When it feels like too much

A soft, fuzzy mommy with no food. Or a wire mommy with food. Which would you pick?

In a 1958 experiment by the scientist Harry Harlow, baby monkeys gravitated heavily toward the soft, fuzzy mommy with no food.

Comfort and security mattered the most. Like even more than dinner. And not much matters more than dinner.

We humans seem wired to desperately seek and hold onto comfort. Even when the comfort is unhealthy or doesn’t serve us in the long run. It’s just how we are.

In his two podcasts about The Office and its making, Brian Baumgartner, who played Kevin on the show, repeatedly asks the question: Why do people obsessively binge The Office? And the answer, repeatedly, is it’s familiar. It’s a comfort thing.

The more familiar something becomes, the more we turn to it for comfort. That can be good, bad, or neutral. Like getting hugs from your best friend, or returning to your abuser, or just streaming The Office long past Netflix’s “Are you still watching?” intermission.

Familiarity makes comfort. And on the flipside: unfamiliarity–or change–triggers discomfort.

Like when Netflix’s contract for The Office expires.

So what happens with change? What happens when we suddenly lose the familiar? Suddenly step out of our comfort zones? Suddenly find ourselves in this strange, new, and uncomfortable world?

Very often, what we think will happen turns out to be very different from what actually does.

We humans tend to be far more capable of recovering from emotional crises than we expect. When faced with loss and challenge, people frequently overestimate how long it will take before their minds can return at least partial attention to their typical day-to-day concerns. We frequently end up at least some version of “okay” more quickly than we expect.

And I think that’s very much worth thinking on for a bit. With the big discomforts and the little ones.

What actually happens?

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A friend adopted a dog last week. Being a mom to furry friends wasn’t new to her, and everything was ready to go, but still she couldn’t shake this anxious feeling. She felt stressed out and on edge. What could go wrong? Is it going to go okay?

I shared my own story of adopting our pup, Junko, a year-and-a-half shepherd mix rescue. We brought her home a few months ago and, although she was about as well-behaved as they come, and we also were more than ready and not new to this, the next few days were some of the highest anxiety we’ve ever felt–panicky. The unknowns, the “Was this a bad decision?” thoughts, the fear that we wouldn’t be good care-takers for her.

The moral of the story seems to be: All significant changes–even the EPIC ones–are stressful.

Change is uncomfortable.

And we desperately want comfort.

A ray of hope in the height of the Junko-anxiety was: Someday it won’t be this-week anymore. In other words, this maximum-feeling stress isn’t going to be forever.

And while that reminder is common sense, it’s one I think we forget a lot.

So I’d like to explore this change/discomfort thing together.

~

When we experience a new thing that comes with stress, we tend to worry that we WON’T get comfortable with the new thing. The discomfort feels so uncomfortable that all we want is to go find our fuzzy mommy. We don’t think we’re going to make it out here in this scary new world, because we know we can’t survive this tight feeling in our chests and the woozy feeling in our heads and the tummy-waves forever. It’s too uncomfortable. And we need to get out.

So sometimes we take it back. No change. Stay safe.

Whether they’re big changes or lesser bumps in the road, we expect that we won’t get comfortable: A new community, a new person, a loss, a habit, a decision, a life-path, a job or promotion, learning something you didn’t know about someone, etc. All these changes lead to lots of worry and anxiety, and while the alarm-bells are ringing, we overestimate how permanent the stress will be.

Which, again, can make us take it back. Bail. Give up on our deepest desires and truest selves. No change. Need to get back to comfortable.

But what if comfort in the new reality is just a matter of time?

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We found our dream home one September night and made our first offer since we’d started house-hunting. It was perfect. One we knew we’d never leave. So we threw more at it than we’d budgeted. And it scared the hell out of us. We backed out right before we signed the offer. Then we jumped in again an hour before the deadline. We couldn’t sleep, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t calm down, couldn’t eat. Work that day was awful. I had this sick, end-of-the-world feeling in my gut. Could we really afford this? (Yes. Very much.) Were we signing our lives away? Would we go bankrupt? Barely scrape by, stressing constantly about money? Find ourselves years later trapped in our not-dream-jobs making just enough money to afford this crazy choice? Making the wrong decision that would change our lives? Finally out on a distracting-walk, we got the phone call. It was a no go. Back to the drawing board. Deeply stressed, not ready to keep going with this panicky feeling, maybe a little traumatized. For the next 9 months we made that offer again, reviewed that budget again, slept on it again, and again, and again. Finally we saw a home and had 15 minutes before the deadline to submit an offer. In minutes we hashed out our most aggressive offer yet, signed it, and hopped into a boat to relax with our best friends. The deeply scary, uncomfortable, stressful thing we didn’t think we’d be able to handle had become . . . easy.

