19 things you can do instead of being comfortable.
Careful is the antithesis of extraordinary.
In summer of 2008 a teensy e-only press bought a romance book from me. It was the first piece of fiction I’d ever sold. (Only they didn’t buy it. They published it and let me keep a percentage of the cover price if anyone bought it. Not very many people did, but that was utterly beside the point in the moment.)
I was a novelist and I was riding high.
So, I did what any rational person would do. I realized that the Romance Writers of America national conference was happening in three weeks. I paid more than $500 for a ticket. I bought an Amtrak ticket from Elko, Nevada to San Francisco. And found three strangers to share a room with.
The scariest thing I did that weekend though involved going down to the hotel’s conference room, where dozens of literary agents sat in rows. I had one ticket that gave me one three-minute pitch session.
I was so scared, I was literally shaking. They called my name and I had to walk all the way through this huge room, sit in front of a literary agent, and then somehow manage to cohesively tell her about the book I was working on.
It was awful. I’m sure I barely made any sense at all. But the woman asked me a few questions and when our three minutes was up, she handed me her business card and said, “send me the first three chapters.”
I’m pretty sure, now that I have some more experience, that send me the first three chapters is the literary-agent-at-a-conference equivalent of writing have a great summer in a middle school year book. But I didn’t know that then.
What I knew then was that I did this really scary thing, and a literary agent gave me permission to send her three chapters of my book. She even told me to write requested material in the subject line.
Lots of writers didn’t use their tickets. All week, I heard writers hem and haw and then decide against being scared.
So there was a little area where a few of us sat and waited. When a writer no-showed and an agent didn’t have a pitch, volunteers would fill the gap with one of us.
I pitched my work-in-progress over and over. I came away with a little stack of business cards, a request for some part of my manuscript scrawled on each one.
Two years later I signed with one of the agents I pitched that week. And I’m still friends with the women who were strangers when I showed up in their hotel room.
Fear has it’s place.
It keeps us from inadvertently killing ourselves in a blind pursuit of what we want.
Fear is why we don’t (usually) drive 100 miles an hour down a residential street on our way home from work. It’s why there aren’t more heroin addicts in the world. Fear is what makes us careful.
And a lot of the time, careful is good.
Careful is awesome, really. When it comes to things like motorcycle helmets and parachutes and using your blinker, careful rocks.
And sometimes it’s not that great. Like when it lets us off the hook from doing something extraordinary.
Careful is what makes us ordinary.
There’s an outer boundary. It’s easy to push ahead to a certain point —the point where you run into your comfortable, careful wall. But going further suddenly feels too hard. Everything gets buzzy in your head. You can’t focus on the next thing you should do.
This is how it works for me when I get to that wall: I can see where I am and I can see where I want to be, but all the steps in between get muddled.
Your small, quiet inner voice says, “Yeah, never mind. This is too much.”
Extraordinary is on the other side of the outer edge of comfort. And there’s no way of getting there without taking a blind, less-than-careful step.
So you back off, because you’re hardwired to back away from fear.
But what if you pushed through?
What’s the worst thing that might happen if you reach out to a stranger?
What’s the worst thing that might happen if you say yes to that one thing that you’ve never done before?
What’s the worst thing that might happen if you take a leap when you don’t know exactly what’s waiting for you on the other side?
Or if you dance in public. Or if you write your novel. Or if you buy that ticket without knowing what you’ll do when you get there.
Embarrassment. Looking like a lunatic. Dealing with someone saying no to you. A stumble. Lost money or time or energy.
The kind of things they’re talking about when they say “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
Feel the fear. Then do it anyway.
Understand the consequences. And then DO IT ANYWAY.
I think that’s what we miss sometimes.
Being afraid doesn’t mean you can’t do the thing. It’s not a stop sign. It’s more like one of those flashing yellow turn signals. The kind that sometimes means stop for a minute, but also sometimes means go, go, go.
Here are a whole bunch of things you can do when you find yourself flirting with your comfort wall.
- Speak to a stranger.
- Make a list of ways over, under, or through the wall.
- Share an idea. (See: Speak to a stranger.)
- Ask for what you want/need.
- Figure out what just the very next tiny, baby step is.
- Take that step.
- Take the next step.
- So on.
- Ask yourself what advice you’d give to someone who isn’t you. Sometimes it’s easier to see the in-between steps for someone else.
- Find someone whose already done what you want to do.
- Reach out to them. (See: Speak to a stranger + Share an idea.)
- Tell another person your plan. (Doesn’t have to be a stranger!)
- Flex your adventure muscle by: eating something you’ve never eaten before, going somewhere you’ve never gone before, doing something you’ve never done before.
- Flex your creativity muscle by planning something super elaborate and unlikely to every happen. Like: a bank heist, a hike through of some epic trail, the filming and distribution of a summer blockbuster.
- Make sure you plan it like there is nothing at all standing in your way. Nothing physical. Nothing emotional. Nothing financial. Nothing.
- Flex whatever the muscle is that lets you do scary things. Practice being fun-afraid. Go dancing or to karaoke or white water rafting or bungee jumping or on that one death-defying water slide.
- Flex your imagination and imagine how you’ll feel in five years. Will you pat yourself on the back for staying comfortable? Will you wish, however secretly, that you’d been braver?
- Take an honest inventory with these two questions: Is your fear about discomfort or is it trying to save your life? Are you willing to give up the best thing that might happen to avoid the worst thing that might happen?
- Train your brain to identify the thing that scares you as the thing you, at the very least, need to explore doing. Scary=interesting, not scary=hide under the bed.
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Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She lives in Reno with her husband, three superstar kids, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes, is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation, and is the original Ninja Writer.