For many of us, our lives consist of a series of steps that tend to follow the same pattern - we build a "box" that we believe is a comfortable place to be, we put ourselves in it, and then wonder why things aren't working out the way we'd like them to. It's often self-defeating, and many times it's self-destructive. We hear the advice of others. They often implore us to "think outside the box." We hear it, but quickly dismiss it simply because following it would require us to get out of the comfortable and familiar box that we've built for ourselves. In other words, we aren’t about to listen, no matter how much others have to say.

Whether you’re seeking employment, trying to build a new product, providing a service within a competitive marketplace, establishing a new relationship, or attempting to lose weight, sometimes we need to step outside the box we’ve built for ourselves and get a little uncomfortable. The first step is to recognize you’re in the box, and that is perhaps the most difficult thing to do. Once we recognize this, then perhaps we can get used to the idea that being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing, but sometimes a necessary thing for us to be positioned to make a significant and positive change in our lives.

The key to remember, is no matter how comfortable a position we think we’re in, if how we operate doesn’t match well with our circumstances and how the rest of the world operates, then we can’t expect circumstances or the world to change just to please us and fit the situation we have created for ourselves. We have to be the ones who change so we have a better fit – or simply understand and accept the fact that we aren’t going to fit, and we’ll very likely be left “in the dust.”

I am reminded of an example that shows how we create our own box, hop in, and then ride out the troubled times, when we could have simply tried something new and perhaps been more successful by changing our approach as the circumstances around us change. Redefining who we are and how we do things is perhaps the most difficult thing to do simply because it requires reinventing ourselves, and that is fraught with many and varied challenges, no guarantee of success, and it’s something most of us have probably never done before.

My example is of an engineer who is self-defeating, but she just can’t see it. She used to work for a large corporation where she was comfortable, and everything was very familiar. She survived one round of layoffs after another. She was advised by friends to get a resume together and a collection of her work, and go see what her talents might fetch outside of her current career path. Her familiar and comfortable box had her hoping to hang on for just another 5 years until she could retire.

Six months later, she was laid off work and had no resume nor a collection of her works to go out and seek a job with. Despite advice to get aggressive and quickly get a good resume and examples of work together, she insisted on getting these things together at her own pace so the entire complement of material would be perfectly comprehensive and in-depth. Only then would she be ready to go about a job search in the manner that was familiar to her and she was comfortable with.

Meanwhile, the clock ticked away, and every day that went by most likely made her less desirable in the eyes of a prospective employer. You can hear what they might think, "No one has hired her. Why isn't she worthy of being hired?" That type of thinking of course is compounded by the stigma of being laid off in the first place. So, while she quietly worked away preparing for a job interview, inside the comfortable and familiar box she had always known, the stigma of not being worthy of being hired continued to build. Six months went by and she still hadn’t earnestly sought employment. She preferred to get all the "support materials" created and perfected instead.

Is it any wonder that her narrowly focused efforts led to no near term positive results? The idea of thinking anew and acting anew just hadn't occurred to her, and no one could convince her as to how she might accelerate her job search. So, she continued on a path that wasn’t likely to result in success.

In month seven of unemployment, an associate of hers recommended her for a temporary job as a contract service provider, in the very same marketplace where she had been working before, doing much the same type of work she had done before. So, after all this time, it wasn't the resume, it wasn't the collection of work, it wasn't any of the preparatory activities and materials that helped her get a job – it was a contact made by someone in her network of associates.

Being an engineer generally means that you do your specialized work which typically doesn’t require sales and networking skills. So, the tools she needed to get a job – networking and prospecting – were well outside her comfort zone, and her scope of experience, and that’s why she had to wait for the job to come find her.

The lesson here should be very clear. When we build a box and hop into it, and this familiar and comfortable approach to life doesn't work for us anymore, we need to learn what it is that might work better and give it a try, even if it’s a bit less comfortable and quite unfamiliar. The alternative can be to wait for circumstances to change, or settle for having our lives managed by the circumstances we find ourselves in. I am reminded of an old saying about life in the United States. It tells us that we need to be moving forward, for even if we simply remain still, comfortably in our familiar box, then relative to others, we’re essentially moving in reverse.

Author's Bio: 

Clair Schwan is the managing editor at where others are encouraged to build the skills necessary for success in life, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in. He also writes, a place that helps entrepreneurs get started and succeed in small enterprises.