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stepping out of your comfort zone: growth that spreads

What brings you a breath of fresh air? Every day routine can lead to efficiency, mindlessness or boredom. Experiencing something new grows your creativity, capacity and confidence. How often do you introduce a growth experience into your life?

Recently I enrolled in a metal art class. I love handmade objects, but have old messages warning against my artistic talents. Childhood art and music classes provide opportunities to awaken interests, but if done poorly can dash a child’s confidence in trying something new. My early conclusions were that I possessed neither musical nor artistic talent. These doors were closed for me and much was lost.

And yet throughout my life I’ve loved working with my hands. So independently I did sewing, weaving, knitting and beading. They relaxed me and gave me a final product.

I also became a “patron” of artists and love hearing about their journeys, learning their processes and buying their works. I want to encourage and support them in their dreams and efforts. But I also admire how free and courageous they are to follow their passions.

But what about my dreams and passions? What did I ignore and fear? My career as a psychotherapist and coach found me operating mostly in my head and heart. I don’t use my body in my work. Where is your career focus: head, heart, body? And what changes are required to become whole?

People approaching new learning or returning to previous interests can expand their brain capabilities. Through neuroscience’s concept of neuroplasticity, we now know that the brain grows new neural pathways through stimulation. The experience of being out of your comfort zone by taking on something brand new allows you to develop many skills including creativity, perseverance and flexibility that are beneficial in your current career. Plus this change of focus promotes energy to sustain a long work life.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”
Neale Donald Walsch

Amy has been a physician for 40 years. She loves her work, but it feels repetitive at times. She regrets the administrative parts of her job, but loves patient contact and solving medical challenges. Amy notices friends are taking up dance, music and painting. They report joy in their endeavors, meeting new people and expanding their interests. Amy wants to find something new for herself, but she admits some fear and uncertainty.

A frequent concert fan, Amy starts thinking about playing an instrument. In high school she played the violin, but gave it up in college. “What if I could study music and be around people who play?” Amy does some research and finds a local community college offering piano lessons. She enrolls.

Amy loves jazz and convinces her teacher to begin lessons in that genre. At first Amy is a fish out of water, but eventually the practices become pure joy as she gets lost in the music. She meets other enthusiasts, young and old, and they talk of playing together.

While Amy has a stressful job and is tired at the end of the day, after a piano lesson she feels rejuvenated. She finds herself approaching her medical practice with new eyes and excitement.

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

So what do you want to take on? How long have you languished in your comfort zone? Perhaps it feels like you are constantly challenged in the work place. You’re tired of feeling stretched and never comfortable.

But taking a risk in a different environment can prove satisfying. Maybe you use your body all day, but rarely your heart. Taking on challenges in a new environment and developing unfamiliar skills constitute an act of courage. Proving to yourself that you CAN do something out of your comfort zone is a message that will carry you anywhere in the world.

Where do you want to grow?

What area would be a challenge for you?
Pick an interest
Take one class
Evaluate your growth
Continue or change again

Take that smile of satisfaction with you on your next path!


chasing your dreams: the interim step

Last month I met several people who traveled near and far to realize one of their dreams. For some it was securing their ideal work. For others it was choosing a lifestyle fit for their souls. How often do you ask, “Am I living my dreams?” No matter what age, you ponder how close you’ve come and what still lies ahead.

Transition points can occur naturally or with effort. You graduate school and move into the work world. You change jobs as you advance in your career. Your children grow up and launch. You create a business. You leave the paid workforce. These transitions shape who you become and reflect on how authentically your path evolves.

An example of a crooked path that represents a life well-lived is Juan. I met Juan, a surfing instructor, in Costa Rica. Before he was able to actualize his dream, Juan’s passion for surfing led him on a detour. Juan grew up in a South American region with economic and political unrest, violence and kidnapping. He felt unsafe and feared for his family’s welfare. Surfing became an interest and escape from the stresses of daily life.

When Juan became an adult, his goal was to move to the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. As it happened, he went by way of Canada. Frequently, a straight line doesn’t exist to reach your goal. The goals identified in youth are transfigured by the experiences and information you obtain while on the road. At times you may feel totally off course and wonder, “How did I get here and why am I doing this work that doesn’t interest me?” or “Why am I living here or with this person?”

In Juan’s case he went to Canada to live in safety with his sister. He didn’t speak English and didn’t see an opportunity to surf, but a surprise was in store for him. Through his interests, he met a community of people who loved surfing and did it on the Great Lakes! As Juan says, “I didn’t expect to be surfing with ice on my beard”. But he was surfing and learning to teach others and studying English.

