Four years out of a comfort zone

Whenever someone alludes to “pushing yourself out of your comfort zone,” I used to think of an individual act done in isolation that made me uncomfortable, taught me something, or was just a departure from my normal way of living.

Especially as a runner, I’ve confronted commonplace remarks of “the magic happens outside of your comfort zone” for years. I’ve been encouraged to take risks by going out more aggressively in a race or experimenting with different styles or training.

As I’m running down the homestretch of my four years at Muhlenberg, I’ve been given the invaluable perspective of a different type of comfort zone — a social comfort zone.

I’ve learned going out of your comfort zone isn’t an isolated action just involving you. Particularly, there’s a lot to learn about ourselves, other people, and our world, by exceeding what I like to call your “social comfort zone”. This social comfort zone is grounded in the people whom you interact with, what you learn from others, what you share with each other — it’s a dynamic process. Conveniently, as we change, so does our social comfort zone, and so does how much we can push that threshold.

For instance, by the time I was a sophomore, I was fortunate to take on the position of Op/Ed Section Editor at The Weekly. I was thoroughly enthused to engage with writers, helping them reflect on what issues and events mattered to them and how to channel facts, opinions, and emotions into well-crafted opinion pieces and editorials. I was also plunged into an office with other editors from all different backgrounds across campus who knew infinitely more about every facet of news writing than me and virtually everything else Weekly-related. I was particularly humbled by their layout skills using the computer program InDesign. I can write, but my extent of my artistic abilities firmly ceases there. I am visually, musically, and vocally impaired when it comes to my own art production. I had to go out of my social comfort zone, asking for help (a LOT of help) when needed. Furthermore, I had to contact people I barely knew (more strangers) to write op/ed pieces. I also worked with an office full of people who went from being practically strangers to some of my most respected and genuine friends on this campus. I learned new skills, but also had to work with others in positions where I had to ask for help or in a different capacity I wasn’t used to.

Challenging my social comfort zone has also helped me to develop a more complex identity and to consider myself a more integrated person. Freshman year Emily was defined by running and pre-med. I solely defined myself by my sport and my academic endeavors — I surrounded myself with my classmates and my teammates. Since then, I’ve pushed my social comfort zone and have been so lucky to find communities, practically families, of people from the activities I’ve invested myself in. I literally have developed a running family, a Weekly family, and a tick-lab family. I value not only how other people have influenced and impacted me, but how I’ve also had the experience of influencing and impacting others. I also learned there’s a comfort zone and I caution about the unsustainable zone, in which I over-invested myself in to too many activities. While experiences helped me form a complex identity, over-investing and over-committing yourself can also exhaust you with little time to yourself and at the extreme end, a loss of identity.

Opening yourself to different social groups and different activities through many areas of involvement on campus is a fulfilling experience-based way to learn people skills, life skills, and more about yourself. Will you always agree with differing opinions? No, but expanding your social comfort zone allows you to listen, understand other perspectives, and if necessary — respectfully disagree. Looking to the future, most of us won’t have occupations or relationships or lives in complete isolation — most of our life will be spent navigating relationships with others, supporting the significance of expanding a social comfort zone.

As a whole, expanding my social comfort zone has enabled me to both realize and develop the multiple identities of myself, meet some of the most impactful people in my life, and undergo some of the most meaningful experiences that have made me who I am today.

To sum up my experiences at Muhlenberg — I have much to thank the Weekly specifically for, from throwing me to the wolves (InDesign) to developing my interpersonal skills, and to developing my skills of listening to others and moreover, the ability to give people a voice from all backgrounds across this campus.

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