Psychologists define comfort as a state of well being and is a combination of physical and psychological factors. Unfortunately, we do not grow our skills while comfortable (our waistlines may grow, but that is a different story). Pushing oneself out of our comfort zones is critically important in the pursuit of better leadership.
There have been some wonderful talks on the dangers of the comfort zone but here, we’ll look at my favorite place where media has provided us an example of the benefits of going beyond our comfort zone and the incredible growth that can take place out in the unknown.
Finding Nemo is the 2003 Pixar film where Marlin is the single father to his son, Nemo. Nemo, however, has a short fin which makes swimming dangerous. Nemo spends his early life with his dad trying to ensure he has everything set up for as much success as possible and keeping him safe and comfortable.
On Nemo’s first day of school, his dad tries to continue keeping him safe and comfortable in a way the Nemo clearly finds embarrassing. In an attempt to prove himself Nemo swims off the dreaded drop off and toward a “butt”. Upon touching the boat, Nemo begins his triumphant return back, only to be captured by a diver.
Marlin spends the majority of the remainder of the movie searching for Nemo but from Nemo’s perspective, this is where the movie forces Nemo to get out of his comfort zone. Nemo is placed in a dentist’s fish tank at 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney. Nemo is due to be a gift to the dentist’s niece, Darla. Darla, however, has a history of killing fish incredibly quickly. To get him and his friends out of this confined situation, Nemo is forced to get out of his comfort zone.
Gil, the leader of the fish in the tank, devises a plan that means Nemo is going to need to swim up the tank’s filter and jam it with a pebble so the tank can get as dirty as possible. Once outside the tank, Nemo (and friends) can work on escaping and getting back into the harbor.
The first attempt fails, nearly killing Nemo in the process. He is crestfallen, resigning himself to what amounts to a death sentence at the hands of Marla. Fortunately, Nemo gets word from a pelican that his dad has made the trip across the ocean to save him. Buoyed by this news, Nemo makes a second attempt, successfully lodging a pebble, allowing the tank to get incredibly dirty.
Their efforts are thwarted again. This time, the dentist installs a high tech filter, which the tank gang realizes just as Darla makes her way in the door. Nemo, emboldened by his time spent outside the box, is quick on his feet…. fins… quick on his fins and plays dead. This allows Nemo to get close to a drain which leads him out to sea, where he is reunited with his dad.
Nemo started the movie being rebellious but this forced him to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Once out on the other side, Nemo is better off for it. He has more adaptive confidence in himself and a better understanding of the dangers that truly exist in the ocean. His dad goes through a similar transformation and now sees Nemo as his son who can do things.
Our lives are filled with challenges. Being a leader presents you with even more challenges. While getting out of your comfort zone is challenging, remember some seminal advice from the movie. Just keep swimming.
Where in your life has getting out of your comfort zone pushed you to do greater things than you thought possible? What pushed you out of your comfort zone? Let me know in the comments below.