Inside: Courage and bravery to reach your goals aren’t things you’re born with. They’re things you develop by doing stuff that scares the shit out of you.
Last weekend I came back from my second FinCon. It was an amazing experience, mostly because this time some people actually recognized me.
I’ll be honest with you. Since I started freelance writing full-time, I spend most of my days holed up in my apartment with just my cats and weird lab as coworkers. They’re not very good conversationalists.
So, to be let loose into the world and be reminded that there are actual people I’m interacting with behind my tea-spotted computer screen is a little terrifying.
Mostly because I have all the social skills of a drunken baboon. I’m not lying; there’s a reason I moved to Alaska from northern Michigan at the age of 18. I thought there were too many damn people in northern Michigan and I needed my space. There’s like five people who live there!
But, I don’t regret attending FinCon in the slightest.
Yes, I may have slipped up and sounded like the village idiot. Yes, I may have stood behind groups of people I wanted to talk to like a creeper because I didn’t know how to join in the conversation gracefully. I may or may not have wandered around the Denver airport for two hours because I couldn’t find my ride pickup point.
It’s OK. I’m used to it by now.
That doesn’t mean I’m still any less terrified of people and social interactions.
Going to FinCon was a great experience. I connected with a lot of potential clients and made a lot of new friends (who very kindly look past my social awkwardness).
But more than that, going to FinCon allows me the chance to practice my favorite new life philosophy:
Do stuff that scares the shit out of you.
We’re Biologically Wired to Seek Out Comfort
When I start thinking about what a huge weenie I am, I’m always comforted by one thing.
Seeking out my safe comfort bubble is what I’m biologically wired to do.
I can’t help it. It’s why I don’t make my bed every day. Instead, I fold over a king-size comforter on my queen-size bed to make the human equivalent of a thunder shirt. Every night I squirrel myself away in my nest of comfort and safety.
You also have your own comfort things. Maybe you have a soft blanket you like to curl up with. Do you avoid speaking up in meetings? Maybe you sit in the back row of presentations. Or, perhaps you once pretended to be sick for two weeks in high school so you didn’t have to recite a poem from memory. Perhaps all of the above?
Why do we seek out comfort? Think about our evolutionary history. Do you know what happened to the brave people who stepped away from the crowd?
They got eaten by bears. BEARS!
It’s no wonder we’re so ingrained to play it safe and not be bold.
Comfort Breeds Mediocrity
Everyone wants to be comfy. You know what comfy used to look like for me?
I’d come home from the low-paying job as a lab animal caretaker that I hated and pass out on the sofa with a cheap (read: terrible) bottle of beer.
I’d watch reruns of Arrested Development and The Office in a desperate attempt to lift my spirits and forget about my situation. Maybe I’d knit up a mustachioed beer cozy if I was feeling particularly frosty. Finally, around midnight I’d roll off the couch and somehow make it to bed while trying not to think about the next day.
It sure was comfy. I love me some Arrested Development and The Office, especially when paired with my nest-bed.
Related: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Mediocrity Just Won’t Cut It If You Have Dreams
I finally realized I was making a tradeoff.
I could be pretty comfortable today. But when it got right down to it, I was fucking miserable.
In fact, I’ve only told about five people in the world this—but I was actually depressed.
Like, clinically depressed.
I finally sucked it up with the help of some other bloggers (who I emailed and didn’t have to see in “real” life) and went to see a therapist where I was informed that I had situational depression.
Due to, you know, my situation. Of being comfortable.
Let’s take a step back. I’m not the type of person who’s fine with wasting their life away on the couch watching the boob tube. I’ve always marched to the beat of a different drummer, even if that drummer sounds like the Energizer bunny all hopped up on cocaine.
I need to do things.
Those things always came from my education or my career, however fledgling it might have been (spoiler alert: my career in the wildlife field lasted about six months). I’ve also been a professional sled dog handler in the middle of Alaska. Even before that, I made it into the National Spelling Bee as a young whipper-snapper, for Pete’s sake.
That’s why it was so difficult for me when I was stuck at my job. I’d reached a dead end. There was no upward potential. I couldn’t pay off my debt. I couldn’t afford a house or to travel and see the world. My husband supported me financially while I was in school, and now I couldn’t return the favor for him. He almost had to drop out.