We went stand up paddleboarding lately, my wife’s first time. It’s a weird, tiring thing for your legs and feet at first. The goal was a relaxing adventure and it didn’t feel relaxing. After a bit she wasn’t sure it would ever get chill enough. Fast forward 45 minutes and we were cruising and laughing and chatting away. The uncomfortable thing had become . . . chill.

I felt like I was going to pass out when I gave my first impromptu speech in high school. It lasted about 20 seconds and consisted mostly of messing with my feet and chewing on my lip. It was brutal. This was not for me. Public speaking is outrageously uncomfortable to most people. Until you do it again and again and again. And then, for many, it sort of clicks. Sure, still some butterflies, but we’ve got this. Nowadays, I get a thrill when I have a chance to present in front of a group, and there’s no such thing as too unprepared. I’m 100% there for it. The terrifying thing has become . . . exciting.

Speaking of speaking, I joined a Toastmasters club years ago, looking for some like-minded people. And while speaking was exciting for me, the socializing was nerve-wracking. I was super anxious to make good impressions, and everyone there seemed so put together and intimidating. I felt like I could feel my blood pressure rise when I’d get there, after the hours of anticipation. It was a lot. Stressful, even if a sort of exciting kind. And then all the intimidating people became my good friends and I slowly became one of the long-time members welcoming shy new members. The lonely, anxious space had become . . . home.

A common theme I’ve found with all my co-workers is that we all have this idea that “those professionals,” the ones who have been doing it longer, are in those more advanced positions, must have some special knowledge and expertise and capabilities. Those positions seem scary, out of reach, like we couldn’t keep up with them. Until we take that next scary step and jump in the deep end. After each stressful promotion or transition our splashing about slowly turns to a smooth stroke, and suddenly we just are those cool people we didn’t think we could ever be. Again and again and again, the uncomfortable jobs had become . . . mundane.

Have you ever admitted some deep secret to someone? Shared something that you’re afraid will change how they feel about you? Maybe sometimes it does change how they think of you. In fact, probably most of the time it does. But how long does that change last? When I’ve found myself in that position with friends or family, I’m always surprised by how quickly people are able to adjust and accept. I’m still me. You’re still you. Those scary conversations we think will ruin it all, typically end up just growing the relationships deeper. The upsetting or confusing new side of you quickly becomes for them just . . . you.

Even Willoughby. My last few blog posts have been pretty messy about my Willoughby buddy I lost in April. And you don’t lose the sadness, but I don’t spend most hours of most days in deep sadness about it anymore.

Blogging is a good one, too. There have been some big blog or even social media risks I’ve taken. Scary, brave feeling ways I’ve put myself out there. Opening up about trauma or mental health. Speaking up on sensitive topics. Marketing myself and asking for attention. And each one of those uncomfortable steps I’ve taken that have felt like they’ll be too much, forever putting me in a new space of insecurity, has ended up being totally . . . okay.

Or even this pandemic. No, it’s not all okay now. Not at all. But there is a significant difference in how we function day-to-day as compared to the first month. Remember being super nervous and over-aware every time you left the house? How you’d catch yourself touching your face? Washing your hands and wiping stuff down? And how literally uncomfortable the masks were when you first had to wear them? How complicated the zoom meetings were? And now? It’s . . . normal. In a strange way. The fifth COVID-test feels much less monumental than the first one did. Sometimes you forget you’re wearing the mask until you’ve already made it home and inside. You’re a zoom pro now. And you just don’t think about COVID-19 every minute of every day anymore. The world outside doesn’t look or feel quite so eerily post-apocalyptic as it did at the beginning. The uncomfortable “new normals” became just that . . . normal.

~

What about you? Can you think of something in your life that went from extremely uncomfortable to comfortable? Scary to happy? Difficult to chill? Stressful to normal? Crisis-y to completely and utterly mundane?

