Dlala Studios' Craig Thomas discusses

Abusing your comfort zone

My first job in the industry was at Jagex. It wasn’t even that long ago (or at least, doesn’t feel it). I was there as agames content developer (I think), which basically meant “design stuff, code stuff”.

Not much different to now, really.

Those first couple of days for me were absolutely terrifying. Learning a new in-house ‘programming language’, meeting so many new people, moving to a new part of the country and not knowing anybody. It was, in all honesty, the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do.

I didn’t think I was cut out for it.

I put on a brave face – the whole fake your confidence until you actually have it. But three days into my career as someone professionally making games, and I was genuinely thinking to myself that I’d made massively wrong decisions.

Surely, I wasn’t good enough for this? Surely I never would be?

There’s nothing wrong with being scared, or nervous, or uncomfortable. They’re natural feelings. But I do think there’s something wrong with not doing something because of them.

I’m not making it up – I honestly thought about stopping. Moving back home. Finding something else to do. I was scared, and that fear nearly had me. I kind of wanted that familiarity.

It’s fair to say that everyone at Dlala has a lot of things in common. One of the big things, though, is that drive – that desire to actually do something. We’ve spoken about it plenty of times – Aj has probably based entire talks on it – but every one of us took a huge risk with Dlala. We’re massively grateful to the guys for that.

We’ve never claimed the way we went about starting the studio was the sensible approach; we definitely had more passion than money. Sometimes that’s smart, sometimes not. Both myself and Aj constantly talk about how lucky we are to have firstly such a talented team, but also such a passionate team. The entire team loves what they do, and that’s probably why they all took the risk to join and follow us in the first place.

But that brings me on to what I wanted to write about and share today. Our comfort zone, and how we abuse it.


Imagine you were standing in an open field, and a big circle was drawn around you on the floor. For the sake of guided imagination, it’s ten metres in diameter. Colour it whatever you like.

That’s your comfort zone. I’m really not sure why, but that’s always how I’ve imagined it, ever since I was a kid.

Everything that appears inside that circle is sure ground to you – whether that be coding, design, public speaking, anything – you can handle it. Only you really know what you can handle, and you need to be honest and truthful with yourself about it.

The centre point of that circle never moves. The closer to that central point things appear, the easier they are. Right on that centre point are things you don’t even have to think about, you just take in your stride. Maybe for you that’s talking to your friends, or reading a book, or making cereal in the morning. You know, the easy stuff.

Towards the outside of your circle are things that you can still do, but not as easily as your centre point. Maybe writing articles, sharing ideas with people, or talking to a room full of 50 people. Harder stuff, perhaps, but things you could still do if thrown at you.

Outside of that circle – maybe just outside – are things that would probably scare you to do. Doing a live TV interview, learning to accept when you’re wrong, moving to a new country. Right now, let’s assume these are things that you straight up wouldn’t want to do.

It’s up to you where you stand in your circle. You can stand in the middle and take all the easy parts of whatever you’re doing, or you can push towards the outside of your circle and tackle slightly harder challenges.

But here’s my theory. It’s the way I’ve approached most things, and it’s definitely something we do at Dlala.

Standing just on the edge of your comfort zone, straddling that circumference. It’s not easy. You have to do things that you just aren’t used to doing, or things that don’t feel natural at first.

And that’s the key – at first. The more time you spend on the circumference, that challenging boundary, the bigger your circle will get. Over time, things get easier, and you can really push yourself to achieve what you want, and do things.

It’s up to you where you stand in your comfort zone. You can take all the easy parts of whatever you’re doing, or you can push outwards and tackle slightly harder challenges.

There’s nothing wrong with being scared, or nervous, or uncomfortable. They’re natural feelings. But I do think there’s something wrong with not doing something because of them. The fear of failure can be a hugely petrifying feeling. Fight it, push through. If you don’t even try, then you’ve already failed. Something something 100 per cent of the shots you don’t take.

That third night at Jagex, in Cambridge, I made an active decision to fight that fear back. I wasn’t going to give up. Right then, I was just outside my comfort zone. It’d change, and it would grow. And it did.

Funnily enough, I’m writing this on a train to Cambridge to meet Loudon, on the day after we announced our publishing agreement with Team17. It’s almost full circle at this point.

Am I still scared, nervous and uncomfortable? Sure. It’s natural. But it’s a different kind.

I’m lucky that I’m surrounded by people to share that comfort zone with. We’ll push it together, as Dlala, and see where we go with it. It’s the only way we’ll see ourselves grow.

I guess really, fear isn’t something that stops you. It’s something that guides and pushes you.

In short, doing new things is scary. Let it be, beat it anyway, and watch how far you’ll be able to go. If it all goes wrong? At least you’ll have some stories.

Anyway, til next time.

Heroes in a half shell.

Craig Thomas, @shankymans / @dlalastudios

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