Don't Let Your Comfort Zone Limit Your Progress
What is the greatest thing you have ever seen in your lifetime? I once asked my grandmother this question. She did not hesitate. She said she remembered the first time she ever saw a passenger jet fly overhead. “This will change everything,” she remembered thinking. Now, in 2016, there are about 100,000 scheduled commercial airline flights, carrying 8 million people and well over 25 million packages every single day worldwide.
“I see those big airplanes and I feel frightened and inspired all at the same time,” I remember my grandmother remarking. She also said those feelings never left her. She felt them every time she saw a plane fly over her house.
I remember this very clearly because I too have had that feeling of being frightened and inspired; both at the same time. But for me it wasn’t an airplane that caught my attention; instead it was an event that occurred in early August, 1974. I keep a photograph of the event on the wall in my office. The photo is signed by Philippe Petit who, on that warm summer morning, clandestinely rigged a 450 pound cable between the two towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and then proceeded to walk across it. He not only walked across it, he did so 8 times and performed out there, 400 meters above the ground, for 45 minutes. I feel frightened and inspired again just writing about it here.
Phillippe Petit was only 18 years old when he first conceived of this death-defying feat. The inspiration hit him while reading a magazine in a dentist office. He saw an artist’s rendering of the two buildings and immediately pictured himself walking on a wire between them. The fact that he conceived of this impossible idea truly inspires me. Then, pulling it off just a few short years later; well, that just completely mystifies me. When I see the pictures of Petit fearlessly carrying out this remarkable achievement I am simply captivated.
There is a man who should never have to pay for another beer in any bar ever again, anywhere.
Petit lives in New York (near Woodstock) and is also an equestrian, a swordsman, a carpenter (he once built an entire barn completely by himself using methods and tools from the 18th century), a rock climber and a bullfighter. He has written eight books and he is an artist-in-residence at the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City. He has consulted on several films and documentaries and he is a past recipient of the James Park Morton Interfaith Award, the Streb Action Maverick Award, and the Byrdcliff Award. His story inspires me because he conceived of something from nothing and it was amazing.
Besides the autographed picture of Philippe Petit, I also keep a signed photograph of Nashville musician and record producer Rick Elias in my office. Rick produced one of my all-time favorite gospel albums. The album is unusual in that the listener gets to enjoy each song twice. The first versions of each song are extremely raw recordings made by song writer, Rich Mullins. Rich sat by himself in an abandoned church in 1997 and recorded each song into a cassette tape recorder. 9 days later, Rich died in a car accident. The second versions on the album are Rick’s fully produced versions, professionally recorded in a studio with an orchestra, a children’s choir, a string quartet, and various talented singers and musicians. The album was a labor of love and an exceptional tribute to Rick’s late friend. The picture in my office, like that of Philippe Petit, reminds me of what hard work, talent, and inspiration can accomplish.
Additional items in my office include a picture of Elvis Presley, several books from some of my favorite authors, pictures of my family and pets, a framed copy of my IPMA CGCM certification, and a Coroplast cut-out of a character from my children’s book, "A Blue-Footed Booby Name Solly McBoo."
The most unusual item on display here is a set of nine toy action figures arranged on the top of my book shelf. They are dressed in Medieval garb, holding pitch forks, torches and shotguns. I call it my “Angry Mob Play Set.” I used to pretend they were angry constituents pushing me to meet deadlines but lately they have come to represent something more profound. They have come to signify for me all of the forces at work pushing me outward, pushing me forward and pushing me to grow.
Like most people, I have a comfort zone. My comfort zone is a realm where nothing places a demand on me, nothing stresses me and there is nothing for which work or effort is required. The edges of that comfort zone are the ends of myself. I find that it is less complicated to live in this place where my ideas and assumptions, my knowledge and abilities, my experiences and my relationships are all settled and unchanging. It is simpler to live within my self-imposed boundaries and easier here to avoid pain, failure or embarrassment. I have heard it said that no risk equals no reward but that is not true. The reward of no risk is a comfort zone.
In my office, I hang pictures of Philippe Petit, Rick Elias and my family. I keep books written by Luis Alberto Urrea, Tony Dungy and Anne Lamott and I display an angry mob play set. These people and these images serve as reminders to me that life inside of a comfort zone will always only ever be comfortable. Inside of a comfort zone, there is no such thing as growth, creativity, inspiration, innovation, progress or revolution. There is nothing compelling, diverse or dynamic. It may be a happy place, but it’s not much of a party.
My grandmother was not alive in 1783 when Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier became the first person ever to fly in a hot air balloon. She was just a baby when the Wright brothers made history at Kitty Hawk in the early 1900s. But when she was well into her 70s and the modern age of aviation had been achieved, she was able to recognize what an incredible privilege it had been for her to bear witness to the evolution of powered flight. She knew that countless individuals over the span of hundreds of years had stepped outside of their comfort zones to work towards a seemingly impossible dream.
My office is filled with things that inspire me to fly and to find the places beyond myself. What do you keep in your office?
Dwayne Magee is now in his 17th year as director of Messiah University Press and Postal Services. His department was recipient of the 2018 IPMA Organizational Impact Award, the 2015 IPMA Innovation Award, the 2017 ACUP Green Service Award, and the 2015 ACUP Collaborative Service Award. Prior to joining Messiah, he worked for 17 years at Alphagraphics as an assistant manager and ISO coordinator. He is president of the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He is currently an English major (part-time) with a concentration in writing at the college where he works. Outside of work, Dwayne enjoys exploring spiritual, environmental and social concerns through creative writing and the arts. He can often be found speaking on the topic of diversity in bookstores, public libraries and elementary schools, where he makes use of his award-winning children’s book “A Blue-Footed Booby Named Solly McBoo.” His travel writing and fictional essays have made appearances in various publications including the Northern Colorado Writers Anthology and the Goose River Anthology published by Goose River Press. Dwayne is the father of two boys and he resides in Mechanicsburg, Pa., with his wife Sue and their two dogs. Contact him at: DMagee@Messiah.edu