Something you thought you’d never be able to handle? Something you thought would be permanently hard? And now it’s . . . not?

~

We are emotional creatures. And we learn discomforts way faster than we learn comforts. We are on the lookout for danger, and changes stresses us the hell out.

But, can we give ourselves these little reminders that the uncomfortable things will get more comfortable?

And quite possibly pretty quickly?

What could this awareness do for us?

Maybe it would give us the strength to do that big thing we’ve been putting off in fear? Knowing that the fear would subside? We could chase our dreams a little more?

Maybe it would give us the strength to keep going with those practices we know are healthy even when we hit a wall that feels like a crisis? Having the perspective that even though it feels like the world is ending, we can keep being us, because if we’re still going to be here, we still need to be ourselves? Like muscling my way through my yoga practice even though the capitol just got stormed because by summer that crazy new reality will have just settled into the actual reality I live in? And yoga would have helped along the way?

Maybe it would save us some hours of intense worry? The stress-feelings could start to just mean that we’re stretching and growing and on a new adventure?

Maybe it would help us connect and communicate genuinely. Speaking our uncomfortable truths, trusting that the more we speak them, the more they’ll feel like they belong?

Maybe it would mean we could be our truest selves through the stress times, the change times, good, bad, or neutral.

~

Do you remember going to the gym for the first time? Seeing all those fit runners and badass lifters doing their thing as if it’s no big deal. And you awkwardly put your stuff in the cubby and try to decide whether to keep your water bottle with you and glance around for a place to tie your shoes where you won’t be in anyone’s way? You wonder a lot what they think of you. You try the machine you’ve always seen used and you can feel the sympathetic grins burning through the back of your head. You see the trainers high five the members they already know so well and convince yourself that you’ll never be one of them.

And then, as happens when you immerse yourself in any community and stick around through the discomfort, you eventually find yourself at home. Or at least no longer on the edge of a panic attack.

The places and spaces and big life changes that we think are going to make life impossible and lead to permanent fear and stress and stomach upsets . . . we get used to them. They become okay. It just happens.

And that’s really quite hopeful.

We’re going to be okay.

You can do it.

~

It seems that almost everything we think will never get comfortable ends up getting comfortable–or at least routine. When we find ourselves thinking that something will permanently bother or upset us, it can help to be a little more down-to-earth and realize we’ll probably feel differently in a few days.

So what adventure or cause have you been desperately wishing you could pour yourself into, but keep finding yourself holding back, afraid it will be too scary?

Or what struggle or change or new reality are you currently going through that is keeping you up at night, leaving you afraid this peak stress is here to stay?

Can you remind yourself that you’ll grow into it?

That the scary will become routine or happy?

The uncomfortable will become comfortable?

The scary new you will soon be the strong new you?

What if you just gave yourself permission to go ahead and chase the thing from the bottom of your heart? Dive straight in, even though the butterflies do their thing in your tummy?

What if you just trusted the process?

What could you do?

What would you have?

Who will you be?

You are safe.

And don’t worry. Your body will discover that’s true. For today, ride the thrills.

Be you through the stress. You’ll stick around longer than it will.

Want a bravery buddy in life? I’ll come with. Throw your email below. :)

Glacier Adventure

Glacier National Park.

My favorite.*

(*at least for today)

There are things in nature that I love with every little bit of my heart. Big mountains. Cold flowing water. Tall trees. And all the all the all the green.

Glacier is the ultimate mix between massive mountains and walkable woods. For some hikers, the cold rugged ridges of the Colorado or Canadian Rockies, soaring close to three miles above sea level, are a bit daunting–inaccessible. They feel sort of desolate. While that’s part of their draw for me, Glacier is different. Glacier feels more like a place to go just hike, no matter how little or much mountaineering you’ve done. Glacier’s peaks aren’t quite as massive and cold, but the slightly lower altitudes make it a little more comfortable and accessible–and SO GREEN!!! And the glacier-fed lakes and rivers are the most shocking turquoise! (Oh and all the wildlife!)

If you’re looking to get into hiking and national parks-type adventures, Glacier’s the perfect place to start!

If you go–hit me up, I’ll give you all the best spots!

