In almost all cases, it is more rewarding, interesting and enriching to challenge yourself instead of maintaining some sort of familiar routine. At the same time, it’s common to feel safer and more comfortable when keeping familiar routines, avoiding new experiences, people and places. The Smarter Sooner guy, however, will challenge this and push beyond his comfort level at every opportunity. In the past few years, I’ve done this with greater frequency and have gained so much. I only wish that I spent less time cautiously staying too comfortable and more time pushing myself earlier in life. Opportunities to challenge yourself happen all the time and can be big or small things. We know we’re challenging ourselves when we feel a sense of discomfort or nervousness associated with new experiences and undertakings. When we feel this slight discomfort, we are ‘pushing beyond our comfort level’ and here are some common examples.
Introductions / breaking the ice with people you don’t know: This can be in any public situation, at a party or even a bar. I vividly recall dozens of potentially interesting social situations where I stood quietly (alone or with the people I knew), avoiding interaction with new people – staying comfortable. Frankly, it was just easier to do this. But, when I challenged myself to meet new people and socialize (pushing beyond my comfort level), I almost always benefited by having interesting conversations, making new contacts, getting the occasional date and even meeting my wife! Yes, I could have kept to myself and avoided these interactions, but I would have missed out on so much. It was often a bit awkward to break the ice with new people, but it almost always was rewarding. I do this frequently now and welcome the opportunity to meet new people, learn from them, hear stories and expand my mind. As the old saying goes, “Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained”.
Traveling to unfamiliar places: While traveling is quite a common thing, many people refrain from truly exploring new places and cultures. For one, there’s a lot of transit and expense involved which can be an uncomfortable deterrent. Secondly, there’s often language and cultural differences. Both of these things can seem daunting because they’re completely unfamiliar and bit scary, and after all, being at home isn’t that bad. Having pushed myself to travel to numerous countries and dozens of cities regardless of my familiarity with the people, culture, languages, etc., I have gained so much. And it even seemed that the most daunting new places were the most rewarding (the ones with the biggest language barriers and/or the most unfamiliar or different). Yes, at times, these trips posed challenges, I made mistakes and there were definitive language and cultural nuances that I had to learn. However, in all cases, I gained. I may have been a bit uncomfortable at first, but that always passed and was overshadowed by the experiences that expanded my repertoire in important ways. Today, the more I travel, the more I want to travel. And the more interesting, remote, unique and different the place is, the better. And combining more adventurous travel with making a point of meeting new people (as described above), I get double the benefit. That’s definitely being Smarter Sooner.
Participation at School / College: In college, it was easiest and safest to avoid clubs, activities and events that were unfamiliar to me. I stuck with the things that I had done previously and the things I was good at because they were the most comfortable. I regret this. New experiences broaden the horizon and I missed out on a lot. I wish I was Smarter Sooner back then. I had the opportunity to take more aggressive language coursework and even spend time immersing in a foreign country to better learn the language. I didn’t do it and I regret it today. I had the chance to take acting / public speaking coursework and training. It made me nervous, so I skipped it. I regret that today.
Small, boring towns: Have you ever wondered why people live in small, dull towns in the middle of nowhere? There are lots of reasons, I suppose. But, one of the big reasons people live in those town is because it’s most familiar and comfortable to them. No matter how undesirable a place may be (and how frustrated somebody might be y their own city or town, the fear of the unknown in a new place can be paralyzing and, as such, people stay put and never leave. They never take the risk. While I don’t live in a dull place, I recognize that lots of people live where they really don’t want to be. I argue that people who are unhappy where they are should take a risk and move. Moving will challenge you and expand your mind, and almost certainly be worthwhile. And if you don’t like your new town, simply move back.
In summary, you know what to do… Push yourself every chance you have (and in many more circumstances than given above). It’s Smarter Sooner and you’ll gain from it. And, obviously keep safe in the process — I’m not suggesting you do anything dangerous!