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Lesson 2: (Noach): “Come out of the ark!”: Is it OK to stay in my comfort zone?


Course: Genesis Part 1. Lesson #2 of 4

Series: The Bible at Work: Career Coaching in the Torah

Teacher: Dr. Benny Benjamin

1 Views | Published: December 19, 2022

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”- Neale Donald Walsch

“Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives” (Genesis 8:16).

Noah was under pressure. Noah, his family, and the animal kingdom had endured a whole year drifting in the ark. Noting that the floodwaters were receding and the land was drying, Noah sent out a raven, then a dove (twice), to collect evidence of dry land. After managing this grand menagerie for so long, he must have contemplated: What’s next? Can I do this?

Restarting civilization was on Noah’s shoulders. Was he up to it? Ostensibly, Noah’s answer to himself was: No. When God had informed Noah of His plans to destroy the world by flood, he dutifully and unhesitatingly followed God’s precise instructions for building the ark and populating it. When God noticed Noah’s seeming reluctance to leave the ark, His instruction became more explicit: “Come out of the ark, together with your wife, your sons, and your sons’ wives…”[1] Noah did leave the ark, but he did it in the same order he entered (men first, wives to follow 2). However, we notice a slight twist in the text: “So Noah came out, together with his sons, his wife, and his sons’ wives.” [3] Notice the order of their departure from the ark, contradicting God’s instruction: Noah separated the genders again, preferring to exit first with his sons, followed by his wife and daughters-in-law. 

Noah’s only partial accommodation to God’s instruction (not exiting in the company of Mrs. Noah) inspired some biblical commentators to note his reluctance to assume the responsibility for bringing more children into an uncertain, vulnerable future. Noah’s hesitation even compelled God twice to urge Noah to “Be fruitful and multiply.”[4] Noah’s actions after leaving the ark testified to his complex situation, perhaps experiencing a paralyzing survivor’s syndrome or even post-traumatic stress: He proceeded to plant a vineyard and get drunk, succumbing to the numbing effects of alcohol, perhaps in an effort to defer his daunting challenge of restoring civilization. 

As we are all descendants of Noah, he and his family must have made good on God’s command to multiply and fill the earth despite their initial reluctance. In doing so, they provided us with one of history’s most extreme instances of leaving a comfort zone–Noah’s ark––despite its taxing zookeeper demands. At the beginning of Noah’s story, we are told that God saw him as exceptional: “…for you alone have I found righteous before Me in this generation.[5] We are left to speculate that God felt compelled, perhaps even relieved, to find and select Noah, despite his imperfections. The world’s population that God intended to replace had proven itself evil and unsustainable and warranted selecting the best that generation had to offer.

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We can only imagine how uncomfortable the ark must have been for Noah and his family, but as the floodwaters subsided, the alternative became even more problematic. “Comfort zone” has been defined in various ways. Two examples: “a situation in which you feel comfortable and in which your ability and determination are not being tested” [6] and “a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.” [7] Much of the career and business literature espouses leaving one’s comfort zone as an antecedent to personal and organizational flourishing. 

However, deciding to remain in or leave your comfort zone requires planning and considering the big picture. In a cogent article on the topic, Elizabeth Kuster contends that comfort zones should not be left; they should be expanded.[8] The broader individuals make their comfort zone, the more they can accomplish with only minimal stress, and the more suitable employment options emerge. Comfort zones have received a bad rap in that everyone thinks they need to be left behind, abandoned. In fact, one’s comfort zone offers the individual an anchor from which they can build their confidence and use it as a resource to expand their zone when the time is right.

Rhonda Britten of the Fearless Living Institute [9] has presented a comfort zone model of concentric circles: The innermost circle represents one’s comfort zone, where one currently functions smoothly with no unmanageable stress. The next zone is the stretch zone, which includes tasks or skills you may not yet be comfortable with but are on your agenda. You know you could probably handle them but “just haven’t got to them yet,” whether due to laziness, poor time management, or other justifications. The next distant zone is the risk zone, which includes tasks you hope to perform, but they currently evoke apprehensions, such as fear of failure or humiliation. The outside zone is the die zone: “I would die before trying that.” You secretly wish you could do this, but it may have to wait a while until you explore the paths that may get you closer to it.

When deliberating on leaving your comfort zone, a critical point is its timing. In Noah’s case, imposing on him the responsibility for rebuilding civilization seemed to be considerably more than he could handle at that time (no experience, no models, no precedents). This assignment, requiring him to expand his comfort zone to the radical die category, perhaps, sadly, drove him to alcohol.

Points to Ponder:

  • Noah’s narrative recognizes that leaving your comfort zone is not always the way to go for everyone. Sometimes, however, with no warning, your job will compel you to take on a considerable stretch, such as when a team member is indisposed, and you are called upon to make the annual team presentation. You would never have volunteered for this, but there is no turning back. In these circumstances, involving others is often wise, asking for their assistance (e.g., meeting for a practice session) and suggestions. When you acknowledge your (temporary) lack of proficiency and accept help from others, you also benefit from the added value of enhancing your work relationships with others in future projects.
  • Your strategy for overcoming self-imposed obstacles will need to be preceded by deciding what you want to change and delineating the steps in your control to accomplish this. One way to overcome the natural reluctance to expand to the risk-or-die category is to break down the tasks into small components, a technique borrowed from exposure therapy used to treat phobias, such as in the following example. 
  • Try this: In confronting your apprehension of speaking in public (one of the most common dreads), you can take it on gradually: Begin by speaking or making a toast at family gatherings; then, in team meetings at work, describe a project accompanied by a presentation; then, at a medium-sized community or political assembly, stand up and ask a question you prepared at home. You could practice these options until you feel confident speaking to a larger group on a specific subject in which you have expertise. These systematic efforts will stand you in good stead when confronting your next challenge.

[1] Gen. 8:16.
[2] Gen. 7:7.
[3] Gen. 8:18.
[4] Gen. 8:17 and Gen. 9:1.
[5] Gen. 7:1.
[6] Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/comfort-zone.
[7] Educalingo.com. (n.d.). https://educalingo.com/en/dic-en/comfort-zone
[8] Kuster, E. (n.d.). Expand your comfort zone. WebMd.com. https://www.webmd.com/balance/features/expand-your-comfort-zone
[9] Britten, R. (2001). Fearless living. Hodder and Stoughton.

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