Seth Godin Repost & Response: Our crystal palace

Expand Your Comfort Zone

Our crystal palace from Seth Godin’s blog

Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we’ve turned our culture into a crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.

We waste our days whining over slight imperfections (the nuts in first class aren’t warm, the subway isn’t cool enough, the vaccine leaves a bump on our arm for two hours) instead of seeing the modern miracles all around us. That last thing that went horribly wrong, that ruined everything, that led to a spat or tears or reciminations–if you put it on a t-shirt and wore it in public, how would it feel? “My iPhone died in the middle of the 8th inning because my wife didn’t charge it and I couldn’t take a picture of the home run from our box seats!”

Worse, we’re losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk, from people and places that might not like us, appreciate us or guarantee us a smooth ride, we spend our day in a prison we’ve built for ourself.

Shiny, but hardly nurturing.

So, we ban things from airplanes not because they are dangerous, but because they frighten us. We avoid writing, or sales calls, or inventing or performing or engaging not because we can’t do it, but because it might not work. We don’t interact with strange ideas, new cuisines or people who share different values because those interactions might make us uncomfortable…

Funny looking tomatoes, people who don’t look like us, interactions where we might not get a yes…

Growth is messy and dangerous. Life is messy and dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.


I read the above today and it really hit home with me. Living in a place that constantly challenges me and makes me expand my comfort zone (even when I’d rather curl up in bed and watch a movie) is at the very essence of the Peace Corps experience.

When I imagine moving back to the United States (I can’t believe we only have a little over 2 months left!) it all seems so…easy. Or maybe I mean comfortable or maybe I mean expected. However I articulate it, the idea has been swirling around in my mind a lot lately.

As much as I complain that I miss Thai food or dependable hot water or the NYC subway (yes, I miss that behemouth of public transit) the truth is, I know that when we do go back to the States I will miss the daily challenges here in Ecuador that have stretched me outside of my old comfort zones.

A few years ago I went to Cape Town, South Africa to participate in the Lucca Leadership Course there. The course I took was modeled after several different trainings and focused on transformational leadership. The entire experience was a test in getting out of my comfort zone as the only participant from the Americas, the only Spanish-speaker and also one of a minority of white participants. And, I’m happy to say, it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Our days were filled with a mix of discussions, participatory leadership games, team-building activities, and shared meals. One of the sessions specifically dealt with comfort zones and the main idea has always stuck with me.

Imagine you are standing in a field and there is a circle drawn around you. That circle, however big or small, is your current comfort zone. Walk to the edge of that circle. Step outside of it and there appears another concentric circle, the edge of which now represents your comfort zone. Walk beyond that circle and another appears and so on and so forth. Every time you stretch yourself, your comfort zone grows bigger and bigger but the challenge never stops. You don’t pass your first limit and rest on your laurels. You keep expanding and learning and growing.

This is all food for thought as Paul and I decide where we want to be after the baby is born. Maybe we’ll play it safe and stick around our current comfort zone. My hunch is, we’ll find another adventure and expand our circle even more. Time will tell!


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