Success comes to those who dare to get uncomfortable

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Dear Newbies,

The year’s just begun, so the whole advice from a senior! thing feels a little early, I concede. We don’t traditionally dish out our sincerest advice, our shiniest gems of wisdom, our all-time super-duper, double-secret acuminous nuggets, til, like, April or May.

But one of the neatest things about being a senior is that you care less than ever about the way things are usually done. And you just sort of do them. That’s what this column is about.

The zany, colorful flux of Orientation is over. First- and second-week jitters are probably subsiding. You’ve got more new digits than you knew your phone could hold. You’re assembling a crew. You’ve finally nailed the traffic light pattern at the corner of Forbes and Morewood. This is very good.

All in all, I bet you’re beginning to feel a whole lot more comfortable here. That might not be so good.

Comfort is your enemy. My advice? Get comfortable with discomfort. I started thinking about all this back at the beginning of summer, when I had a very enlightening conversation with my little brother, Dave.

Dave is probably my best buddy. He’s one of those dudes who can handle anything, some freaky amalgam of Cary Grant and Han Solo. He’s about to start his sophomore year at Drexel, and this summer he snagged a sweet internship with a production company in Philadelphia called Shooters. He got the job by calling up an executive producer out of the blue and asking for an interview.

I figured he’d done all this in his characteristically fearless way, so I was surprised when he told me that it was the most nerve-wracking thing he’d ever done. But then he outlined the idea that inspired this column, that your comfort zone is a very dangerous place — a prison. So when fear of the unknown comes knocking, answer it. It’ll lead you to places more exciting than you can anticipate. You’ll never regret it.

You don’t have to start huge. Smile at someone pretty. Ask your professor an “out there” question in front of everyone. Wear something fierce. (For chutzpah, I love the Talmudic image of an angel coaxing every individual blade of grass skyward; imagining Mary Jane Watson over your shoulder purring “Go get ’em, tiger” works very well, too.)

No, it’s not going to go well automatically or every time. That pretty person might look at you like you’re an effing psycho. Your professor might insinuate that your question wasn’t relevant or worthwhile. If “fierce” to you is a tube sock and tinfoil hat, you’ll have lots of uncomfortable ’splainin’ to do, and maybe some special new pills to take.

But at least you’ll have gone out with a bang instead of a whimper.

And after that, what have you really got to be afraid of? Failure is damned freeing; it frees you to be daring every day of your life, and it won’t be long till you’re taking the risks that, combined with a little legwork, equal success.

There’s another really good reason to bust out of your comfort zone, and it’s best illustrated anecdotally:

At the end of July, in the middle of the night, Dave was driving a friend home from a party. Shortly after stopping at a convenience store for hot chocolate, they were hit head-on by a drunk driver on a dark back road. Both cars were totaled. It was only a mile from our house, so my parents and I were there within minutes.

My point is, sooner or later, like it or not, life will force you out of your comfort zone. It will be frightening and you won’t deserve it. But if you’ve made “Daring” your middle name, if you’ve refused to be, as Teddy Roosevelt said, among the cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat, then you’ll find, as Dave did, that you unknowingly picked up awesome reserves of courage and grace along the way.

Seriously now, is there a more ultimate state of discomfort than being battered, concussed, and covered in broken glass and hot chocolate?

To sum up: Frodo and Sam would have been a helluva lot more comfortable if they’d stayed put in the shire. King Leonidas and his 299 bros would have been a lot more comfortable if they’d hung around Sparta pumping iron and throwing stuff into their random bottomless pits. And after having his clock rattled by a ferocious Wampa, I bet Luke Skywalker would have much rather taken in a double sunset on Tatooine than get cozy with a Tauntaun’s entrails.

But these weren’t guys who were afraid of a little discomfort. Not when there was a job to do.