Article by Megan Nicole O’Neal
I am writing to you from seat 14A United Airlines, Rochester-bound from San Diego. It’s an 11:45 p.m. red-eye.
You see, this year I set out to accomplish one thing: to stay open. It sounds simple enough, but you may not realize how often you innately hang a “Closed for Business” sign until you try to transition to a 24/7 operation. We can be stubborn and closed-minded, unable to listen to others’ opinions and perspectives without judgment. We can be guarded and closed-hearted, afraid of appearing vulnerable and somehow weak by association. We can become disinterested, uninvolved, and often so paralyzed by our daily lives and stressors that we forget there is an entire world out there.
I didn’t want to be one of these closed people because when I sat down and honestly thought about it, the times that I’ve hurt or been hurt by others have had a lot of (literal and metaphorical) closed doors in common. But openness, I’ve noticed, is a slow and often complicated process.
I see openness as having curiosity – and not just about what hair regime Blake Lively is on or the name of the Avengers character with the bow and arrows (Clint Barton). Curiosity about new people, places, cultures, experiences, food – you name it. Simply put, being open means having a willingness to not immediately say no to something unfamiliar. (To be clear, you don’t actually have to say yes; you just need to consider it a viable option beforehand.) This way of being sounds great, and it is! However, the only way to do this, to be truly open (here comes the fun part), is to live outside of your comfort zone.
Live. Let that sink in for a minute because that word was carefully chosen. Typically, we hear the phrase “step outside of your comfort zone,” which I believe is certainly an important move in the right direction. But I’m talking about putting more than just your right foot out. You have to pack up your bags, your shoe collection, and your favorite childhood stuffed animal and move across that line into a house with a very long lease. Being open is a character trait that must be embodied, on more than a handful of occasions, for it to be genuinely earned. Think of it this way: You can’t claim to have an open-door policy with nothing more than a doggy door and expect anything great to be able to squeeze through.
The problem with comfort zones is that we often can’t tell when we’ve been sucked into them. From the safety of our comfort zones we get complacent. We fall into our work-gym-(Netflix)-sleep routines and forget to live outwardly from our hideaways, ultimately sacrificing the ability to impact our world.
Have you ever wondered why “casual” and “casualty” are such dangerously similar words? Perhaps it’s because abiding by a casual life in the comfort zone is the ultimate casualty to the stories of our lives. Someone once said to me that in our adult lives, we have, on average, 22,000 days to live. For some that might sound like plenty; but to the open and the curious, that almost sounds like a challenge. You have 22,000 days to discover the world. Ready? GO! Do you really want to waste one of those days, weeks, or months doing the exact same thing as yesterday?
Now, I know we need jobs to provide for ourselves and our families, which doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room for adventuring. Trust me, I’m not some barefoot granola-hipster who lives in a treehouse somewhere in the Arizona mountains; I pay my dues at a 9-to-6, too. But there’s a way to live, even with daily obligations, that doesn’t leave your personal story a casualty.
Remember when I said I’m currently 30,000 feet in the air, en route to Rochester? It’s a work trip. (Fun.) Those who’ve been in a similar situation know how annoying it can be to sacrifice a weekend to work. But why not look for opportunity instead? I volunteered to fly early (3 a.m. early) and spend my Saturday night crossing the country so I could explore Rochester and Niagara Falls with my newfound free hours on Sunday before hopping to client meetings Monday morning. It was a small switch, but the thought to take an earlier (and painfully less ideal) flight might never have crossed my mind had I not been willing to break from the status quo.
I’ll warn you: At first, it is going to be uncomfortable. Being open, especially with other people, can be awkward. And stepping (and staying) out of your comfort zone can at times feel like floating, or walking onto a frozen lake that’s beginning to thaw. But it gets easier. It’s a rewiring of your brain, and similar to learning a new language, the more you practice, the more naturally it flows. One day, you’ll realize you’ve been thinking and dreaming in this new language without even trying!
So get out of your comfort zone! Discover new places and new faces – I dare you. Yes, it might be scary, but isn’t overcoming the fear worth it? I argue that it’s the risks we take – the times when something is hard but we march forward anyway – that add spice to our lives and give our memoirs a little flavor. A good story never started with, “I woke up, ate breakfast, and then binged on Mad Men for the rest of the day.”
At least, not the kind of story that gets remembered.
If we, in the present, are a compilation of the experiences from our past, let me leave you with one question: Who do you want to be 10 years from now?
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Megan Nicole O’Neal is a UCLA alum and public relations specialist with a passion for storytelling and a firm belief that only the right photo is worth 1,000 words. An avid adventurist, she’s traveled to five different continents, all on an endless quest to find the world’s greatest cup of coffee. Megan currently works at Olive PR Solutions in sunny San Diego and volunteers for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, freelancing for the PR department.