Translator: Vân ThùyReviewer: Yu Xie We are having the wrong conversationabout our comfort zone.
The phrase “getting outof your comfort zone” is thrown around so much todayonline and in motivational quotes that it's begun to lose its meaning.
And this is becausewe don't clearly understand what our comfort zone is, and it seems counterintuitive to leave it because it's where we feel the most safe.
It also sounds likewe're sugar-coating something that we don't want to talk about, which is fear.
Let me tell you a bit more about my storyand how fear has played a role in it.
I come from a family of travelers.
My mom started a travel agencywhen she was younger than I am now, and growing up they never left me behindwhen they went on their adventures.
I graduated early and got a degreefrom community college by the time I turned 18.
And at that time I had traveledto around 70 countries.
This was the point in my life where people began to ask me the most intimidating questionthat you can ask a young person: “What are you going to do next?” And in attempt to answer that question, I began by asking myselfwhat I was most passionate about, which has always been travelling, and how to make the mostout of the cards that I was dealt, which was how muchtravel experience I've had at my age.
That's when it dawned on me.
I had over six yearsto break the world record for the youngest personto travel to every country.
And this was the perfect opportunitythat I was looking for to get out of the booksand into the real world.
In retrospect, I had no ideawhat I was getting myself into.
Flash-forward two and a half years later, and I spent countless hours crammed on planes, trains, chicken buses, tuk-tuks and junk boats travelling with nothing but a backpack.
I have encountered health issues, spanning from malaria in West Africa to hospital-worthyfood poisoning in Pakistan.
I learned how to cope withpublic anxiety attacks by myself in foreign countries, and I endured the brain-sizzlingfrustration of dealing with bureaucrats from every country that requires a visa.
Believe it or not, these have beensome of my most treasured memories because they were the mostdefining moments of my life, spent far, far away from my comfort zone.
Proving to Guiness World Recordsthat I have traveled to every country was a completely different story.
According to a very strictpack of guidelines, I'm required to submiteverything from plane tickets to accommodation and taxi receipts, to multiple witness statementsfrom each country.
I struggled to findtwo people in each country that spoke, read and wrote in English that would be willingto help me with my witness statements.
I had to plead with immigrationofficers at every border to please stamp my passportwith enough ink, to be able to read the name and the dateon the passport stamp.
I am now in the process of submittingnearly 10, 000 pieces of evidence in chronological order, documenting how I enteredand exited each country, along with a detailed itineraryof what I did in each place.
Beyond this very overwhelmingamount of paperwork, somewhere along this journey, I discovered that there wasmore than one element of my comfort zone that I was going to have to get out ofto get to where I wanted to go.
I now believe that there is a correlationbetween our comfort zone and our mind, body and soul.
If you know thatyou have fears in general, knowing exactly wherethose fears are stemming from is the first step towards overcoming them.
I personally have a fewvery distinct fears.
I am afraid of heights, which stemsfrom my physical comfort zone.
I have – I had a fear of being alone, which was completelycontrolled by my mind.
And I also am terrified of regret, which comes straight from my soul.
The reason why so many people are unsuccessful at gettingout of their comfort zone is because our comfort zoneis not just one thing.
The first is obvious, our physical comfort zone.
Naturally, what we fear most is death.
We're evolutionarily wired to avoidsituations where we could get hurt.
And that's why every cellin my body was screaming when I was standing on the edgeof a 750-foot drop in Switzerland.
The opportunity came up to bungee jump off of the third highestplatform in the world, and being someone that wasalways too afraid to jump off of rocks into the water at the river, this was by far my greatest fear, and the idea of facing it head-on excited me just as muchas it terrified me.
When they strapped in my anklesand perched me on the edge, I was shaking.
I plunged into seven and a half seconds of the most intense sensory overloadI had ever experienced.
Complete terror turned into utter euphoria and resulted in one of the mostsignificant moments of my life.
In that moment, I realized that I wascapable of pushing my body's limits and that it's somethingthat's actually worth doing.
I realized what was possible and became instantly hookedon the rush of having new experiences.
Little did I know at the timethat facing my biggest fear was what would ultimately lead me totravelling to every country in the world, and out of 196 countries, I have only found myselfin real, physical danger one time.
I traveled to Yemen as a photographerfor a Norwegian author who was writing a book aboutthe least visited countries in the world.
