Through The Looking Glass: In Defense Of The Comfort Zone
When I walked away from my parents on Robinson Hall’s lawn for Dartmouth Outing Club First-Year Trips, laden with a heavy backpack leftover from my father’s Eagle Scout days and several items of mild contraband, I knew that I wouldn’t be talking for a while. Faced with the prospect of introductions and icebreakers, I contemplated how I could survive the next few days saying as few words as possible. When faced with the opportunity to make a bad impression or a good impression, I tend to split the difference and do my best to make no impression (at all).
Coming from a relatively small suburb and having had the same best friends for ages — a neighbor I’ve known my whole life and a best friend I made the first day of kindergarten — this tendency never cost me anything before college. I knew everyone around me, and they knew me, and that was comfortable. Dartmouth is not like that, not for me.
I made friends on Trips almost despite myself, though I cemented the relationships more during orientation-week activities than I ever did sitting around a fire and sharing stories about myself based on the color of jellybeans. Then I lived in a four-person quad, having never even shared a room before. I managed to befriend my roommates too, and soon I had manufactured a comfort zone on Berry/Bildner 1 that I loathed to leave, except to hang with my Tripees.
The rest of my time at Dartmouth has been spent testing the limits of that comfort zone. My most notable expansions came again from forced constrains that I initially hated, like the D-Plan taking nearly all my floormates from me sophomore fall. It’s amusing and completely predictable that my current constellation of friends is composed largely of those I met or knew of in my circles freshman year, although re-arranged into new dynamics and contexts.
I do not buy into the notion that getting out of your comfort zone is an inherent good, though normatively it is inescapably encouraged. It’s so overrated. Your comfort zone can contain what you are good at and the people that you care most about. That sounds pretty great to me. Deepening those abilities and relationships excites and motivates me much more than the possibilities of a wide-spread network and a resume packed with short-term involvements.
Involvement in the theater department since my first year has allowed me the opportunity to get involved in various capacities, not just playwriting, the realm I came to college knowing I could do. Joining The Dartmouth’s staff freshman fall and sticking to it led to a promotion to section editor by sophomore year, and I learned so much more working with different directorates than I could have if I had abandoned it for some other extracurricular.
The College offers a plethora of ways to spend your time. The sheer amount of choices available can overwhelm an undergraduate, especially someone who has spent their high school career jamming in clubs, sports and honors societies in the hopes of making it here. But we should all allow ourselves the chance to relax for a moment. Not in the sense that there’s nothing left to work for, but instead to recognize the value of free time and the value of focus, which can sometimes pay off in greater dividends.
Perhaps I should clarify that I am still a busy person. And that I have made a great deal of friends since freshman year: lovely, funny and strikingly important to me. I’ve lost some too. But, if I were to examine whatever success I have had on this campus, I would attribute it to prioritization. Know in what order, day-to-day even, you rank your goals, your aspirations, your grades, your friendships, your romantic relationships. Then let that order be flexible. It sounds too codified, maybe, but if you do it right it all comes from what your heart wanted all along anyway.
As I look toward graduation, I know that there are some aspects of Dartmouth I’ll miss — professors I bonded with, classes I never had room in my schedule to take, places on campus I’ll think of in future falls. However, I am not sad about leaving the people. Everyone I care about will still be in my life, if I want them to be and if they want the same. I know that because that’s how it has worked for the last four years. That is how it has been through off-terms abroad and stuck at home and in times between. That is how it has been with my neighbor and my best friends from high school too. Another great thing about the comfort zone: it’s portable.