My sister and her husband and my wife and I took a week-long adventure to Glacier National Park back in June of 2018. We took a train on Amtrak’s Empire Builder route from St. Paul Minnesota’s Union Depot to East Glacier Montana just outside the park. We stayed on the west side near Whitefish, where on the last full day we woke up early and cold and drove across the park to run the Glacier Half Marathon up and down mountains in the rain. What an experience.

Why don’t you come along on a visual adventure?

Apgar Lookout Trail

Photo by Alyssa Elbridge

Lake McDonald

Looking weird to feel good. Foundation Training always helps us stay strong and comfy on our adventures full of long train rides and hours in the car. | Photo by Susan Powell

Two Medicine Lake

“Trick Falls” – Running Eagle Falls

Views along US Highway 2 through Glacier

Photo by Susan Powell

Silver Staircase Falls

Photo by Susan Powell

Kayaking in and out of the rain on Lake McDonald

Photo by Susan Powell

Swiftcurrent Lake, Many Glacier

Photo by Alyssa Elbridge

Grinnell Glacier hike

Photo by Susan Powell

Glacier Half Marathon

Photo by Alyssa Elbridge
Photo by Alyssa Elbridge

Hope you enjoyed, and hope sometime you go find some adventure for yourself at Glacier National Park!

Big Bend Adventure

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When I think of adventure, I think of Big Bend National Park.

Nestled in the “big bend” on Texas’s southwest border with Mexico, Big Bend is the 7th largest national park in the contiguous United States. Despite its size, its remote location (4.5 hour drive from El Paso, 7.5 hour drive from Dallas) helps it remain a well kept secret. It sees less than 4% of the annual visitors that Great Smoky Mountains National Park does, and ranks only 40th in visitors among National Parks in the contiguous US. In other words: It’s a hidden gem.

Our visit in early 2018 was marked by a peaceful, quiet, lonely feel. Like we had finally found wilderness. Isolated enough to feel free and away-from-it-all, but developed enough to feel safe.

Even more than the feeling of escape it offers, we were struck by Big Bend’s variety and other-worldliness. 7000+ foot mountains, strong cold wind blowing around each corner. A hot, dry desert floor only a quick drive away. Animals everywhere: Coyotes and road runners, deer, birds. The one we didn’t get to see, despite warnings posted everywhere, was the mountain lion.

The views from the top of the Chisos Mountains were just magical. “Other-worldly” is really the only term I’ve found to do it justice. Especially from the mountain range’s “South Rim.” (Don’t miss the South Rim pictures/videos, about halfway through the pictures below!)

Big Bend is also known for its completely dark night skies. You can see the stars and the Milky Way like almost nowhere else. And OMG the sunsets!!!

We went in late February, and it was absolutely perfect weather. If you visit, make sure to read up on the difference between Big Bend in the winter and summer. It gets hot.

We flew through Dallas and rented a small SUV with unlimited miles (thank you Enterprise!) for the 7+ hour drive. We ended up loving the drive across Texas. Long, quiet, and very unique. High winds on the roads and what seemed like dare-devilish semi-truck driving led to a few close calls and left a confusingly high number of over-turned semis along the highway (. . . to any locals–what is that??? . . .). We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb in the awesome little city of Alpine, giving us an hour’s drive into and out of the park each morning, along big mountains and under big sky.

We spent two days at Big Bend National Park. The first day, we explored the mountains with a roughly 17-mile hike (almost 8 hours), ascending over 3000 feet. We hiked up to Emory Peak (the highest point in Big Bend at over 7800 feet), down through Boot Canyon, and then up around the South Rim with its jaw-dropping views.

The second day we drove the long Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive to the park’s southwest corner, stopping at the Mule Ears and the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off for some quick desert walks, and arriving at the end of the road for a hike along the Rio Grande through the Santa Elena Canyon. We finished the day with a long drive toward some breath-taking mountain ranges on the park’s southeast corner at the Rio Grande Village.

We left feeling like we could have spent another two weeks there and still not explored everywhere we wanted to explore.

Guys, if you’re looking for adventure, make the flight and/or the drive to Big Bend. You will NOT be disappointed!

Below are some highlights and pictures to share with you!

