You know what’s fascinating about geekdom? We have hobbies far outside the comfort zone of many other people, but still despise leaving our own comfort zone. Once a geek has settled into a fandom or field of interest, it’s hard to get him out of it and discover something new. It’s like we like to stray from the mainstream, but once we’re out in the wild, we stick to the part of the nerd jungle we know best.
There’s actually nothing strange about that. As humans, we like to have comfort zones. The name says it all: we need a physical, mental and spiritual area in which we feel comfortable and at home. It’s our safe little shell, into which we retreat when the world out there is just too much. Everyone has a comfort zone, and everyone enjoys it. However, comfort kills growth, and so we tend to turn our comfort zone into a stagnation zone in the long run.
You see, when you only surround yourself with people you know and things you like, you will never make new experiences. And if you don’t make new experiences, you don’t grow. Even though you might have left your childhood neighbourhood long ago, staying in your comfort zone will keep you there forever. You will walk the same streets, say hello to the same people and eat at the same damn restaurant every last Sunday of the month.
This stagnation is death for us creative people, and as geeks and nerds, we are often creative. As a player of tabletop RPG’s and amateur writer, fresh ideas are like fuel to me. I can only recycle a concept, character or plot so often, before it has gone stale. Leaving my comfort zone is thus important. No matter the area, I try to leave it regularly. When I picked up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu two years ago, I left my comfort zone because I never practiced such an intense and grappling-orientated sport before. When I gave the improv storytelling game Fiasco a try, I entered new territory since I had no experience with those kind of role-playing games. When I decided to peek into Sunstone, I went way out of my comfort zone because I just don’t have a thing for BDSM webcomics focusing on the trials and tribulations of the female main characters.
Now, not every excursion out of your metaphorical childhood neighbourhood will be positive or succesful. My quick peek into Sunstone certainly wasn’t (though I do admire the artistic style). What counts though, is the fact that you were willing to try something new. To get a taste of something fresh and foreign. You decided to ignore what you know, and focus on something you didn’t. It’s these experiences that spawn stories that start with “Hey, remember that time when I…”, and those stories are worth telling. For us creative people, they will also give you ideas for your creations. In an Exalted campaign in which my players took the roles of teenage Dragon-Blooded who were trained at a military academy, many of my descriptions for their martial arts classes were based on what I saw in my BJJ classes. When the characters in my RPG campaigns get to meet people from another culture, I think back to how I felt when I moved to Denmark for an exchange semester. Drawing from your own experience adds authenticity, and your audience will appreciate that.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I urge all of you to just go out and leave that stagnation zone of yours. Read a book you normally wouldn’t read, see a movie you think will blow or hang out with people you don’t hang out with regularly. There’s a world beyond your childhood neighbourhood, and leaving it behind for a holiday from time to time will bring you both fresh impressions and a new view on the same old streets and people.