I spent much of the first three decades of my life directing my love everywhere else but inward. I did what was expected of me. I earned good grades, got a good job and bought a house in the suburbs.
I was living life on autopilot, following the worn and familiar path that is touted as “the way” to a successful and fulfilling life.
Even though, from the outside looking in, I was living “the good life,” I often felt depleted, with a constant longing for more.
To escape this feeling, I knew I needed to shake things up. I needed to rediscover me. And to do that, I needed to step outside my comfort zone and explore what life was like o of the established path.
So I started intentionally making myself uncomfortable. I quit my high-paying corporate job and started my own business. I sold my townhouse in the suburbs and downsized to a tiny condo in the city. A few years later, I started traveling solo by bus through South America as I learned the language, and immersed myself in the cultures. s The journey has been exhilarating, eye-opening, and anything but easy. But through it all, I rediscovered and reconnected with myself in ways that wouldn't have been possible within the “safety” of my comfort zone.
Here are three ways intentional discomfort helped me love myself more deeply. And if you start stepping outside your comfort zone, you'll experience some of these benefits too.
1. I quit the should've, could've, would've.
Starting my own business, learning another language and living in another country were dreams of mine for a long time. And even though I knew I wanted to do these things someday, years continued to pass without me lifting a finger to make these dreams my reality. My comfort kept me from putting the work in to move closer to my goals.
I often beat myself up, frustrated about living my life filled with far too many regrets.
All that stopped when I stopped dreaming and started doing. I write this now from my apartment in Buenos Aires, where I speak Spanish daily and run my business. No longer do I wonder “what if” when it comes to the things I longed for.
I love myself more for acknowledging that my own dreams were valid enough to chase after.
2. I embraced dancing off beat.
I used to sit on the sidelines at parties watching people dancing and enjoying themselves. I always wanted to join in but often didn't for fear of looking crazy. I put way too much weight on what other people thought of me.
This played out in many aspects of my life. As a result, I rarely took risks or rocked the boat, because I didn't ever want to look like I didn't have my stuff together.
But the things that matter most are never a sure thing. And life isn't about being perfect. Nor is it about avoiding looking silly.
We live life fully when we are able to do the things that make our hearts flutter. Even if that means opening ourselves up to the possibility of falling on our face.
In repeatedly stepping outside my comfort zone, I realized just how much of my worth I previously placed on my job, status symbols and how much other people approved of my decisions.My worth is not defined by how much money I have in the bank, where I live, or even if I'm a good dancer or not. It is derived from my character, how I treat others and living according to my values.
Once I released myself from the pressure of defining my value by how the outside world saw me, I was able to start living life on my own terms. I embraced my rough edges. I gave myself space to learn and grow. And I have a whole lot more fun as a result.
I am enough just the way I am. I love myself unconditionally. I know that now because falling on my face a time or two forced me to prove it.
3. I learned how to take a punch.
One of my first acts of discomfort was taking surfing lessons in Mexico. This was a big deal to me because I'd only learned to swim two months before.
During the lesson, each time I got up on that board to try and catch a wave, I crashed ungracefully into the harsh salty water. The waves would continue to knock me around. Each time, I'd gather myself and get back on the board.
I must have fallen into the ocean at least 20 times that day. I wanted to quit after the second time. Thankfully I didn't because that experience prepared me for what was to come as I went further outside my comfort zone.
Nestled comfortably within the familiarity of following the predestined path, life mostly seemed to fall into place. When I did what I was “supposed” to do, I often received the expected results.
But outside my comfort zone, I explored the unknown. In the process, life threw me curveballs. There were many bumps and bruises along the way as I assessed which path was right for me.
Because of the surfboard, I learned how to deal with slammed doors, getting knocked down and difficult obstacles that were in my way. I learned how to adjust. I learned to go with the flow.
As a result, when times got tough, the temptation to return to the familiarity of the life I left never won me over. I knew that difficult times would make me stronger, wiser and more resilient.
Now, I love myself now more than ever because I know I'm tough enough to keep going.
Making yourself uncomfortable isn't easy. At times, it feels scary, especially when you're not sure what's waiting for you outside your comfort zone. But it's totally worth it, in terms of experiences, opportunities and personal growth.
I'm thankful that I realized I loved myself too much to continue taking the "safe" route. I hope you'll decide that you love yourself too much, too.