Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable

As I reflected on our recent trip and how mentally unprepared I was for the minor frustrations we encountered, I realized that it revealed what a deep rut I’d gotten into. I don’t remember struggling as much with everything being “foreign” on previous trips. Perhaps that was because I was younger and more flexible, or because our lives were less settled pre-parenthood. I’m not quite sure, but it has left me with the intention to keep from getting so stuck again.

My daily life, like most people’s, is full of routine. Some is necessary and inevitable, but I think I’ve created some because I really, really don’t like to be uncomfortable. Now that I think about it, I tend to avoid discomfort as much as I can. And when I’m uncomfortable, either mentally or physically, I will go to great lengths to fix it as soon as possible.  (I suspect this is also why I chronically overpack: if I am cold, or start to feel sick, I want to have items with me so that I can immediately remedy the situation—and, avoid the potential discomfort of having to seek out something I need quickly in an unfamiliar place. Wow, seeing that in print makes me cringe. Definitely time to loosen up!)

This most recent trip has reminded me that good travel actually involves being uncomfortable. If I am somewhere new, of course it’s not going to feel comfortable, because I’ve never experienced it before. Unfamiliar things feel strange, because they are. And so in order to truly get the most out of traveling, I need to embrace the unfamiliar.

I need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

That is where growth happens, right? In life—and especially as you approach midlife, it seems—we have two choices: either keep growing and expanding (thereby experiencing discomfort) or stay small, keeping everything the same. The second choice will inevitably lead to a shrinking of our world—a slow decline that feels way more terrible to me than some occasional discomfort. So I will consciously choose to keep seeking out new experiences, knowing that the discomfort they bring is good for me.

In fact, it may be time to revive my 2017 project of trying something new each month. Every activity I did last year definitely made me uncomfortable, whether it was surfing, taking piano lessons (and then performing live!), or even starting this blog! But every activity also made me proud, even when I didn’t do it very well. Just the fact that I tried was empowering, and each time I felt energized.

To be fair, I have already done new things this year that stretched me—publishing a book and then talking to strangers about it in person definitely count! But I’m going to recommit to seeking out more novelty, and will head into the second half of 2018 with a refreshed dedication to adventure and exploration.

How about you? Do you also dislike discomfort, or are you one of the lucky people who thrive on challenges? Either way, I hope your summer is filled with plenty of fun, whether it’s from exciting new experiences or comforting familiar ones!


Having a Bon Voyage

The big family trip to Europe that I talked about a few weeks ago (see that post) is finally here! I’m in the last few days of packing and prepping. By the time you read this, we will be in the air, headed east! I’m so excited!

I’m trying not to be too frenzied as I make all of the last-minute preparations. As I talked about in that last post, I want to be more relaxed about this trip than I usually am. I want to approach it without expectations of how things will be so that I’m not disappointed when our experiences don’t match those expectations.

And even as I make the lists that I love to make, I keep reminding myself that these are possibilities, not plans. There are many restaurants I’d like to try, shops I’d like to visit, and places I’d like to explore … but I don’t have to do it all.

In fact, trying to do it all would almost certainly make us miserable. While “failing to plan” can sometimes mean “planning to fail,” in this case I think that planning too much can result in failing to enjoy. So although my anxiety level ratchets up each time I think of missing out on something, I keep reminding myself that I can’t possibly see everything in one trip. There will be other trips (hopefully!), and this time I just need to concentrate on the top interests—and leave some room for unexpected surprises.

I will be mostly unplugged for the trip, which I’m really looking forward to, so this blog will take a vacation break along with me. When I get back, I’ll let you know how it all went!

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The Joy of Novelty

I watched “Breakfast at Tiffany's” again recently. (I love that movie!) This time, I was struck by the part when Paul sells his story and Holly says, “We should celebrate! I think there's a bottle of champagne in the icebox; you open it and I'll get dressed.” He says (while opening the bottle) that he's never had champagne before breakfast before, and she says they should spend the day taking turns doing things they've never done. She takes him to Tiffany's; he takes her to the public library; she takes him shoplifting! I thought, what a wonderful idea! Not the shoplifting—but to spend an entire day doing new things. Doesn’t it sound invigorating and adventurous?