Eventually Juan made it to Costa Rica where he has the life of his dreams. He has a wife, a child, his family has joined him and he created his own business. Juan teaches others to use surfing as a means for growth and transformation.

“If you listen to your own inner voice, it will tell you where you are now, and which method will work best for you in your evolution towards the light”

Ram Dass

If you are stuck in a situation that seems not working for you, what are your options? Dissatisfaction leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair. You lose your creativity and positivity. One way to determine where you are is to cherry pick the good parts. Who is special in your community? What skills are you learning? What values are you expressing? What purpose is being shared? Selecting out the opportunities in your current position and viewing this time as a stepping stone help to cherish this moment in your life cycle.

You are never wasting time when you’re in an interim step. This can be a jumping off point for the next, tailor-made situation. Take in whatever you can. Ask what you need to learn and seek possibilities to do it.

So I spent the winter in a surf town. I’m not a surfer, nor did I plan to become one. But I learned from that community and I reveled in the parts that worked for me. I discovered what it means to fight to be in that almost perfect place that makes your heart sing.

Perhaps your community isn’t exactly what you want it to be. Perhaps you aren’t living your values doing precisely what you dreamed, but the experiences can be important. Being flexible, curious and open to possibilities and turns in the road can lead you closer to your authentic life.

Make use of Now:

Create your vision
Enumerate the parts
Check off what you have
What’s missing?
How can you get it now?
How can you make the leap?

Enjoy the curves and see you on the path!


five year life plan: do you have one?

Sometimes I eat alone in restaurants. While there my options are to read a book, surf the internet or eavesdrop. Recently a conversation at the next table caught my attention. “Do you have a 5 year life plan?” the millennial man asked. “No, do you?” the millennial woman answered.

“It’s been at the top of my list for months,” he replied. “Where do you want to live?” asked the woman.  “I don’t know,”responded the man.

Given what I do, I was all in for this conversation. So much, that I wanted to move my chair closer and  share my perspective. But instead I’m writing about it. I was thrilled that people are really thinking about life plans and not surprised that they were confused. And I am aware that working on one’s life plan gets shoved aside by the other demands of one’s life.

When does focus on life planning come to the forefront? In a crisis, in an opportunity, when all is sailing along smoothly? At what stage of life is a plan important? Post graduation, pre-retirement, midlife? Do you have a life plan? When’s the last time you created one?

Many people tell me they can’t think five years ahead. What stops them? Is it fear? Lack of curiosity or lack of self awareness? Overwhelm, disempowerment? There’s no urgency to do heavy forecasting if life is working well for you. But if you are dissatisfied with parts of your life, i.e. job, relationships, health, growth, it’s a sign that some attention is needed now.

Belinda is 55 and wants to bolt from her 15 year job. She makes good money, has a corner office, staff report to her, her opinions are valued and she’s a leader in her profession. But…Belinda is bored, frustrated, antsy and confused. People would kill for her job, but it feels to Belinda that this job is killing her.

She wonders if it’s ok to feel this way when people her age are being let go. She’s heard it’s difficult to get a new job once you’re in your 50’s. The economy is shaky and Belinda still has a mortgage and aging parents. Plus she’d like to save more money for retirement.

Should Belinda tough it out for another 10 years or dare to dream? What if Belinda were 35, would her options look different? Has Belinda missed her chance for career satisfaction?

“Some things cannot be spoken or discovered until we have been stuck, incapacitated, blown off course for a while. Plain sailing is pleasant, but you are not going to explore many unknown realms that way”
David Whyte

If Belinda were to expand her definition of career lifespan and instead of retiring at 65 she imagined working to 75+, how would that change her vision?

People over 50 have many flexible options before them: self employment, part time/full time, seasonal, project based, volunteer and board work. And work isn’t the only area of life that calls for planning. It is vital to think about what you want in terms of your health, leisure, spirituality, family, wealth, home, community, legacy and relationships.

It’s likely that the millennial couple will have five or more major careers in their lives. Think about yourself. How many different kinds of careers have you had? I’m on my sixth. An attitude shift that working or contributing longer is the norm broadens your possibilities. We also know that making a contribution as you age is good for your health: physically, mentally, spiritually and socially.

One resource to help you design a five year plan is the Life Planning Network’s book: “Live Smart after 50”. Written by LPN professionals who are experts in diverse fields, this book can be valuable at any age. Whether you are 25 or 55, thoughtfully examining your life: where you are and where you want to be, guarantees a more authentic life.

“The greatest tragedy is to live out someone else’s life thinking it was your own”
David Whyte

Your five year plan:

Look back at your wins
Identify the themes
What’s calling you?
Dream up some possibilities
Investigate one or two
Define the initial steps and act

Full speed ahead and see you on the path!