When you’re comfortable, the slightest discomfort can take on astronomical proportions. Things like getting cut off in traffic or a slow Internet connection can turn a relatively pleasant day into an endless source of irritation.
In my former life, I was living in Orlando, working a comfortable full time job, making a comfortable salary, living a comfortable life with friends and family. But I went about my days carrying a slight discomfort that never quite seemed to go away.
The problem? I had always wanted to travel. To write, to travel, to get out of my comfort zone and stay there indefinitely. But it was too late now. I was settled. I had a good life. I was comfortable enough to ignore the discomfort and pretend it didn’t exist.
Until one fateful night, when the most uncomfortable thing that can happen to a person happened to me – I was mugged at gunpoint and almost murdered.
It was about one in the morning on a Saturday night. I was driving home after having some dinner with friends. I arrived at my house, parked my car, and had just stepped out of the vehicle when suddenly I was surrounded by four young men.
The only thing colder than the look in my attackers’ eyes was the steel of the gun barrel that was pressed into my temple.
I froze. You’d think in a moment like that, you’d scream or cry or run or try to escape. You’d think your entire life would flash before your eyes. But as the four teenagers began screaming at me, and then at each other, all I could do was stand still, completely frozen in shock, waiting to see what fate had in store for me.
While my life didn’t exactly flash before my eyes, I did manage to come to an alarming realization as the barrel of the gun was pressed harder into my temple: it wasn’t worth it to be comfortable.
If my life ended now, right now at one in morning at the hands of some frightened, angry, cracked-out teenagers, I would have nothing to show for it except a healthy savings account and a decent retirement plan. I would die knowing I’d left my life unlived because I hadn’t let myself do all of the uncomfortable, dangerous, exciting, immeasurable things I’d always wanted to do.
I would die without having seen the sun rise from the top of a Nepalese mountain, without couch-surfing my way across Europe, without falling in love in the Maldives, without knowing what it’s like to immerse myself in a completely different culture and way of life.
As I realized this, I was no longer in shock or scared for my life. I was just sad.
Suddenly – and I’ll never know exactly why or how this happened – the cool, steely weight of the gun’s barrel was lifted from my temple. I heard more angry shouting, saw a flash of sneakers running away, and for what felt like an eternity, stayed exactly where they’d shoved me – face down on the pavement.
Somehow I knew they weren’t coming back, and a wave of terror and gratitude and emotion washed over me. I finally managed to lift my eyes to the stars, which were shining brightly above me. I thanked God for my life, and for another chance to make it great.
I’ve had friends who’ve been in similar situations; near death experiences from car accidents, surgery mishaps, or frightening health problems. Some of them seem changed from their brushes with death, while others quickly returned to their comfortable lives.
I refused to let the obvious meaning of my experience get lost. Life had given me a wake up call, and I was going to answer it.
In a matter of a few weeks, I’d sold my house and most of my possessions, packed my bags and set off for Southeast Asia. I was finally off to do the things I’d always wanted to do.
Why does it seem so difficult, even impossible, to do the things we know we’re meant to do?
Sometimes it takes a gun to the head in order to realize that there is no reason not to follow your dreams. At the end of my life, when I’m watching the sun set over a beach in Thailand or Brazil or India, the only thing I will regret is not heeding the call to discomfort sooner.
If you’re considering stepping out of your comfort zone, I’m here to tell you that it’s much more painful to stay put, knowing there’s a whole big world out there just waiting to be explored.
If travel is in your heart, life will find a way to make it happen. The money will be there, and people will appear – sometimes seemingly out of nowhere – to help you along the way.