On our last night in the country, I woke up to the sound of gunshotsoutside of my hotel.
I jumped out of bed and ran to the window to see that there were 50 or so mencongregated in the parking lot, yelling and pushing each other around, with six cars with flashing headlights blocking the only exit.
With no security in sight, I grabbed my phoneto call my contact in the country, who didn't answer because this was happeningaround 2:00 in the morning.
I could hear voicesoutside of my hotel room even though I knew that we werethe only people staying in the hotel.
That was the first time I had ever hearda fully automatic weapon discharged.
I literally duckedand looked around the room realistically lookingfor the best place to hide.
In that moment, there was nothing I could do but sit with my fearof potentially being kidnapped, until eventually, all the men disappeared, and I could cry myself to sleepafter the adrenaline wore off.
The next morning, I called -I talked to my contact in the country and asked him what had happenedthe night before.
He responded with, “Oh, that? That was just a wedding party.
” (Laughter) Since Yemen is an Islamic country, they do not drink alcohol, and one of the waysthat they celebrate is by shooting guns.
Basically, what this means is the this scariest thing thathas ever happened to me while travelling was only scary becauseI didn't fully understand the culture.
The fun didn't stop there.
Getting out of the comfort zonethat I had created around myself mentally would prove to bean even greater challenge and would require me to develop an entirely different aspectof my character.
We are creatures of habit.
We are most comfortable with thingswe can easily understand and predict.
We fill our lives with routines.
We wake up, go to class or work, eat our meals, maybe work out and go to sleepat basically the same times every day.
We surround ourselves with the samestable relationships for years.
We try so hard to live upto other people's expectations of us that sometimes we let our passionstake the back seat because ultimately we don't wantto become isolated from our society.
After I traveled to the firsthundred or so countries, the destinations becamemore and more obscure, and I stopped being able to talkmy friends and family into coming with me.
If you've never traveled for an extendedperiod of time by yourself before, it might be hard to imaginewhat it's like to spend days in transit on airplanes, in airports, just to end up in an empty hotel roomby yourself at the end of the night.
After months of this for me, it resulted in intense loneliness, which was somethingI didn't even realize I feared because I had been shelteredfrom it my whole life.
At the peak of my time spent alone, I found myself in the tinyisland nation of Tuvalu, in the south Pacific with a populationof only 11, 000 people.
I spent four daysin the capital, Funafuti, because that's how oftenflights go in and out of the country.
There was no Wi-Fi, no cell reception, no connection to the outside worldwhatsoever other than a small post office, which happened to also be the country'snumber one tourist attraction.
When I thought that I would be spendingmy time in Tuvalu completely alone and without any distraction, I noticed the onlyother foreigner on the island.
She was a kindergarten teacherfrom the South Side of Chicago who also happened to be travellingto every country.
We bonded so quickly and deeplyover all of our shared experiences that we ended up goingfrom complete strangers to travelling to Fiji, Tonga, Chad, Central African Republic and Saudi Arabia together.
From the seven and a half months I spent travelling aloneto 50 or so countries, I learned how to be alonewithout being lonely, and this did wondersfor my self-confidence, but it also completely changed the waythat I think about the people in my life.
Now I have an appreciationfor the time that I get to spend with the people that I care about the mostin a way that I used to take for granted, before I knew what it wastruly like to be alone.
I also discovered that we haveso much more in common with people around the worldthan you may think, because ultimatelywe all want the same things, which is why at the root of our spiritual comfort zone, the layer closest to our souls, we are all looking for fulfillment.
We are afraid to leavethe safety of our routine to pursue something greater because of our fear of failure.
I set myself up for a goal witha very realistic potential for failure, not because my family wanted me to or because it was easy but because I knew that I would regret itfor the rest of my life if I didn't try.
And now, I make the majorityof decisions in my life based on the answerto a very simple question: “Will I regret not doing this?” If the answer is “Yes, ” I knowthat I have a moral obligation to myself and the people around me to do it, even if that means jumpingoff of a 750-foot dam or spending seven months alone or giving a talk in front of strangers.
Being in a state of comfort itselfis freedom from pain, but when we subject ourselvesto genuine discomfort, and plunge into the unknown, that's when we learn to transcendthe layers of our comfort zone, manage our fears, and become empowered by them.
Ask yourselves: How uncomfortableare you willing to become in order to reach your fullest potential? Thank you.