Leaving The Comfort Zone


This post originally appeared March 28, 2013 when I was not quite comfortable with retirement.  The story of the lottery winner reminded me it takes time and effort to acclimate to retirement just as it takes time and effort at other junctures in life.


Earlier this week there was mention on the news of a man who won a $30 million lottery. Of course, with his newfound wealth, he left his job at a concrete company. That’s probably the first thing we’d all do. Then, we would go off on a travel log or buy the dream home or the Ferrari.

Well, within a month, this accidental retiree asked for his everyday grind of an old job back. For the millions who play the lottery dreaming of winning, this guy must seem like he’s crazy. He told his former co-workers he was bored. Bored? Are you nuts? With $30 million to spend on whatever, unless this guy has zero imagination, it’s hard for me to believe he’s bored. More likely, he was moved outside his comfort zone.

We all have a comfort zone where we feel safe and secure psychologically. Stepping outside your perceived zone can be challenging, upsetting or even exhilarating, depending on your personality. That’s what happens when you retire. Like the lottery winner, you leave behind the known, which even if your job is just a daily boring grind, offers a certain security because it’s a given. There’s security in the routine. There’s security in your work community. Even if you work with someone you don’t like, there’s security in knowing they will be their engaging selves every day, day after day. Even if your routine at work is upended, you still have a sense of security in the safety net of your work community and place.

During my 40 years in the workplace, I stepped outside my comfort zone on many, many occasions. I even worked at one company where employees were deliberately placed in positions, which took you outside your zone, if only for a while. If you were an accountant, get ready to work sales. If you were in sales, get ready to work in operations. Our CEO thought it was beneficial for people to stretch their limits. He believed if you did something new for a certain amount of time, it would eventually become routine — old hat — part of your comfort zone. Exposure to new ideas eventually make you a more resilient person.

So, at that time in my life I was stretched plenty just by doing my job. I went from working in an office 8 hours a day to flying into a new (to me) city just about every week for a year. This was a time when there was no GPS, no cell phones. At most airports you still walked across the tarmac to board your plane!

Once you reached your destination, you went to a car rental company, standing in line for your turn to rent a car. When your turn came, a customer service rep ran (and I mean ran as in at the mouth) through your choice of rental cars, pushing a couple of forms in front of you to sign, a map of the city ripped from a thick pad of maps on the counter (remember, no GPS) finally handing you a set of keys.

In the rental lot you joined other souls wandering around looking for their rented vehicle. Once you located your car, if you were lucky, you found your way out of the lot and onto the highway where your ability to read a map and drive at the same time was tested.

That was before carrying out my job in each unknown city with people I’d never met before. After the first year of doing this, my CEO was right, it became routine. My comfort zone expanded. I also learned how taking some risk, trying something new, shaking things up is actually an opportunity to grow.

Over the next twenty years 77 million baby boomers will step out of their comfort zones and into retirement just as Martin and I did. Most won’t have the $30 million the lottery winner-turned-accidental-retiree has. Unlike him, I’ve learned I like shaking things up. Finally getting acclimated to neither of us going to a workplace, we’re creating a new comfort zone for our lives. It’s been more stressful than we anticipated. In many ways, it’s also been more rewarding than we anticipated. One of the rewards is we can shake things up whenever we want by trying something new on our terms.

Choices. That’s what the lottery winner has in common with us – choices. With a $30 million dollar lottery win, he can pretty much choose to do whatever he wants. But, his first choice must be to step outside his comfort zone. Don’t go back to your old job, fella. Take a chance. Take some risk. Shake things up. Buy a Ferrari, shop for the dream home and get yourself a great travel agent.

6 comments on “Leaving The Comfort Zone

  1. Just because you work with your hands doesn’t mean your job is boring. He might have been producing concrete for new houses or a new school or for a highway. This would give a lot more meaning to your life than driving a new Ferrari.


    • Catherine, I agree with you 100%. When I’m working in my garden with my hands, whether it’s deadheading spent blossoms or planting new bushes, I am not bored in the least. The point I was trying to make wasn’t about his job but that he went back to it in just 30 days, which is what many retirees do. I’ve met many who returned to work within a short time of retiring because they didn’t give themselves a chance to discover what else life had to offer. They were uncomfortable with their retirement and being left to their own devices. Work, whether it was in an office or using their hands, is a comfort zone for many, me included. It took about 2 years for me to acclimate, which is a normal time frame. The Ferrari and dream home are a type of metaphor…it could be anything else as well. K


  2. I gave myself a chance to discover what else life had to offer when my dream job (as law clerk to an appeals court judge) disappeared when the judge lost his re-election bid. Because of my age back then, my husband suggested I just resign myself to enjoying retirement. So, I tried the “dream retirement” but could not adapt to that lifestyle. I returned to writing fiction which I had done when my son was a baby. I also started a website to post about the challenges and perks of a writing life (twenty years after my first two novels were published) and then discovered there were so many other topics I wanted to write about
    You are right Kathy, it does take a couple of years to acclimate.


  3. Great article!! I am a big believer in looking beyond what is familiar. Having fresh eyes is all about bringing youth and the sense that the world has so much more to offer us than our narrow minds allow. Opening up to new adventures and possibilities of what can be are much more interesting than getting up everyday and living the way people expect. Surprise yourself first!


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