It wasn't always this way. I used to live on the edge. The edge of my work life and my life life. I loved it. It was thrilling and I loved the thrill. I bungee jumped literally (at the spot where bungee jumping started in New Zealand!) and figuratively. I tried everything and loved it all.
And I have marvelous memories and the secure knowledge that that part of my life is done. Tied up with a bow.
While I love my comfort zone, I have, once in a while, wondered if it was just the cop out of a lazy old woman.
Until today when I read yet another essay from the very cool book The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion by Megan Daum. Over brunch this morning I read some amazing thoughts about the value of living in your comfort zone.
But having lived most of my life firmly within the confines of a very specific set of interests and abilities, I can tell you that the comfort zone has many upsides. It may be associated with sloth and cowardice and any number of paralyzing, irrational phobias. It may be a dark abyss where misunderstood people lie around in fading recliners listening to outdated music. But I’m convinced that, when handled responsibly, the comfort zone can be as useful and productive as a well-oiled industrial zone. I am convinced that excellence comes not from overcoming limitations but from embracing them. At least that’s what I’d say if I were delivering a TED Talk. I’d never say such a douchy thing in private conversation.
I once interviewed the actress Diane Keaton about her status as a “style icon.” If you follow such things, you probably know that the menswear that helped make Keaton famous in Annie Hall has evolved over the decades into a wardrobe that has branded her, if not exactly a trendsetter, at least an unapologetic marcher to her own sartorial drummer. Keaton wears a lot of wide cinched belts and oversized jackets. She never wears evening gowns, not even at the Oscars, but she often wears elbow-length gloves—“It’s just a little something extra,” she said to me.
When I asked her what inspired these choices she told me that everything she wears is an effort to compensate for some flaw. She said she started wearing big jackets to draw attention away from her narrow shoulders. She said she had “no waist” so she faked one with wide, dramatic belts. In other words, Keaton only wears clothes that she feels she looks good in. And because these turn out to be very particular clothes, she ends up adhering to the same basic style no matter what the occasion. She’s been anointed a “style icon” not because she is especially daring but because she has a limited range. It is within the confines of the comfort zone that she has found greatness.
This is fascinating and validating. And I love that at nearly 66 years old, I'm still on the look out for and so thrilled to find validation.