My life consisted entirely of cleaning up animal poop in a lab and coming home to my comfort bubble.
And that just didn’t cut it for me.
You have dreams too. I know you do, because otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this blog post. Even if it’s as simple as just breaking out of the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle (not an easy feat, by the way). Maybe you want to take over the world. Or, maybe you just want to be able to remember to wear your underwear inside your pants.
I ain’t judging.
Normal Stuff Doesn’t Always Work
I’d tried all the normal things. I’d sent out resumes to everyone and anyone who was hiring. I put out feelers with friends and relatives who worked in the natural resources field. The local biologists got tired of me emailing them all the time. I checked the job boards 12.5 times per day.
There were no opportunities. I thought I was stuck. What other ways could I possibly try? Better to curl up in my nest-bed with a good ol’ episode of Arrested Development.
That’s when I realized I needed to get outside my comfort zone.
I started by trying to find some way—any way—to make some more money. I tried selling knitting patterns, transcribing interviews, and filling out surveys. It helped, but it was like trying to put out a raging house fire with a squirt gun.
That’s when I decided I really needed to stop caring about my own fears.
Do Really Scary Stuff
Finally, I decided to try freelance writing. I’d heard crazy stories of people who made big bucks online.
But I was hesitant. I’d have to interact with more people, after all, and I didn’t even have a lick of formal training or experience in freelance writing. What if I made a fool of myself? What if I didn’t understand what editors wanted? Even worse—what if I spontaneously combusted?
I decided to go for it anyway. Fear be damned.
I’m not going to lie and say it was all rainbows and sunshine. I did a lot of stupid, embarrassing things. When I first started, I froze on a live conference call with 15 other (real) writers and panicked. I accidently texted a client once when I meant to text my husband (oops….). In fact, you can read more about my terrifying journey as a freelance writer here.
The Really Scary Shit Is What Will Really Move The Needle
Coming back from FinCon tied this all up nicely for me.
I was terrified, and yet I went. I made a fool of myself in many ways, and yet I went.
I’m sure there are people out there right now who saw me and are wondering what the hell I was doing there.
Do you know why?
I’ll be sending out invoices for my highest-ever grossing month right after I write this post.
This month, I made $8,985*.
*$9,235 if you count a post I’ve already written but haven’t turned in yet.
I never thought I’d make that much in my life ever. Not even if I went down the straight and proper career path and ended up as an end-stage professional in the wildlife field.
As I was flying home from FinCon (right before I got lost in my own home airport), I did a simple calculation as I was walking down the jetway. I looked up what the average salary for airline pilots is. It’s $79,947 per year, or $6,662 per month.
There’s a good chance I earned more this month than the pilot who flew me home.
So yeah, doing stuff that scares the shit out of you matters. Not just as a one-off event, but every day.
You can bet your ass that I’ll be doing more things that scare the everloving shit out of me now.
Calling people on the phone? Check.
Trying new business opportunities? Check.
Flying to new conferences? Check.
Public speaking? Check.
Meeting with people in real life? Check.
Making $10,000 in a single month? Check.
Now It’s Your Turn
There are many things holding you back from reaching your goals and dreams. If you’re like me, the one thing that underlies them all is fear.
So, this is my challenge to you: Do stuff that scares the shit out of you.
This isn’t a one-off challenge. I’m challenging you to do this every day.
You don’t have to take giant, groundbreaking steps each time. Start with baby steps and build up.
Find a local meetup group with similar interests and go chat with them. Call up your credit card company and ask for lower interest rates. Make an appointment to meet with the hiring official for a job you want. Get that crazy haircut.
I don’t care what you do, just do something that scares you.
The scary things will get just a little bit easier over time. Then, you’ll need to look for new scary things to do. Pick your scary things based on what you need to do to reach your goals. You’ll reach your goals before you know it.
It won’t happen overnight. It won’t be easy. You’ll feel like an idiot many, many, many times. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. If you can do that, I promise you, it’ll pay off in the long run.
And if you’re still scared to try it? Let me tell you this:
No amount of comfort can compare to the feeling of having fucking slain your fears to reach a goal you never thought you’d achieve.