientation I had accepted that I would be spending four years at this school. I made it my goal to find things I loved about the school and the classes and invest myself in those things. My mind was then made up and I was going to love it here whether I liked it or not.

Here’s the sticky part of the situation. Where does one draw the line between forcing oneself to love a place and realizing that a place may not be the right fit? How long is “long enough” to give a place a fair chance? These are the questions I’m seeking to answer at the moment along with seeking to figure out the boundaries of my comfort zone should lie. I wouldn’t have to be asking them now if I had only allowed myself to ask them two years ago. Unfortunately two years ago I was far too preoccupied with pushing myself out of my lovely little comfort zone to even begin to consider things like class size, enrollment size, aquatic biology, and a music composition program. If only I could go back in time and kick myself.

Sadly we haven’t invented time travel yet, but fortunately Descartes has some words of wisdom from his second meditation that makes us regular people feel a little better about our own dilemmas: “just as if I had fallen all of a sudden into very deep water, I am so greatly disconcerted as to be unable either to plant my feet firmly on the bottom or sustain myself by swimming on the surface” (Descartes, meditation II). If a philosopher can feel torn about his own decisions, it’s okay for us to feel the same way. The way I interpret this quote is like this: when we find ourself in an unsavory situation, do we accept it and move on, or do we change it? The hardest part is choosing the right course of action once we realize that a mistake was made or that something needs to change. I acknowledge that my view on the comfort zone in high school did help me in many ways, but it’s caused me to be in a situation now that I’m not sure how to remedy.

So what comes next? Truthfully I don’t know. Writers like Mooney, Plato, and Descartes can help me and others make realizations about my situation. But the course of action must be my own. In high school I believed that the comfort zone was dangerous and was to be avoided at all costs. I have now realized through my own experiences and through the words of Mooney, Plato, and Descartes, that the comfort zone should be stretched, but not avoided because it can assist in the making of the right decision. 

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