Kim Nathan

Author & Life Coach

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The minute we get a whiff of discomfort, we want to swerve in the other direction.

We freely admit to physical discomforts, always complaining about the weather or one’s aches and pains. It’s harder for us to cop to emotional pain because we want to appear strong.

In the modern Western world, we are insulated by all the technology that money can buy. If you are lucky, it’s possible to feel very little physical discomfort. We get used to a comfort zone, and when we feel ourselves bump against the edges of it, we bounce off in the other direction, back into it. Pretty soon we never want to leave it. We lose our tolerance for discomfort.

I live well within my comfort zone. This became clearly evident while on a rafting trip in the Grand Canyon. It was an eight-days-on-the-river, sleeping-under-the-stars-every-night kind of trip. All of our meals were provided. We were given strict limits and suggestions on what to pack. I’m a lip balm addict, so I stashed about twenty of them throughout various bags and clothing, just in case a bag was lost overboard in the river. I fretted about it. That’s how close my comfort zone is.

No matter how prepared you think you are for a trip like rafting in the Grand Canyon, whether you have the right clothes and shoes and sunhat and sunblock and lip balm, you will still be discomforted by the physical experience. Being on the Colorado River is a constant dance between extremes, scalding heat and freezing water, scorching sun and shocking cold. It’s physically demanding to be out in the elements twenty-four hours a day for an entire week. My modern sensibilities were challenged. I was discomforted on a continuous basis, but I also learned how temporary each state was. Nothing lasted very long without transforming into something else. You get cold and wet really fast. You get hot and dry really fast. This happens over and over again.

Everyone on that rafting trip was out of their comfort zone. But, after two or three days, we all settled in to our new routines. The river became our way of life. This never would have happened if we hadn’t agreed to step out of our comfort zones, albeit in a fairly luxurious way. By the end of that trip, we had expanded our tolerance for discomfort, and we were forever changed by our experience on the river.

The other kind of discomfort, the emotional kind, is easier to ignore in some ways. You can pretend you’re not feeling it. We’re taught by the culture that we should smile and be polite. If we’re uncomfortable, maybe we’re not doing it right. Maybe there is something wrong with us. So often we grin and bear it because that’s what we think we’re supposed to do. We’re faking it along the way, hoping to get it right.

But right by whose standards?

When anxiety and unease are your primary emotional discomforts, this is feedback that you may not be heading in the right direction to realize your full potential.

I’m not talking about the fear you feel when you are exploring and trying out new things.

I speak of the discomfort that happens when you’ve stayed too long at the party. When you’ve stayed too long in a marriage or a career, even though it’s stifling you. When doing something different feels too scary, we numb ourselves to the discomfort, which later manifests as boredom, frustration and irritability.

Your brain will tell you to cool it. Don’t mess with the good thing. You’ve put up with it for this long. Who knows how good the next thing will be?

Discomfort means you need to expand your comfort zone. Not by becoming more tolerant to the discomfort, the way I did on the rafting trip, but by using it as a guide to move yourself forward in life. When that numb feeling settles on you, when dull anxiety is running in the background of your life, it’s time to expand. Stop settling.

No matter how illogical it may seem to your brain, trust your emotions to guide. You know what it feels like when things could be so much better in your life, when you just aren’t satisfied. You want more.

When you feel sad, tired and bored, ask yourself what it is that you are holding back on?

What are you not expressing that needs to be expressed?

Find a way to express it no matter how uncomfortable it is.

Creating is uncomfortable. It’s way out of everyone’s comfort zone.

That’s what creativity is. Venturing into unknown lands.

By the end of the trip, we expand our tolerance for discomfort and are forever changed by our experience on the river.


False Choices

We all have a call to answer.

We knew it when we were kids. We understood we were here to do something, and we didn’t doubt for one moment that we could do it.

But then something happened.

We grew up. We began to feel the struggles of life.

That ancient part of our brain, the amygdala – the reptilian part of us – the lizard brain – began to swoosh its big tail around, warning us, threatening lack and attack.

So we began to play it safe. Play it small.

But, in order to play it safe, we have to refuse the call.

We turn away from the gift we were given, that belongs to us uniquely, and only we can give back to the world.

It becomes the thing that we always wanted to do or to be, but then Life happened.

We are presented with a series of false choices.

If you can’t make your living doing it, it’s not worth doing.

If you can’t make any money from it, it’s not worth doing.

We become efficient with our time, devoting it solely to activities where we can see the actual value. We want a return on our investment.

There is an intrinsic value we don’t factor into this equation. That value is the joy we feel when we turn in the direction of our calling. We gain a sense of personal fulfillment and joy that is priceless.

When we refuse our calling, our life feels a little empty.

We spend a lifetime acquiring things to pad our nests in order to build our security, but something is still missing.

We remember the dreams we had for ourselves when we were young, but:

  • We’re not good enough
  • We’re too old
  • We don’t know enough
  • We don’t have time for that
  • The list goes on

The lizard begins to swish around again, asking, “What are you sniffing around there for?”

Another false choice presents itself:

You can’t work a fulltime job and also pursue your dream.

The ugly inner voice begins to whisper, “Why are you wasting time doing that?”

You’ll never get picked.

Because that’s what you’ve been waiting for.

You want a gatekeeper – a publisher, a record company, an art gallery – to say yes to you, to give you the nod and validate you.

You want someone to wave their magic wand and decree you to be a writer, a musician, an artist, a creator of your own universe.

But here’s the thing.

You don’t need the gatekeepers anymore.

The Internet has changed everything.

Now you can pick yourself.

Sounds daunting, I know.

That’s because this is hard.

That’s why you haven’t done it yet.

It’s also why you need to do it now.

So now that the Internet has levelled the playing field, in a world where you can self-publish your book, where you can create a platform and market yourself and sell and distribute your art (whatever that is) all over the world, why aren’t you doing it?

If the gatekeepers aren’t in your way, what’s holding you back?

The simple answer is fear.

We’re afraid to put ourselves out there.

We’re afraid we’re not good enough.

We’re afraid to take risks.

We’re afraid of the uncertainty.

We’re afraid of judgment.

These are the emotional gates that you must pass through when you embark on the creative journey. These are the challenges we must face when we decide to go for it.

We are hardwired as humans to stay safe, and our culture reinforces this by expecting us to conform and fit in, so we inhibit the thing that makes us different or unique because it is impossible to fit in and stand out at the same time.

Are you afraid? I’ve spent most of my life being afraid. Afraid of making mistakes, afraid of standing out, afraid of making a ruckus. I’m afraid right now, worried that I won’t be able to say exactly what I mean to say.

Big things worth doing are scary. They should be because they are important. They matter. That’s why you’re afraid. You don’t want to mess it up.

But that thing you want to do – that you were meant to do – you are the only one who can do it. The world is counting on your unique contribution.

It doesn’t matter if you can or can’t make money from it.

It doesn’t matter if you went to school for it or for something else.

It doesn’t matter if you are the best or if you aren’t. (Keep doing it and you’ll get better)

What matters is that you do it.

It’s your calling. Only you can answer it.

Going into the unknown is what the creative journey is all about.

The gates are wide open.

Are you going to walk through them?




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