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  • Writer's pictureJohn Selzer

Swim Until You Can't See Land

Comfort zones cause complacency.

When was the last time you were uncomfortable? And, no; not the envelopment of stifling heat felt after slipping into your boiling hot car (I’m talking to you, Texas). I mean being out of your comfort zone.

There is something inherently peaceful and comforting with sticking to your routine. To the physical space or state of mind in which you feel most at home. Where you can just be.

That’s all well and good, but how do you grow, learn and expand your reach if you always play it safe?

Great things can happen when we don’t have the sides to hold onto and your toes cannot touch the bottom. We learn a lot about ourselves. Most of the time, that yields a surprise. The good kind, though. We find that we have capabilities or strengths we never imagined. Courage in abundance. That we are a bonafide superhero emerging from a phone booth after a quick wardrobe change.

But not everyone is willing to go it without someone on belay.

At a recent tech meet up, after hearing of the lower (or no) salaries, absent benefits and equity-at-risk in a potentially valueless company, an attendee gasped, “And why would anyone want to work at a startup…?”

From a position of safety and stability, it is discomforting. Or crazy. Maybe a little terrifying, even.

But there is something magical about it, too. Taking a risk – something that requires intentionality and fortitude – can yield wonderful things.

(Buckle up, everybody; it’s about to get personal.)

What if someone asked you to suddenly consider an international move? My opportunity came with the caveat that I needed to leave in less than two weeks. I had once before been to Europe (never mind the fact that I was 13 at the time). Sure, Switzerland sounds cool; let’s do it. The night before my trans-Atlantic flight, I was at the office until almost 11:00 franticly trying to tie things up with my old job. I boarded the plane, still not having fully processed what I had just committed to do. After a long flight and a multi-hour train ride, I collapsed on the bed in my hotel in a small town on the shores of Lake Geneva. Then it really hit me. The jet lag and sheer exhaustion got the best of me and I began to sob enthusiastically, actually saying out loud, “What have I done?”

But if I had not pushed through the doubt and anxiety, I would not have had the most amazing experience, deeply immersed in a different continent, country and culture. To travel extensively. To cultivate friendships with a wide array of accents. And to grow as a person.

Five years ago this week, I crossed the threshold of my first “gated community”. At the invitation of a friend, I agreed to spend two days in prison – participating in a business plan competition, of all things. That first, resoundingly positive experience with the Prison Entrepreneurship Program has turned me into a dedicated ‘repeat attender’ and has cultivated friendships that transcend razor wire. It remains as one of the most meaningful things I will ever do.

The concept of prison is scary, sure. But if I had let that fear rule my decision, I would have missed out on creating opportunity and fostering hope – for the program participants and myself, in equal amounts (though at times it feels I get more than I give).

In 2014, I resigned from a C-level position, leaving the safety and predictability of full-time employment. I am profoundly aware of the opportunity cost. I know the risks and required sacrifice. (As an aside: a huge shout out to my bride for her unwavering support.) While this chapter is still being written and the outcome yet unknown, the journey has been a wild ride. Ups and downs. Twists and turns that you find on a rollercoaster, not in a comfy chair in a corner office.

But like those daunting rides with overly melodramatic names at amusement parks, there are moments of sheer panic and raw fear, for sure. But they are balanced by the thrills, the rush of adrenaline that follows a breakthrough, a win or simply taking your startup forward to fight another day.

If we never leave that place where we feel safe and comfortable, how will we know what great things we can do or become?

Push yourself. Test your limits. Close your eyes, loosen your grip and let go. Even if for a second.

Your best self is waiting for you.

This post is in memory of the recent, tragic suicide of Scott Hutchison, lead singer of Frightened Rabbit. If you’re having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to for help.


Swim Until You Can't See Land by Frightened Rabbit

I have long been a fan of this band. Each song uses rich, nuanced lyrics to lay bare the doubts, fears and hopes of their author - all told through a delightful, thick Scottish accent. In light of the unexpected disappearance, several days long search and eventual discovery of the suicide of lead singer Scott Hutchison, Frightened Rabbit's music is taking on a new meaning for me. RIP, Scott. Thank you for letting us share you and your music.

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