There’s a common understanding in the fiction writing scene, according to which conflict drives story. Even outside of fiction, it is a common storytelling technique to highlight the struggles of your characters to make them more relatable. We all love a good struggle – and not because we are self-centred, individualistic and sadistic pricks. It’s because we love seeing how others get out of that struggle. How they navigate the challenge, so we can do the same, should the need arise. Well, some of us do, at least.
However, with struggle comes risk – or rather, the opposite is true. There can be no struggle without risk, just like there can be no learning without struggle. Learning is, by its very nature, a quite interesting word to use here – as storytellers love putting their characters in situations in which they can learn something, go through a journey of personal growth, and bring the reader/viewer/player along on the ride.
At the very core of all this stands a rather simple concept: no one will ever learn anything from the safe comfort of their own, unchallenging environment.
The Comfort Zone
We all have our own, personal comfort zone. It can be a place, a person, a financial situation or a job – but there is something in our life with which we feel extremely comfortable, something we would never stride too far away from. In that, however, we should learn from the very characters we create, the stories we conceive, and the work we make as creatives.
I once read somewhere that stories prepare us to face the hardship of life. They are like a simulation of possibilities, a window on what our existence could throw our way. We will probably never have to face a dragon in our lives, but a lot of us had to deal with that annoying bully at school, or that big threatening guy in the office, or that rather unfriendly boss/manager who would always demand and never give. And every time we are up against one of these monsters, our mind works to plan and gather ways in which we can win the fight, occasionally drawing solutions from our favourite stories. By experiencing stories, we learn passively what our favourite characters are going through. But it is only by seeking those challenges ourselves that we truly have a chance to grow.
Now this will sound much like some sort of career coaching or motivational speaking – and you’re not too far off from the truth. The point is that there is no career advancement if we suppress our own ambitions – there is no personal development if we refuse all challenges and try to glide over life’s problems by ignoring them or passing onto someone else. The Comfort Zone is a nice place to be, but it can get boring after a while and it can turn us off. Sometimes, we need to be looking outward.
Seek new challenges, chase new thrills
By now, each one of you will have their own idea of the Comfort Zone in mind. That’s expected, and in fact, I hope that is the case. I kept it quite vague on purpose.
There are several ways to break out of your personal Comfort Zone, of course. Whether that be experimenting with a new creative style, learning a new skill or challenging yourself with something you never tried before – there will always be something valuable to learn from all those experiments, something you can cherish and keep in the back of your mind for when the occasion arises.
Do you always say “Yes” to everything on the job? You can try valuing your own time and saying “No” for once. You’d be surprised how great you’ll feel afterwards.
Do you feel stuck in your creative role with no ambitions but dread the idea of looking for something else?Maybe you should. As scary as it sounds, as safe as your current role may have you feel financially, you’ll probably be fine and off to something greater.
Get that coffee with an old friend you haven’t heard from in ages. Reach out to someone you had a huge fight with many, many years back. Grab your pencil and start drawing that character who’s been in the back of your mind for so long. Design that app. Learn to code. Start that novel. Read a new genre.
Try. Experiment. Play.
Then, hopefully, repeat.
Failure is part of the process. There can be no learning without a challenge.