The High Price of Comfort

Chief among the values prized by fellow millennials is comfort. It’s reflected in our more casual dress and our increasing preference for impersonal forms of communication, such as text or Slack. Our desire to form self-reinforcing informational and social bubbles, where we can limit our exposure to different and potentially disagreeable ideas, is fundamentally driven by a desire to avoid discomfort.

Our comfort fetish began with the “self esteem” movement in the early 1990s, when we were elementary aged-children. It culminated into the (rightfully) maligned “participation trophy” culture. And the trend simply continued on under its own momentum from there, leading to the rise of Safetyism and other developmentally self-destructive movements. The pursuit of comfort above all else puts us in a position where we simply sit through and endure the bad hands dealt to us by circumstance.

As I touched on in my previous post, millennials are extraordinarily risk averse compared to previous generations. Let’s be clear: risk aversion is simply staying in one’s comfort zone. Comfort-seeking is also an aversion to taking responsibility. It places our locus of control outside of ourselves, leading us to believe that we are victims of Baby Boomer’s greed or any other preferred boogey man. It leads us to believe that we are disempowered victims and that the best we can do in life is to merely survive it as comfortably as possible.

The comfort trap is killing us and it is ultimately responsible for our generation’s collective achievement gap. It’s why millennials squeal about work-life balance, fantasize about four day workweeks, and take The Four Hour Work Week literally.

Comfort: the Anti-Achievement

We want:

We may differ person-by-person in terms of priorities, mediums, and magnitudes when it comes to these things. But these are fundamental desires that compel us to get out of bed and out into the world each morning.

Comfort is nowhere to be found on this list.

Let’s suppose for a moment that I’m about to graduate college and the pursuit of comfort is my foremost goal. What would my life look like?

I’m describing a “minimum effort” person - someone who puts in just enough effort into day-to-day living to stay within his or her comfort zone. No one wants to be friends with a minimum effort person because they are transactional, weak, disempowered takers.

Most people aren’t “minimum effort” people, but they are “low effort” people. They’ll put slightly-more-than-minimum effort into selective areas because they prioritize some needs ahead of others. But you’re not going to see these people running marathons or winning industry awards any time soon. At work, they’re often the type won’t invest in their co-workers or employers, treating them as merely a means to end… And yet, they’ll still have the audacity to whine and complain about mistreatment at the hands of their employers. They rationalize and defend their lack of achievement as though it’s driven by external circumstances, not internal choices and the overarching desire for comfort. If minimum effort people take, low effort people settle.

The common through-line between minimum and low effort people is that life is something that merely happens to them; not an active experience they lead and direct.

Comfort is the antithesis of purpose and achievement. Successful people with “comfortable” lives only have them because of the risks they took, the struggle they endured, and the achievements they accomplished.

The solution to our problems is recognizing that comfort is an outcome of hard work, not an alternative to it. Therefore, we should change our mindset about what we value and do every day to realign ourselves as “high effort” people.

The High Effort Lifestyle

When you pursue happiness as an end goal, you fail. Happiness is only realized through fulfillment, which comes from engaging in meaningful pursuits like family, faith, career, creativity, community, and so forth.

Comfort works similarly. High effort people prioritize achievement, recognizing that comfort is its byproduct. They take responsibility for their station in life and circumstances regardless of external forces. “It’s not the 2008 Recession’s fault that I don’t own a home; it’s something I can change if I want to.”

The defining trait of a high effort person is they have an internal locus of control. They’re in charge of their own lives. They can affect the outcome. They are not victims.

In each of the areas of human need I highlighted earlier, high effort people don’t settle for the bare minimum.

They don’t want to get by feeling good enough; they want to feel great - because if it’s worth doing something then it’s worth doing well. So join a running team, work with a personal trainer, or take up a hobby like rock-climbing. And here’s the amazing part: although it’s initially uncomfortable to start running at first, the more effort you put into it, the better you get at it. In other words, by struggling through the initial discomfort you come out on the other side better for it and more comfortable.

When you’re uncomfortable, you’re growing. You’re expanding your boundaries and your limitations. You won’t always feel good when you’re doing it, but that’s the point: by being able to tolerate things that were once uncomfortable or “risky,” you grow into the sort of person who can take on even more ambitious things that might have been intimidating or scary once before. When we adopt that mindset that putting a high level of effort into our lives is its own reward, we exercise a high degree of self-ownership and power. People who do this consistently will become better leaders, they’ll get promoted, they’ll feel good, look good, do good work, and most importantly they’ll connect with other high effort people and can build amazing teams, families, and friendships.

So rather than complain about how your workplace sucks, start looking at things you can do to improve it on your own. Even something as trivial as picking up a piece of trash when you see it in the hallway is a good start. Changing your mindset through your behaviors and attitudes doesn’t happen over night. It requires re-committing yourself to the goal of your individual excellence and achievement every day. And the irony is: when you become a high effort person the comfort you were looking for originally will be right there waiting for you and you may not even notice.

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I'm the CTO and co-founder of Petabridge, where I'm making distributed programming for .NET developers easy by working on Akka.NET and Helios.

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