Your Best Adventures Are Just Outside Your Comfort Zone

Time to get comfortable being uncomfortable. 

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When I was 16, I took a job as a waitress at a restaurant. My work experience at that time entailed years of baby-sitting and about a few months as a cashier at the local Piggly Wiggly – two jobs that came rather easy to me.

But waitressing was a completely different story. For starters, I was pretty awful at it. I never seemed to have the right answers – or any answers for that matter. (i.e. Customer: “Is the blackened chicken really blackened or just kind of blackened?”),  The whole “multi-tasking” thing was just on an entirely different level and I am still scarred from that one time I spilt an entire pitcher of ice water on a mother. On Mother’s Day. (How waitstaff balance huge trays of randomly weighted objects and do not spill them constantly is a talent I will forever envy.)

Anyway, while it was a rather unremarkable gig on the surface, my waitressing days were life-changing. My teenage self was plucked right out of my no-sweat comfort zone every single night. I had to think on my feet, remember 87 things at once and defend myself when the cooks accused me of not grabbing the meals fast enough (i.e. I grew thicker skin).

On the eve of my first pageant in college, I paced backstage trying to come up with some believable excuse to get out of performing that night. My anxiety was through the roof. Actually, to say I had anxiety isn’t adequate; I was terrified. I was so far out of my comfort zone, the boundaries were not even remotely visible. While I was pacing backstage, I told myself: I will never, ever do this again. (Ha!)

But like a lot of people who step outside their comfort zone, I surprised myself that night. I did make it through the evening and dare I say, I had a little fun along the way. Actually, I felt totally changed after my first solo performance on stage; it was as if a whole new world of possibilities opened up for me. And that is the beautiful thing about the comfort zone – whether you tiptoe outside it or get yanked like I did that night: Life really does change.

Of course, you don’t have to sign up for a pageant to step outside your comfort zone. 🙂 You don’t even have to quit your job or move out of state or agree to give some big speech (unless you feel those things will bring boundless happiness!). I love the idea of “thinking big, doing big” but sometimes, even the teeniest micro-steps outsize ‘the zone’ will yield for you some magic. ✨

There is probably someone less talented doing exactly what you should be doing right this very instant. Once you quit resting on your laurels and slice through that sense of security, I bet you’ll uncover juuuust enough gumption and bravery to go do that thing you’ve always wanted to do. And when I swear I’m fresh out of gumption and bravery, I try to ask myself: Well, why the hell not? If it could change my life in only the best of ways, why not? Why wouldn’t I want to learn more about this world, and shape my story within it?

Time to get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Actually, Money CAN Buy You Happiness.

Money can buy you happiness. Let me explain. First, a little background:

I mean, look. Obviously, I agree with the concept that you can have all the money in the world but if your life is out of balance, chances are: you’re not happy.

But here’s the thing: Money can buy you happiness. Let me explain. First, a little background:

I grew up with the understanding that money was a thing my family didn’t exactly have in spades. I was told, vaguely, that “credit cards are bad” but I didn’t quite understand why. I knew checks might bounce, cards could get declined and that shirt probably wasn’t worth buying unless it came from the clearance rack.

That was about the extent of my knowledge of money.

Fast forward to age 22, when I am graduating from college with $37,000 in school loans and an accepted job offer for $10/hour. I remember sitting at the kitchen table complaining to my dad, “How am I ever going to get ahead?” He shook his head, “Ah Kiddo, someday you’re going to look back and laugh.” And added: “The more ya make, the more you spend.”

Dad was right (on both accounts). Things have changed. And while I do look back at my financial struggles with a part-endearing-part-risible perspective, I can’t help but say to myself: Was all that strife really necessary?! I could’ve and should’ve done things so differently. I was grossly uneducated about what it meant to take on that amount of debt….I just did it because I thought it was what I had to do and from what I could tell, it seemed like there were a lot of other 18-year-olds doing the same so it couldn’t be all that bad? No one told me any different nor did I take the initiative to school myself.

