Change is the only thing that’s guaranteed in this world–from the cells in our bodies to the stars that populate the night sky–yet it’s something that scares us a lot. We want to stick to what we know and what we’re used to. We tend to order the same drink whenever we go to Starbucks. Take the same route home everyday. Listen to the same songs over and over. Stick to a book or movie genre that we like. Hang out with the same people. It’s safe, in that we know it has worked for us countless times in the past, and therefore it makes sense to keep doing it again. But by avoiding change, we’re avoiding growth.
When I graduated from high school in 2010, one of the teachers elected to put this message in the yearbook:
…With all the social networking, a danger is that you can trap yourself in a little box of sameness — same people, same likes and dislikes, same inside jokes. Branch out and connect to elders, older co-workers, professors and even children, the more time you spend with people who have a different world view, the more opportunities you have to build your own.
The actual message was longer, but that part has always stuck with me since the first time I read it. It made me look back on the four years I spent in high school. While I grew and changed physically, I didn’t improve much as a person. I did the same things every single day with the very same people, and I had completely trapped myself in a bubble that I didn’t even know was there.
It wasn’t until college that I became fully aware of this sameness bubble that was suffocating me. The first step was taking a break from Facebook and Twitter; I didn’t need to be connected with everyone from my past 24/7. Graduation was a fresh start, and keeping myself updated on the lives of everyone from my past–including old acquaintances I barely knew to begin with–didn’t sound very appealing to me. If our first thought upon seeing an old acquaintance in public is “Oh God, I hope he doesn’t see me,” then why should you bother being online friends? Click that “x” and delete. What if he finds out, you ask? Well, who cares. Realistically, it’s very unlikely that you guys are going to hang out ever again. Sure, you had some great times in high school, but ask yourself (and be honest) “Am I friends with them, or do I only have them around because we used to be friends?” If your answer is the latter, there’s no need to feel bad. People’s interests change; it’s normal. If you have absolutely nothing in common anymore, let them go. You only have so much attention and energy to go around, make sure they’re going to people and things that matter to you. Don’t be afraid to downsize your social circle.
It was also around the same time when I realized that a person’s “comfort zone” is both beautiful and toxic. I see it as a well-made bed: It’s good to sleep in at the end of the day, but stay in it 24/7 and you’ll eventually become sick. Growth only happens outside your comfort zone. You don’t build muscle by lifting the same light weights over and over. You don’t gain new knowledge by reading the same book again and again. You must go out and do something new, including those that scare you. When I look back at my life so far, the memories that stick out aren’t the times when I was doing something routine like going to class or hanging out with the same people. Instead, I remember:
- Hiking the Hollywood sign with a new friend from Germany (sup, Phil!)
- Deciding to skip class and flying six hours to see a show in Los Angeles and flying back to New York just a few hours after the show
- Sitting next to a 23-year-old homeless man named Sean on a busy Manhattan sidewalk and chatting with him for an hour to see the world from his point of view
- Releasing my own clothing line and learning firsthand how a business works
- Taking odd jobs (I’ve been a promo paperboy, courier, assistant, retail associate, typist, transcriber, movie extra, etc.)
- Using broken Spanish and Russian to help tourists who don’t speak English (Portuguese, you’re next!)
- Officially moving out of my parents’ house at 21
- Taking improv classes at my local comedy club
- Ziplining through the Adirondack forest and taking in nature’s beauty, despite being afraid of heights
- Spending my Christmas Eve with Andisi and handing out gifts to the homeless of New York
All of these experiences were outside my comfort zone at the time, but I forced myself to go for them because I knew they would help me grow as a person. I have learned invaluable lessons about people and life that I otherwise would not have gotten had I stayed in my bubble. If you’re bored with your life and you aren’t growing, that’s your fault. School and work are important (this is coming from a workaholic), but don’t ever forget that the whole point of being here on Earth is to experience the most life has to offer. If you don’t change, your experiences won’t either. When you’re on your deathbed and your life is flashing before your eyes, do you really want to see the same scenes over and over? I sure don’t. So when you start your day tomorrow, make sure to change something–anything–from your routine. It could be as small as trying a new place for lunch or waking up 30 minutes early to work out. Once you get more comfortable with change, start going for bigger ones, like doing things that you’ve always wanted to do but have always been afraid, or things that you just normally wouldn’t do. Soon enough, you’ll be discovering things about yourself and others that will give you a richer perspective on life.
And for the sake of being cliche, I will leave you with a quote:
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Dan Millman, Way of The Peaceful Warrior: A Book that Changes Lives