On a personal note–friends, nature is inspiring and healing and so happy. And usually we can go explore. Today, all across the world, people are experiencing some version of “shelter-in-place,” or quarantine. Nobody is going on adventurous travels, as we join in solidarity to make it through the Coronavirus Pandemic as safely as we all can. But at some point, all this is going to be over. And beautiful nature will be there for us on the other side. And the great outdoors are not hard to get to. Take a hiking adventure as soon as you can! If you need any tips, let me know! In the meantime, I hope these pictures offer you some inspiration, healing, and happy while you’re being safe at home. :)20180225_053025

(Shout out to Foundation Training for keeping us feeling good and strong on our long adventures with long flights and long drives!)

(And shout out to Lyssi, the greatest adventure buddy I could ever ask for!)

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Road into the Chisos Basin, surrounded by the Chisos Mountains

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Kicking off our ~17 mile/8 hour hike to to Emory Peak, through Boot Canyon, and around the South Rim

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The first few minutes of hiking from the Chisos Basin Visitor Center

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Casa Grande peak from the Chisos Basin

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The Pinnacles

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Hiking through high winds and crazy terrain toward Emory Peak

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Significant rock scramble up a rock wall to the top of Emory Peak

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Dizzying views from the rocky precipices of Emory Peak–not for the faint of heart

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Emory Peak, 7825 feet

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View from Emory Peak with Casa Grande on the left, Lost Mine Peak in the middle behind Toll Mountain, and Crown Mountain on the right

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Chisos Basin–incredible, other-worldly, too perfect, a green gem hidden in a desert in the middle of nowhere–I want to go back!

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Nearing the South Rim from Boot Canyon

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And the most breath-taking part of it all, the South Rim, one of the spots from all our exploring that we talk about the most as the spot we need to go see again

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Breath-taking (South Rim)

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Chisos Mountains

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Mule Ears, off the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive

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The desert along Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive, with the Chisos Mountains in the distance–you can see Emory Peak (highest point) right-middle of the range farthest in the distance

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The beautiful Chihuahuan Desert

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A hot, sunny walk with views of the cliffs on Mexico’s border

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Santa Elena Canyon

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Hiking up into Santa Elena Canyon’s trail along the Rio Grande River

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Standing in Texas, just across the river from Mexico

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Mexico, from the bottom of the unique and beautiful Santa Elena Canyon

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Rio Grande

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Santa Elena Canyon hike

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Mexico and the United States

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A short desert hike from the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive on our way to the Lower Burro Mesa Pour-Off

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Back in the Chisos Basin for one last look through “The Window”

Sidewalk

Nobody actually says–or at least nobody actually gets to say–that just because you’re a “grown up” now, you have to stick to the sidewalk.

Hop up on the wall, if it’s calling your name, and teeter your way along in the sky above the sidewalk for a while.

Or abandon the sidewalk entirely and crunch through the leaves as you venture into the woods.

You are still human. There is still wonder. You are still free, child.

George Bernard Shaw - grow old because stop playing

Free yourself from “good at”

What if you free yourself from the need to get “good at” something?

The world is full of adventure–singing, making a story, rock-climbing, poetry, cooking, improv, skiing, paddle-boarding, reading confusing scientific studies, decorating a home, building a thing, volunteering, yoga, drawing, meditating, learning a language, hiking, trying Ethiopian food, spending a weekend photographing nature . . .

I want to try writing a story this year.
. . . I don’t expect I’ll be good at it.
. . . It’s not what I want to do with my life.
. . . Nobody will read it.
. . . I’m not planning to get a skill or lesson from it.
. . . I might NEVER do it again.
I just want to DO it.

We have a tendency to NOT do beautiful/fantastic things that we’re not “good” at, OR that we don’t think we’ll GET “good” at, OR that we think we CAN’T get “good” at, OR that we just don’t CARE enough about to get “good” at.

But why not just do a thing for itself? For fun? So you can be with it? Maybe you’ll never do it again (that’s not a thing to think about).

WHAT IS A THING YOU’D REALLY LIKE TO JUST TRY OR EXPERIENCE ONCE? (If you’re already good at it, pick a different one. :P)

What if you free yourself from the need to get “good at” it? What if you just took it, lived it, embraced it, loved it, remembered it?

Seems worth it to me.

What will YOU experience this year without having to be/get “good” at it?

a few adventures I’m not technically “good at”

#justdoitanyway