Last year, I drafted a headline of a blog post that I called: “How to Make $100,000 by Age 30.” I knew I probably wouldn’t have the balls to actually publish it. I mostly wrote the headline as a way to motivate myself to actually earn $100,000. I knew that if I didn’t write it exactly right it could come across as bombastic and self-aggrandizing. So I thought I’d instead explain why I wanted to make $100,000+ in the first place:

There are a lot of things I want to do in life. I want to travel the world. I want to learn new languages, take more art classes and maybe learn photography. I want my kitchen to be stocked with food I love. I want to be able to give back more so that other people can achieve their dreams, too! Two things that are true here: these things make me happy (and not just temporarily). And these things are going to cost me.

 

I think the world needs to turn the way we think about money on its head. If we view money as the resource it’s meant to be instead of this evil, ugly thing, we’d collectively be in a better place. Here are 3 things I think could help:

1. We should be learning about money much earlier in life. I know there is a lot of controversy over what’s getting cut from schools right now vs. what should be taught but in my opinion, financial literacy should be at the top of the list and I hardly hear any conversation about the topic at all. Money is a universal language – it’s a thing we’re all going to deal with whether we have a little or a lot of it. It can be an uncomfortable conversation for a lot of people though. In many families, it’s a completely taboo topic to even bring up and I think that’s dangerous.

 

2. No matter how ugly, you’ve gotta take your finances head on! When I was broke (mehhh first 25 years of my life give or take) I believe it was my mentality that was holding me back the most. Money is a bad thing when you don’t have it. Like you view it as this nasty thing that causes all sorts of problems in the world. But when you do have it, money is this beautiful, glorious thing that solves all sorts of problems. Oh, the irony! No matter where you are at financially, face the music. Every single month. Keep a monthly spreadsheet. Download an app. Take a class.

 

3. We need to be wary of our culture of #YOLO. There is a very real challenge in toeing the line between finding debt-free/financial freedom and buying that thing because you are living in a constant #YOLO state of mind. I often ask myself, is it really about living life to its fullest? Or do I want this because someone else has it? Social media makes it easier than ever to compare ourselves to the Jones’. But that is weak and undisciplined – two things that you are not! 🙂 A hard-learned lesson on my end was the idea that no matter how hard I work, if I don’t have the money budgeted, I do not deserve the new shoes or the fancy car or the sweet vacation or even the $5 coffee.

I am not perfect. I’ve made – and continue to make – so many money mistakes….and I am still very much a student of finance. This is a journey and one I am finally enjoying learning about (and now sharing!). I just wish I had forced myself to learn about it back when I only had 89 cents in my checking account…because that’s when I’d argue it matters most.

So, can money buy you complete happiness? No. But it can buy you a lifeline to the things that make you happy. Now all you gotta do is spend it wisely.

5 Life Lessons I Learned in my 20s

Peace 20s. ✌ Bring on 30 and beyond.

I’ll be 30 next month. And probably like anyone entering a new decade and saying goodbye to another, I’ve spent a fair amount of time reflecting on what the last 10 years have meant for me.

Ten years ago, I was 19 going on 20. Things were pretty ugly back then. My stepdad had passed away the summer prior. Our house was getting auctioned off. My mom lost custody of my youngest siblings. My family life was in total turmoil. It was so distracting, it was nearly impossible to see past the fog and into a more optimistic future.

That year, I tattooed the word “hope” in white ink on my wrist. Because that’s what I held on to at that time: hope that things would get better. When I look down at my faded tattoo today, I’m reminded of what life felt like at 19 and, although I had fun in my late teens and early 20s, I’m much more grateful to be turning 30.

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And things did get better. Along the way, I learned a lot (as we all do!). Here are just five lessons that made multiple cameos throughout my 20s:

  1. Listen more.
    Why is listening so hard? I mean, seriously…WHY. My 20s taught me that it takes real skill (that too many people lack) to look someone in the eye while thoughtfully listening to the words coming out of their mouth. When people demonstrate terrible listening skills, it says a lot of bad things about them: They’re either insecure, self-important or boorish or all of the above.