Of course in New York City it would be easy to fill the day with new activities, but in a smaller town, is it more difficult? You might have to try a little harder, but I think it’s possible. There are plenty of places here that I've never been. I bet we all have those spots we drive by and think, "one day I'm going to check that out,” but we’re always too busy, and then we forget.

Now, an entire day might be asking a little much in my current world—and probably in yours too—but we could certainly take an occasional morning or afternoon to have one or two new experiences. Hmmm … I just tried to make a list and I could only come up with three things. Wow, I am definitely stuck in my old habits! There are probably dozens of activities I haven't tried and places I haven’t visited around here, yet I can only think of three.

When you're in a rut, it's hard to turn the wheel and get out. That's why I love traveling--new places force us to do things differently and expose us to fresh experiences, which inspire growth and novel ideas. Keri Wilt, author of the beautiful blog FHB&Me, just wrote a post about that very thing. She related how her young son would make huge leaps in development whenever they would take a trip. She says, "Despite all of my encouraging and nurturing at home, it was only when he left our home base, that he grew and changed by leaps and bounds. Now, I am not discounting what he learned at home, but I made a mental note at the time about the power that new people, views, and experiences can do for a developing mind. And guess what? It's true for my developing mind too! Yes, my 43 year old mind is still changing and learning and growing. And just like my son, when I confine myself to living the same days over and over again: wake up, breakfast, work, lunch, home, tv, dinner, bed...I get stuck and my growth slows to a crawl."

Yes! She hits the nail on the head. Novelty is good for us. It wakes us up, stretches our mind, gives us a different vantage point from which to examine our lives. It opens us to new possibilities. Research shows that learning new things keeps our brain changing and growing as we age, and can help prevent cognitive decline. So not only is it fun, it's beneficial to our health.

My husband and I try to have a date night every week. We’re in a rut on this too, usually heading to our favorite bar for cocktails and then to dinner. Recently, we shook it up a little by trying a new restaurant. It was amazing—incredible ambience, excellent service, to-die-for food. We felt like we were in a different city altogether. It was so much more memorable and fun than going to the same old place.

Last year I read the book “The 52 Weeks: Two Women and Their Quest to Get Unstuck, with Stories and Ideas to Jumpstart Your Year of Discovery” by Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin. It was a fascinating read. These two 40-something friends felt like they had lost momentum in their lives. They were griping to each other over drinks, and came up with a plan to “face our fears, rediscover our interests, try new things, and renew our relationships” by doing something different each week for a year. They started a blog to chronicle their year and ended up publishing the book—how’s that for shaking up your life? After I read it, I was quite inspired. But the thought of trying to do something EVERY WEEK was a bit overwhelming, I admit. So I adjusted that to every month—which still felt a little intimidating, but much more manageable—and decided I would start in January of this year.

So far, here’s what I’ve done:

·         January: took piano lessons for the first time

·         February: made marbled paper on my own and taught a friend how to do it at our first “art party”

·         March: performed a song on piano, in a band, at a showcase—in front of actual people! (Eeeek! I was terrified but I did it!)

·         April: started writing my first book

·         May: launched this blog!

Each of these took me out of my comfort zone, and everything except the art in February scared me silly! But I find that I’m now feeling more excited, engaged, and energized than I have in years.

For June, I’m REALLY stretching my boundaries. I’ve got a surfing lesson scheduled this afternoon! I have never tried to surf and am not particularly athletic; luckily, the waves here are not that big. Surfing is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but I’ve always been too afraid of looking like a fool. I got tired of moving the Post-it note that said “book surfing lesson” from calendar to calendar year after year, so when I decided devote 2017 to new activities, I knew surfing would be one of them. I am both excited and anxious; I will let you know how it goes!

What have you always wanted to try? Which interesting spot in your hometown is crying to be checked out? I hope you get to have an adventure of your own soon, and that it brings you joy!