It’s 2011 and I’m at a bonfire with friends. I’m about to leave for a 10-month trip and we’re all drinking and eating in honor of my impending travel.
Talk turns to dating-while-traveling. A married friend takes a long swig of his beer and levels his eyes at me across the fire.
“Aren’t you afraid that if you keep traveling you’re not going to meet a nice guy?” he asks loud enough for everyone to hear.
I blush and mumble something unintelligible, but by now I should be used to questions like these. This not-particularly-polite-question is an example of the authenticity tax. It’s the price we pay for living a life that’s right for us.
The truth is, anytime you make a choice that’s right for you but runs counter to expectations, you’re going to get pushback. Family members are going to ask you about it at Thanksgiving. Friends might elbow you after a few drinks. Co-workers will look askance. Maybe the neighbors will talk. These questions and comments are frustrating, condescending, and sometimes downright hurtful. But the truth is, they’re usually par for the course if you’re living your life on purpose.
I’m at a bar in Alaska, nursing an eight-dollar screwdriver, when the bartender asks if she can change the tv channel. I’ve been absorbed in picking apart my cardboard coaster so, no, I don’t mind. She surfs through the channels, skipping Fox News and a fishing show, till she finds what she wants: a live broadcast of a poker game. I know less than nothing about poker. How many cards do you get? How much are those little plastic coin things worth? Why is it fun to watch a bunch of dudes play cards? I pick at my coaster and half-listen while the announcer says “Now, that’s a common tell. We’ll have to see how this plays out.” And my former English teacher ears perk up because TELL IS NOT A NOUN WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT???
So I do what anyone in 2017 does: I google “poker tell.”
In poker parlance, a ‘tell’ is “a change in a player’s behavior or demeanor that is claimed by some to give clues to that player’s assessment of their hand. A player gains an advantage if they observe and understand the meaning of another player’s tell, particularly if the tell is unconscious and reliable.” There are huge listicles and even entire books devoted to spotting these tells. Experts have written thousands of words about unconscious behavior changes that belie someone’s belief about their state of mind. I thought about the ‘tells’ in my own life, the things I unconsciously do when I’m tired, frustrated, or unhappy.
It’s a hot evening in July and I’m perched at my desk, sweating and grimacing over an email.
I’ve just opened my latest course and at midnight the price doubles – which seems like something people would want to know, right? Especially the people who attended the webinar? I’ve emailed everyone who expressed interest twice already – once on Wednesday and once on Thursday. Is a third time overkill? Am I going to annoy everyone? BECAUSE OH GOD WHAT IF I ANNOY EVERYONE.
It would be so much more comfortable to close my laptop and pour myself a drink. It’d be so much easier to say “if people want it, they’ll buy it! They’ll figure it out.” But instead of drinking a tall vodka gimlet, I sucked it up, got uncomfortable, and sent that third sales email. And would you like to know how much money than third email brought in? $2,134.73 Being slightly uncomfortable for 30 seconds brought in enough money to pay for a family vacation or two of those huge wheels of Parmesan cheese. Since this happened, I’ve been thinking a lot about those Pinterest quotes about how “great things never come from comfort zones” and how we need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” While I love an inspirational quote as much as the next white lady, I’ve always given these particular sayings a bit of side eye.
Like, how do I know the difference between Challenging Thing That’s Actually Good For Me and Thing I Genuinely Don’t Like, Never Will, And Makes Me Hate Life?
What’s the difference between knowing myself + my limitations and selling myself short? I’m not sure I can answer that probably-universal question, but I think I’ve found a workaround: be willing to make yourself slightly uncomfortable. Like, 25% more uncomfortable.
Making yourself 25% uncomfortable will probably yield 100% better results.
It’s 2010 and I’m 30 minutes into my flight between Newark, New Jersey and Mumbai, India. I’ve somehow angered the travel gods because I find myself in the middle seat, in the middle row.
On a flight that’s nine hours long. I bend forward to dig out my copy of Skymall. When I return to my upright position I discover the men sitting on either side of me have each taken ownership of the armrests.
I look down and notice that they’re both slooooooowly man-spreading their thighs into my space. Now, this is the part of the post where I’d like to tell you that I charmingly, assertively, diplomatically took back my armrests and personal space. I’d like to tell you that in even in 2010, I didn’t care if I ruffled the feathers of these total strangers. Instead, I’ll tell you what really happened. I spent the entire flight – all nine hours! – with my elbows tucked to my sides, my knees pinned together, dehydrating myself. God forbid I ask someone to stand up so I can go to the bathroom! If you are a woman, from the Midwest, or a people pleaser, you probably have your own version of this story. You let a friend-of-a-friend’s cousin crash with you even though you live in a studio apartment and you’re an introvert. You spend $$$ attending an out-of-state wedding for a relative you barely know. You agree to help a coworker move, even though said coworker earns significantly more than you and can absolutely afford to hire movers.
If you recognize yourself in any of the above scenarios, I’d like to introduce you to the phrase that has revolutionized my life and calendar:
I’m clicking through one of those quizzes people share on Facebook, feeling preemptively smug.
Click. Click. Click. Self-congratulatory back pat.
My results appear on the page and I grimace. Apparently, that self-congratulatory back pat was not earned.
I scored a 35 on the quiz in question: “Do you live in bubble?” And if I hadn’t worked as a teacher (“Have you ever had a job that caused you to be on your feet all day?”) or grown up in rural Minnesota (“Have you ever lived for more than a year in a city with fewer than 50,000 people?”) I would have scored a 14.
Good lord, it is easy to surround ourselves with people who look, act, and think like us. It’s so nice to meet all my college-educated, liberal, feminist friends for coffee and validate the ish out of each other’s opinions and life choices! It’s so comfortable to drive my Prius to J Selby’s and order a $10 Buffalo Soy Curl Wrap with my vegan friends!
But – and I know you know this – we don’t grow by surrounding ourselves with people and ideas that don’t challenge us.
It’s an overcast spring day and my friend and I are walking our dogs around Lake Nokomis. We’re drinking takeaway coffees and engaging in one of those it’s-been-too-long-tell-me-evvvvverything conversations. To be totally honest, I was busy fiddling with Loretta’s poop bags when I tuned back into the conversation and heard my friend say: “… and those are the hallmarks of my Best Self. That’s how I knew I’d made the right decision.”