    Likewise, I learned that most people love to hear themselves talk. But the real talent lies in the skill of listening. I think I undermined this 10 years ago. I wish I had realized the class, professionalism and intelligence that come with closing your mouth and using your ears. I’ve had to re-learn this again and again with my on-camera role. It’s my job to help my interviewee tell their story; not to interject with my own insights every two seconds.When I’m sitting around a conference room table at work, I try hard not to blurt out my opinion first. Hear what everyone else has to say. And then share your opinion if you feel moved to. I am still in practice but I know that listening never makes you look stupid. You do run that risk though when you run your mouth. 😕

  2. Hand out (genuine) compliments more.
    People don’t verbalize compliments enough. And that is a very strange thing to me.When I was probably 22, I remember sitting in a meeting with an influential and talented director-level colleague. This woman is one of the smartest people I’ve worked with even to this day. Our small group was discussing the topic of giving feedback to one another and she made a comment that the further along she’s gotten in her career, the fewer compliments she has received. “People expect me to be good all the time,” she assessed. This was odd to me because I thought everything this woman said was practically genius. And I thought to myself, “Why is it that I’ve never told her this?” Well because, I probably assumed everyone told her how smart she was. But that’s silly – why are we sometimes so scared to tell people what makes them great?

    I think compliments – when authentic – are important, whether it’s your sister or your CEO. (Did I mention you’ve gotta be genuine about it?)

  3. Don’t get into relationships that just don’t feel right.
    I probably could’ve written an entire article about relationship-themed mistakes I’ve made but in the spirit of not doubling my wine intake while I type this, I’ll include this teeeeny tinnyyyy flaw I repeated more than once in my 20s: Getting into relationships that did not feel right.

    Perhaps you too are familiar with the drill: You see potential in someone but despite your internal voice screaming: “This should not be a thing,” you continue the thing anyway. The worst is when you swear you won’t get into anything without it feeling 100%…and you do it again. On one hand, you definitely learn from every failed relationship but in general, this is not fair to either party. Wait it out. That whole “when you know, you know” thing is just a cliche way of saying “trust your instincts.”

  4. It’s never too late to start.
    It seems like the message we get these days is: If you didn’t start the sport or hobby by age 3, you’re outta luck. And that is beyond frustrating. My parents did not enter me in any dance recitals or band lessons. (I was lucky to get to be on my elementary school’s basketball team.) So by the time I reached adulthood, I was certainly not an expert at any given thing. I was, what most would deem, of average talent. And in my teens and even early 20s, I think I let that way of thinking intimidate me.

    Until one day, I decided to embrace a sport I’ve always been obsessed with but had zero experience in: gymnastics. I found a gym in Madison that admits adults, regardless of experience level, and I went for it. That was 2012. I still go to class every week. I’ll clearly never make an Olympic team but I’ve found something that makes me very happy every Monday night. (Hobbies coming down the pike include: learning French, piano and knitting. Stay tuned 🙂 )

  5. (Most) people don’t change.
    I was hopelessly optimistic about this one for a very long time. And I hate to end my dissertation here on something so gloomy but it is, by and large, the truth. People are who they are at their core. “When people show you their true colors, let them” are words of wisdom worth remembering.

Everyone glamorizes the whole being in your 20s thing. I’ve found it humorous (ok, maybe even borderline aggravating) just how many people have brought up my impending birthday with sorrow and sympathy. i.e. “Are you going to miss your 20s?” You mean, am I going to miss being broke, insecure and in a state of perpetual confusion? No, no I am not going to miss that but I’m grateful I went through it. My 20s were full of good times but I’ll make sure to make more good memories in my 30s (and continue learning hard lessons, obviously).

Peace 20s. ✌ Bring on 30 and beyond.

M.