by Ann Marie Bausch
I must confess: just the idea of writing about discomfort made me, well, uncomfortable. We live in a frightening world. Many of us walk our days carrying the traumas of the past and our fears for the future just under our skin, and the platitudes offered up for how to deal with them, often in the form of colorfully stylized memes rolling past our eyes on our social media feeds, are insultingly simple, overly sure of themselves, and everywhere. I’m paraphrasing: “Regret is worse than fear,” maybe with one wilted and one bright, fresh flower graphic on either side. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost…” you get the idea. Even Shakespeare is in on it.
We feel a twinge of recognition when we hear these things, because most of us are stuck in one rut or another. And I suppose it’s natural that the flipping of the calendar, a year that is “new” (even though we manufactured the concept) seems like a good time to pull ourselves out. But here’s the rub: while we may know intellectually that taking a risk is better than cutting ourselves off from new experiences, it is absolutely terrifying to try. We retreat to those ruts, cocoons, hiding places, choose your metaphor, for a reason. We do it to protect ourselves.
So in the spirit of both taking care of myself and not allowing my life to stagnate, I’ve been employing a strategy, a simple twist on the old idea of magic words. I have a Master’s degree in creative writing and a Bachelor’s in English, I’ve taught collegiate courses on composition and literature, and my mother says I started talking at six months old and haven’t shut up since. I’m very good at coming up with fancy, stylized, carefully-crafted words. So here is the first one. Ready?
Despite what we teach children, my friends, this word is truly magical. Here is another:
I’m not being glib. Changing the way we use these simplest of words can have a revolutionary effect on our lives.
Most of us say either “yes” or “no” too often, to our own detriment, and we usually know which one it is. Frequently find yourself over-scheduled and overwhelmed? You probably say yes to everything like a reflex. Is your favorite thing in the world to hide under a blanket and speak to no one? Then you may be on the “no” team. (Spoiler alert: this is me).
Lest this seem like high-and-mighty, easier-said-than-done advice, I’ll share an example of how I’ve tried this recently.
Last summer, my yoga studio held a vegan potluck to raise funds for a farm animal sanctuary (That sentence probably tells you all you need to know about me, really). Despite the fact that I’m a vegan animal lover who donates to rescues frequently, here are the things that made me uncomfortable about this event: cooking when I don’t have to. Voluntarily engaging in a social endeavor when I’d rather be home with my dogs. Speaking to other humans. All of my instincts said run. Run. Run. Or, put more simply, NO.
But a tiny little piece of my heart really wanted to make some new friends. I haven’t lived in my area for long, and geez, it would be nice to have someone to go get a damn cup of coffee with. So I took a deep breath and decided to try for YES. I made a bean salad. I did tree pose and downward-facing dog for an hour. And when it was time to socialize, with absolutely no more skill than an awkward teenager, I forced myself to join a circle of women, open my mouth, and say a few words. “Great class.” Something as rhetorically brilliant as that. And as it turned out, I met two lovely people I ended up laughing and chatting with, and we all commiserated about how completely awful it feels trying to make friends as adults. Before we left, I made myself ask if we could friend each other on Facebook. My stomach turned—this is how nervous I felt with two smiling women wearing yoga pants and eating vegetables. Several months later, the three of us are still in touch, taking turns suggesting outings that might be fun, making ourselves vulnerable. It felt truly uncomfortable, and I enjoy myself every time.
I’m not suggesting that anyone turn their lives upside down, fight every instinct, take every risk—I would never do that. My idea for the new year is simply this: one time out of ten, with very small things, say “no” when you would have said “yes,” or vice versa. Do they really need your help to move, when your back already hurts? Would it be fun to visit a museum when you’d rather stay on your couch? Just try it. One time out of ten. A little discomfort, to help yourself grow and stay present in this life. And if you need to run straight back to your comfort zone when you’re done, do so with my blessing.
Ann Marie Bausch is a writer and dog mom from Norfolk, Virginia. In addition to Rock & Sling, her nonfiction has appeared on The Mighty, and her fiction has appeared in Narrative Magazine. Find her at seekingandspeaking.wordpress.com, on Twitter at @anniebausch, or on Instagram at @anniemb4.