Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end… because in the end, it shows you a whole new world.
“I’m sorry, Lisa, but Debbie and I are going to move back into the house. You’re going to have to find another place to live.”
I couldn’t quite believe what Neil, my landlord, was telling me on that warm April night. I’m going to have to move? But I want to stay right here where I am. This is my home!
I had tears in my eyes, and so did he. I had lived on the first floor of his Staten Island two-family house for more than twelve years — longer than I had lived in any place since my childhood home. Ever since I moved back to the New York City area in 2000, Neil, a butcher in his fifties, had been like family to me.
Originally, Neil lived on the second floor of the house. But a few years ago, he had moved a few miles away into his girlfriend Debbie’s house. He renovated his old apartment and the attic, and rented out that space to some young members of the Coast Guard. But after a torn rotator cuff had ended his grocery career, he and Debbie had decided to sell her house and move back here.
Neil had never raised my rent, which was $750 a month, dirt-cheap for New York City. This was a big comfort when I was laid off from my newspaper job during the height of the recession and couldn’t find more than piecemeal work for two years. He promised me that I would always have a home, even if I had a hard time making the rent. However, I always made sure that I paid the rent before any other bill.
Now, I was still recovering from the recession, and I was going to have to find a new apartment and pay more. A lot more, I thought.
That was part of the problem. Neil was making a lot more money from the new tenants upstairs, so it made sense for him to keep those tenants and move into my apartment. He was very nice about it, and gave me six months to find a new place. Nevertheless, I was devastated and worried. I was so upset that I got into bed, pulled the covers over my head and cried. It was only 8:30 p.m., but I just wanted to go to sleep and forget this was happening.
Around 12:30 a.m., my upstairs neighbors had a few friends over, and they were making some noise. I stormed out of bed, opened my front door, and yelled up toward their apartment: “Can you keep it down already? I have to get up in five hours to go to work!”
I was so wound up afterward that I couldn’t sleep. So I called Jon, my best friend, to bemoan my bad fate. But Jon surprised — and annoyed — me.
“Look on the bright side,” he said. “Maybe you will find a place you like better. Let’s face it. Your apartment isn’t exactly the Taj Mahal. And you complain all the time about that crowded bus to and from the ferry. Why don’t you find a place where you don’t have to take that bus?”
“How can you say that?” I snapped at him. “This is way out of my comfort zone!”
“C’mon, Lisa. Did it ever occur to you that change could be good?”
“No!” I screamed, and hung up on him.
I fumed for the next few days about our argument. But what if Jon was right? Why was I so afraid of change? Why did I assume that every change would be bad? Why was I so negative all the time? Yes, I had a bad break losing my job, but why couldn’t change be good sometimes? Maybe my life needed to be shaken up. Maybe I was in a rut.
The fact was I had let myself go in too many areas. When was the last time I had tried to do something with my writing skills? Or with my weight, which had gotten out of control in recent years? When was the last time I did anything outside of my routine? When was the last time I felt positive and hopeful about anything?
That summer, as I started looking at apartments, I began to think about new possibilities. Maybe I could get better furniture, be a better housekeeper, and have an apartment I could be proud of again.
It was a good thing Neil had given me six months to find a new place because I needed most of that time to save money and find an apartment, which was frustrating. I loved the view from the first place I looked at, but the landlord had already promised the place to someone else. Other apartments had parking issues, or were too small or expensive. And some of them had landlords who seemed just plain weird, like the woman who asked me four times whether I was planning on having a baby even though I was in my late forties.
But as the leaves started falling that year, I wondered if I was being a little too picky and was in denial about having to move. I prayed that I would find a place that was right for me. When was it going to happen? Time was running out.
Finally, that October, I spotted the apartment of my dreams in a new home in a nice neighborhood. The place had a stainless-steel refrigerator, stove, and microwave oven. Great overhead lighting. A built-in washer and dryer. Central air conditioning and heat. No more having to rely on crummy AC window units. The floor was beautifully tiled, unlike my old apartment’s worn-out wood floors. This apartment also had a luxurious bathroom that looked like a spa. My old bathroom looked like a crime scene.
The new place was also close to the train and the express bus. While it was farther from Manhattan than my old place, the public transportation was better and more convenient. Plus, the neighborhood had a pharmacy and grocery store less than two blocks away. I could get along well without a car, something that wasn’t the case at my old place.
But the apartment was $200 a month more than my current apartment, and it was more than I wanted to spend. It took me two weeks of agonizing, but I finally decided that it was the place for me. I signed a lease and agreed to move in right after Halloween. Moving was very stressful, but I got through it.
Once I had a new place, I was motivated to have new — and better — furniture. I was able to get a fancy new bed at a great discount thanks to one of our clients at work. I also saved a few pennies and bought some good, gently used furniture. My brother bought me a dresser. And Jon put together a bookcase, TV stand, and coffee table for me.
It took a few weeks to get the place fully in order, but I remember how proud I was to show my new digs to my friends, Jon and Ann, one Saturday night when they came over for dinner.
As time went on, I found myself doing more things out of my comfort zone and feeling more positive about life. I started to address being overweight. I began a regular exercise plan and started making meals in my new kitchen, instead of wolfing down junk food. I became more conscious and mindful, and ran regularly — another thing way out of my comfort zone — which helped me lose eighty pounds. I became so dedicated to running that I completed over 250 road races, including eight marathons.
I also started to get out of my comfort zone professionally. I took a risk and pitched The Washington Post website about an article idea. To my surprise, they said “yes.” Not only did they run “The Redemption of A-Rod” on the website, but they also ran it in the Outlook section of the Sunday edition, which I consider the most prestigious section of the paper!
As change upon change built up in my life, I felt like I was a different person. My life had improved in so many ways, and it all started when I shed the cocoon of my old apartment, took a risk and found a new place to spread my wings. There’s a reason they say that the end of your comfort zone is where the magic happens.
— Lisa Swan —