Monday, January 05, 2009

The Comfort Zone

"New Year's Day, Lake Granby"
Oil on Panel

I stumbled across an old post from Clint Watson's blog the other day, titled, "Be the Outside Zebra by Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone," and it got me thinking about comfort and security, and how sometimes you have to do what you don't want to do to get where you want to be.

I readily admit that I'm a "security freak" at heart. I gravitate toward the stable - I like having a stable job, a stable family, reserves in the bank for a rainy day, etc etc.

The funny thing is, when I look back at my life so far, the only decisions I would make differently if I did things over again are those decisions that I made to maintain my comfort zone.

I went to engineering school instead of art school because it would land me a good job out of college. I majored in Chemical Engineering because I knew the average salary out of school was good. I accepted a job in Houston with big oil because I wanted to have a job lined up before Christmas of my senior year (!?!?). The list goes on... (Disclaimer: this is not to say that I really truly regret those decisions - they've actually served me really well - but that's another post!)

When I look at the pivotal moments in my life this far - those that have made the most positive impact - they are all the result of big decisions I made that took me out of my comfort zone (way out of my comfort zone). These are the decisions that kept me up at 3 am, worrying whether I was making a big mistake.

There was the time I quit my high-paying job with big oil in Houston to take a lower paying but more fulfilling environmental engineering job in Colorado. There was the day I found out I was pregnant with Aspen, which happened to be the same day I got into my first gallery - a sign I took that it was time to give up engineering. There was the day I told my bosses that I wouldn't be coming back to work, that I was going to do the art thing full time. There was the day Nate quit his sales job to build houses, so that he could be at home to spend more time as a family. And there was the night Nate and I sat up late, drinking tea and watching the snow fall outside his parents house in Granby, and decided we could move to the mountains, that nothing was stopping us.

None of those decisions were comfortable for me, but they sort of had a domino effect. The first one wasn't that big of a move outside of the comfort zone, but it gave me the courage to make the next big decision. And that next decision gave me the the courage to make the next. And once I made a few of those decisions, taking control of my life became sort of addictive. So now here I am, living a life I used to joke about eight years ago, because it seemed so improbable. I used to tell my coworkers at Exxon that I was going to work five years, then quit to have kids and drive around and paint in the mountains. I wasn't really serious at the time (I had never painted a landscape, for starters), but I made it, didn't I?

That's not to say that I don't still embrace my inner security freak, and that it doesn't work for me sometimes. I didn't move back to Colorado until I had a job lined up. I didn't quit engineering until I knew I could make money with my art. We didn't do the self-employed thing until we had a certain amount of reserve in the bank to carry us through the hard times. I didn't move to the mountains until Nate had already built three houses up here. And I still have my moments where I look at the daily news and wonder if we're completely crazy for trying to make it this way in this type of economy.

But I know that being uncomfortable is one of the best ways to get where I want to be, so I'm committing myself to leaving the comfort zone every once in a while, in my life, and in my art.

So, what would make you happy? Would getting there be uncomfortable? Is it worth it?


  1. The great thing is that when you leave your comfort zone, your "zone of comfort" expands. So those things that *seem* uncomfortable at first quickly become comfortable....and then you get to expand even further out of your zone and it becomes an ever-increasing upward spiral.

  2. This is a lovely snow work and "Trinchera Morning" is another beauty. People often ask me (a still working engineer) how an engineer can be a painter. I tell them the mind set is not all that different. You design - it can be a computer chip, a heart valve, an oil rig, or a painting. Then you create and analyze the results. What is wrong, what can be better?

    So I think your engineering training may have been a blessing for you painting.

    You are moving toward being one of the top landscape painters in the country.

  3. Our comfort zone is always adapting to our experience, as clintavo said. We expand it and then move onto another new area that is outside of our current comfort zone.

    I think it is nice how we adapt and move forward. It is what makes life interesting.

  4. Clint and E. Floyd - you're totally right, getting out of the comfort zone sort of has a snowball effect. There's also the flip side - I've seen people who refuse to leave their comfort zone, and it seems that their comfort zone shrinks and shrinks as the years go by.

    Onpainting - you're 100% right, and that's why I can't say I regret those decisions, even though they landed me in some of the unhappiest times of my life. Engineeiring is a VERY creative job, which most people don't get. When you're on the design phase of a project, every decision is a new problem to solve. I think that this has really helped me as I learned how to paint, and how to market my work. Anyhow, I could write pages about this...

  5. Lovely painting Stacey and a great post! As someone who has pushed the comfort zone regularly and probably overzealously, I can truly appreciate what you have accomplished.
    Happy New Year!

  6. Beautiful painting!! I follow your blog but this is the first time commenting. I'm not sure if you've read the book "The Secret" but, it sounds like you had ordered your life when you talked to co-workers about your future of painting. I had a similar experience.
    PS. Thanks to you I have my word for the year!! CHANGE.

  7. Great reward only comes from great risk.
    I made a decision seven years ago to leave behind one life for another...Its been very hard in so many ways but I have the satisfaction of finding out what I'm made of...and I was pleasantly surprised at what I found. I always thought of myself as weak, come to find out I'm not - I'm glad I took the leap of faith.

    You painting is beautiful and I always enjoy visiting your blog.

  8. I really like the color and handling on this one.

  9. Deborah - thanks!! I can tell you have definitely gotten comfortable moving out of your comfort zone, and the choices you've made are inspiring.

    Cheryl - thanks for commenting. I haven't read the Secret, but I'm familiar with the concept - I do believe that the first step in getting where you want to go is being able to fully imagine it as possible.

    Cara - I agree, it's difficuly to leave behind one life for another, but it's a great way to learn what you're really made of.

    Joe - thanks!