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What Matters Most

Engineer by day and author by night. It’s quite a paradigm shift to make, from one extreme to another, from left-brained logic to right-brained creativity. My mind is on a nonstop amusement park ride, spinning and oscillating back and forth between numbers and words. And lest I forget to mention it, my true passion lies in the latter. Sure, solving technical problems brings me satisfaction. But the fact that twenty-six letters, when arranged in just the right way and with an infinite number of possibilities, has the power to change the world? Now that fills my soul with an intangible je ne sais quoi.

Four years ago, before COVID changed all our lives in unforgettable ways, the company I work for during the day decided that a physical office was no longer necessary in our geographical area. So, each person in that local office was converted to a work-from-home employee. I was giddy. My commute would consist of a walk from my bed to the shower, to the coffee pot, and finally to my desk, which could be wherever I wanted it to be. It was going to be amazing and liberating and the best thing since sliced bread. That last thought came back to open my eyes in interesting ways last week.

Over the past four years, I’ve had the freedom to work from any location I’d like. But in an ironic way, I’ve spent more time in my home office than any other place in the world, even more than the time in my former cubicle prescribed by corporate America. It’s a blessing and a curse, the work from home idea. People have tossed around a term casually for decades: comfort zone. Life begins when you step outside of that comfort zone. There is truth in that statement, but sometimes there’s a harsher admission to recognize. Maybe the place where we spend our time is not always what we would call a zone. Maybe it’s more of a corner. And perhaps it’s not comfort that we’re feeling. Instead, it’s complacency. We’re not always working to step outside of our comfort zone. We’re looking to escape from our complacent corner.

It becomes so easy to accept the status quo. After enough time passes, the routines we engage with on a daily basis have the ability to become ruts. And it takes a wakeup call to remind us of what matters most.

Back to that sliced bread reference and how it relates to my complacent corner. I used to make a quarter mile walk across the street from my old office to a local grocery story, so that I could purchase a handmade Italian sub for lunch. I got to know the workers in the deli so well that I no longer needed to share the specifics of my order. I’d simply walk up to the counter, and the worker would slice a foot-long roll and begin the process of preparing my lunch. And since there wasn’t the need to share the details of whether I wanted mayo, sub dressing, or banana peppers on my sandwich, it freed us up to chat. About anything and everything.

I miss that. And I didn’t realize it until this past week, when after nearly five years, I decided to work away from home thanks to an appointment I had on the other side of town. I drove to the same area I used to inhabit on a daily basis from Monday through Friday, setup shop at a local Starbucks that used to be a Wendy’s, listened to NPR on my commute, and remembered all the wonderful things about getting outside of the four walls that had become my home office. I literally escaped the corner I felt trapped in and moved from a feeling of complacency to realization.

It’s so easy to become a recluse. It happens without you even realizing it. But sometimes the tiniest shift, in either actions or perspective, maybe both, can make a world of difference. Call it a comfort zone or complacent corner. The name is irrelevant. When you step outside of what has become your norm, you begin to see, in a magical way, more of what’s on the inside. And that’s where we truly find what matters most.


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