One of the biggest reasons to not grow is that it's darned uncomfortable. It pushes you out of where you'd rather be. Out of the default position.
Even when I realize that growth is a good idea, that change is a good thing: when I get away from the familiar, away from the old ways, panic sets in.
But if we want to grow (and we do!), and if we want to keep it painless (and we do!), we gotta get this: The panic is usually more painful than the actual growth itself.
How do you stay panic-free outside your comfort zone? Here are four steps that help me maintain my perspective, resist the panic, and keep growing.
ONE: Balance growth with self-care.
Growing just to grow has a tendency to make us brittle. You've seen trees whose limbs get all draggy and start snapping off, right?
Let's not do that.
Let's get support, let's take strength from what's familiar, and use it as a springboard to reach new places.
So as you start a draft, as you dive into a skill that makes you nervous, as you embark on a new project that has you a bit scared, a bit dry-mouthed: Be kind to yourself.
Watch the silly TV show, the guilty pleasure movie. Eat the cupcakes. The macaroni and cheese is ALL YOURS.
This isn't weakness. It's not a sign of giving up, and it's not a sign that you're not strong enough.
On the contrary: it's giving you strength to step into the unknown.
TWO: Applaud the awkward.
Small talk at parties is one of my least favorite things in the world. I hold my glass too tight and scout around for exits. Seriously. Until I discovered a secret trick: Announcing to myself that this is SUPPOSED to be awkward. It's supposed to feel like I'm standing on needles.
For some weird reason, knowing that I'm going to feel uncomfortable really helps me relax. This is supposed to feel strange. Supposed to be awkward. It's just doing its job.
I tense up when I'm frantic about the symptoms of change. Those prickle-pangs of growth. But when I say, hey, this weirdness is normal, I planned on this: that makes it so much easier.
Can you try that, with the blank page, or with the difficult phone call, or with the new writing exercise?
Hey, it feels like my brain is melting! My hands are shaking a bit! I'm doing it exactly right!
And then go back to step one and reward yourself with a cupcake. If you didn't notice, step one is very repeatable.
THREE: Have an unswerving focus on your goal.
Why do all this, though? I mean, really. Why do it?
Who needs the macaroni and cheese and the slow-breathing in the face of awkward? Who cares? Why do it?
To survive the process of growth, you need to be really clear on your goal. Be clear on what's great about all the happy milestones, too, but have a laser-like focus on the true big mother-goal itself.
Interview yourself to get clear on what that is.
So, for me: I want to write a book.
Yeah, sure. But what else? I want this to be a career. I know this is my career. I love words. I love stories.
All right, fine, what else. Money? Money would be so nice. Money is also not a super reliable goal.
Well, there are aspects of my childhood that were pretty crappy. Same as a lot of people. Especially fifth grade through eighth.
So I want to write books for girls in those grades. I want to give them more good books, good stories. They're going through a really hard time, and I want to send them words and characters and ideas to keep them company.
That is a worthwhile goal for me. That's THE Goal.
That is what makes the hard days worth it, the days of braving the difficulties that we all face as we try to improve our craft. That's worth it for me.
So what's that big goal for you? Narrow it down. Get to the place where you can almost feel it throbbing in your veins. The goal that makes all the hard stuff worth it.
Write it down. Post it somewhere. And as you're applauding the awkward and scarfing cupcakes, stay clear on that goal. And let it guide you into deeper growth and steeper challenges.
FOUR: Claim this new place as a future comfort zone.
Strange but true: the thing that scares you today will get easier with practice. Maybe not exactly easy, but certainly easier.
Think back to what got you here. Where are the places where you had to step out, where it was mercilessly uncomfortable, where you thought you just might not make it?
For me, facing a blank page isn't nearly as uncomfortable as it used to be. I know how to fling a few words on there and get rolling quickly. Posting these blogs three times a week? It used to be TERRIFYING. Now it's just a little bit of a "here we go!" in my stomach, and then I'm good.
It helps to know that you've done this before. You really have. Stepping into the new, getting used to it, and finally planting your flag of "I've conquered this!" in that new soil? Yeah, you've totally done that before, lionheart.
From the first time that oxygen hit your little baby lungs to this exact moment: you've tackled so many uncomfortable things and made them your new home.
You can do this. You really, really can. You know how to lean in, you know that it's worth it, you know how to keep going.
So what am I doing still talking? You already have everything in you that you need.
Enjoy those cupcakes. And have some fun outside the zone.