By Bev Bachel
From graphic designer to children’s book author.
From Fortune 500 consultant to product developer.
From mental-health therapist to organic bread baker.
These are just some of the ways people I know have stretched out of their comfort zones in recent years. Some of the stretches were intentional, such as a move from full-time work to part-time or even into retirement. Others were made on the way to finding a more fulfilling life purpose or by finally going for a long-held dream. Still, others came about as the result of outside forces: the loss of a job, the failure of a business, a divorce, or the death of a close friend or significant other.
But what all these stretches have in common is that they took the “stretchers” out of their existing comfort zones and brought them face to face with what Brené Brown calls the FFTs: the “f#!%ing first times.”
In the inaugural episode of her new podcast, “Unlocking Us,” Brown describes the FFTs as the awkward and sometimes incredibly uncomfortable feelings that arise whenever we try to do something for the first time. But just because doing something new feels uncomfortable, doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. In fact, overcoming inertia and getting outside our comfort zones may hold the key to fulfillment as we transition into retirement.
One Stretcher’s Success Story
Having spent 30 years as a broadcast journalist, Cathy Wurzer is comfortable being center stage. She hosts Minnesota Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” and co-anchors a Twin Cities Public Television news program. But in 2016, when she decided to launch the nonprofit End in Mind Project, she quickly found herself stretched outside her comfort zone. “I was used to delivering the news,” says Wurzer. “But now I was trying to get people to talk about a topic many consider taboo.”
The topic? Death and dying.
“Not only was everyone else uncomfortable with it, so was I,” says Wurzer. But she didn’t let that stop her. Instead, she used on-air conversations with a dying friend as the impetus for live events, workshops, a podcast, and more, all of which required Wurzer to learn new skills—everything from hiring staff for her new nonprofit to managing volunteers to event planning to advertising and social media. “I had no idea how much I had to learn,” says Wurzer. “It’s been like drinking from a firehose, but it’s also been personally rewarding.”
Now that her nonprofit is up and running, there’s something new that’s putting Wurzer through the FFTs all over again: fundraising. “When you launch a nonprofit, the one thing you have to get comfortable doing is asking for money,” says Wurzer. “It’s not easy, but if you aren’t willing to ask, you’ll never make it.”
Five tips to help you stretch
Whether you, like Wurzer, are considering launching something new or are just inching yourself closer to the retirement of your dreams, here are five tips to help you s-t-r-e-t-c-h out of your comfort zone and get comfortable with the FFTs:
- Craft a few experiments. You don’t have to quit your job or sell your house to take a big leap outside your comfort zone. Instead, come up with some ways to get your feet wet. For example, if you’re getting ready to retire, volunteer, enroll in a course, attend a conference, take a sabbatical, or ask your boss for more (or less) responsibility. You might even consider taking your retirement for a test drive.
- Use your imagination. Research shows that our brains don’t differentiate between imagining doing something—delivering a TED Talk, for instance—and actually doing it, so amp up your confidence and your skills by engaging your imagination. Where are you? Who’s with you? What are you doing? What do you see, hear, and feel? How are others responding to you?
- Lower your expectations. When you first try something new, chances are you won’t be very good at it. That seems obvious, right? But it’s amazing how many of us let the fact that we’re “all thumbs” or “have two left feet” get in the way of trying new things.
- Check your ego at the door. Acknowledge that you don’t have all or even most of the answers, and you’ll find it easier to embrace the FFTs and stretch out of your comfort zone.
- Ask for help. Don’t carry the ball all by yourself. Instead, let other people help you get where you want to go by expanding your network to include people who are both younger and older, as well as those who have had different life and career experiences.
Bev Bachel is a freelance writer and editor, and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It. She’s stretched out of her comfort zone and conquered the FFTs to attend water aerobics and deliver keynote speeches.
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