Before I headed to Princeton, I spent two years in Northeast Brazil as a Mormon missionary. No technology. No dating. Just knocking on doors and preaching at street corners and on buses. An evangelist in the truest sense. It was an experience i’ll cherish forever.
The Comfort Zone
Each mission has a Mission President — an older, wiser, more experienced leader to help manage this large group of 19-21 year-olds. My Mission President was a retired Colonel from the Brazilian military. Great friend and mentor.
Just one year into my mission, I was assigned to work along side the Mission President to help lead/manage the entire mission (200+ missionaries in the state of Pernambuco, Brazil). I helped lead the strategy and vision in helping convert people to our faith. It was a wonderful learning experience and I was grateful for the opportunity to serve in that capacity. There are so many parallels between running a mission and running a business, but that’s for another post.
Life as a mission leader wasn’t always easy, but it certainly wasn’t as challenging as knocking doors under the hot sun, day in and day out, like the other missionaries in the field. We worked from the air-conditioned mission office, traveled around with the Mission President speaking/training missionaries, and made sure everything in the mission was running smoothly and effectively.
It was comfortable. It was stable.
With a few months left in my two-year mission, my Mission President pulled me into his office. We were preparing for the arrival of a new Mission President (they rotate every three years) so I expected a conversation regarding the transition period — how i’d help the new President get acquainted with the missionaries, the geographic regions, the processes, the metrics, etc.
Instead, the conversation was quite different.
My Mission President wanted me to leave the mission office and finish my mission out in the mission field, preaching at street corners and teaching in peoples homes. He wanted me to train a new missionary (someone fresh to the mission who didn’t speak a lick of Portuguese). He said I could choose the missionary and that I could choose the area. He said that I had more to learn, and that I needed to get out of the mission office to learn it. He capped the conversation off with these words: “The comfort zone is of the devil.”
He was so right.
I’ll never forget the great experiences I had during those last few months of my mission when I was out in the field. It was hard. It was challenging. It was draining. But it pushed and stretched me in a way that i’ll forever be grateful for. It was an incredible learning experience. I needed that bucket of water thrown on me. I needed to step out of the comfortable life in the mission office.
Since that time during my mission, i’ve tried to frequently ask myself this question: how can I get out of the comfort zone? How am I challenging myself? How can I force myself to grow and learn?
This world is getting more and more competitive. People are working harder and getting smarter. Troves of knowledge and information are at our finger tips. There are increased resources for productivity and efficiency. People are leveraging the latest and greatest technologies and methods to “get ahead.” It’s cut-throat. It’s sometimes brutal.
To stop expanding our skill-set is to live dangerously. The workplace is becoming too competitive to be satisfied. Constant development isn’t just to thrive, but to survive.
The teams and individuals who will win in these fast-paced, rapidly-changing times will be those who are constantly challenging themselves, constantly learning, constantly evolving, and constantly killing the comfort zone.
The comfort zone isn’t always bad. But it if it hinders, stops, or slows your personal progress, then it must be dealt with. It’s much easier said than done. But in my limited experience, it’s definitely a discipline worth pursuing. Whenever I step out of my comfort zone and attempt something extraordinary, I always grow stronger because of it.
Back to the hustle.
“A man grows most tired while standing still.” – Chinese Proverb