The Benefits of Stepping Outside of Your Comfort Zone

I didn’t think cliques existed until I went to a different high school in 12th grade. It was there that I learned that schools like the ones in Mean Girls really did exist. Okay, maybe my high school wasn’t completely identical, but students in the cafeteria did separate themselves. There was a table for the popular kids and a table for the kids who played with Pokemon cards. Not only that, but people also put themselves into groups based on social class, religion, ethnicity, etc. My high school was very diverse, only that diversity wasn’t well-represented at the tables in the cafeteria.

But everyone seemed to be okay with that. No one was uncomfortable sitting at a table filled with people that were ‘just like them.’ I’m not saying that people should be uncomfortable doing that because it’s completely okay to seek out people you have things in common with. However, people who constantly do that become unaware that they’re doing it and it soon becomes their comfort zone. A comfort zone is a place that people tend not to step outside of because of how familiar it is and how relaxed that familiarity makes them feel.

For example, if I’ve only ever been friends with people who played on the girl’s basketball team, then I’m more likely to sit with them at lunch and choose them as partners for group projects if we have classes together. I don’t do this intentionally. I’ve just known these people a lot longer than I’ve known anyone else and I feel comfortable around them, so why change that?

Why is it important to branch out and make connections with people outside of my normal circle?

The answer to that is simple: it’s a part of life.

Not everyone in the world is the same. The sooner we learn to accept that, the sooner we can truly embrace it. For some people, going to college might be a huge step for them because they’re leaving behind their small town for a college town a few hours away in a different city or state. I’m not going to speak for every university, but the chances of you attending a school that is diverse in more ways than you’re used to is very high. Moreso if you’re going to a large university.

Once you are there, you might seek out people you assume you have a lot of things in common with because that’s what will make you feel comfortable. If you end up going to the same school as a couple of your friends, you might choose to only socialize with them.

Starting college (or high school) can be very overwhelming and intimidating so it’s good to have a familiar face or at least someone who you can relate to because you have a lot of similarities. But if you want to make the most out of your collegiate (or high school) experience, don’t clique up; don’t separate yourselves from others because they’re not familiar or because you’re afraid to leave your comfort zone. College is all about learning; not just inside of the classroom but out of it as well. You can learn so much from people that come from other parts of your country and from people who come from around the world. Everyone has a story to tell and everyone you meet in college has the potential to be a lifelong friend.

Oftentimes we might not think that we have much in common with someone whose first language is different than ours or someone who subscribes to a different religion. We get so used to gravitating towards people who share obvious commonalities that we forget that the people we see as ‘different than us’ can also have some (or many) similarities. You just have to find the courage to move outside of your comfort zone and talk to people you think you wouldn’t have anything in common with. Don’t spend your entire time at college with the same people because there are so many people to socialize with; so many opportunities to learn about a different culture or religion or to even just get a different perspective on life.

College is one of the best ways to get people from all over the world to come together under one roof, metaphorically speaking. It is truly a beautiful thing so use this time to your advantage because, thankfully, college is not high school. So, step out of your comfort zone. Better yet, try your best to knock it down. I know it’s not easy to get rid of it all at once, but the world would be a much better place if we worked at breaking down the barriers that exist  between each other a little each day.

Image: morguefile