Discomfort is the Currency of Your Dreams, Pt. 1Nov 28, 2021
The Sopranos as Therapy
I’ve been binge watching The Sopranos for the last several weeks. That wasn’t an option back in the 90s/00s when it originally aired. I’ve seen most of it before, but what I’m struck by now is how strangely relevant the show is to my life and the world today.
For the uninitiated, and to remind fans of the show, Tony Soprano is a high-ranking mafioso, part of a New Jersey crime family. He develops panic attacks brought on by the stress of dealing with
his narcissistic, borderline mother and the complexities of coping with a dying enterprise. This leads him to the radical step of seeking a psychiatrist — the kind of thing that could get a guy like him whacked.
The Sopranos was hailed as revolutionizing television, and as a lover of story, I will attest that it is high art. But here’s what I want to focus on today: the show rehashed the familiar territory of Italian-American mob story, but it did so with a twist. By the late 90s, the mob had become a fading industry. Many of Tony’s challenges arose from managing change. Ideas of honor and loyalty were morphing, and the ways to make money in the enterprise were shifting.
What does that have to do with you and me?
It’s a Whole New World Out There
I won’t rehash the lamentation of all the things that having been changing for us lately. It’s a whole new world out there — actually people have been saying that for a while, but to use another cliche it’s true now more than ever.
You know what the only thing that doesn’t change is, right?
I’m going to suggest there is only one response to what’s going on out there. Get superb at change. No matter what you’re doing for a “living” now, whether you’re working for a rock solid company, acting as a free agent, or running your own business, there is very little you can rely on about how your employer/business will be doing tomorrow. The foolproof way to protect yourself is to be agile, to be poised to pivot, to get comfortable with change.
Discomfort is the Currency of Your Dreams
My coach, Brooke Castillo, has this saying that I love: “Discomfort is the currency of your dreams.” I want to unpack that here today. Because this is how you do change, you get uncomfortable. The bigger the change, the more discomfort. So, here’s a guide to the territory…
Discomfort is the currency of your dreams.
— Brooke Castillo
Let’s start by considering a particular kind of change: growth.
When you grow, you are becoming something else. You are taking up more room. You start to have a different relationship with the world around you. People treat you differently.
Most change has those characteristics:
becoming something else, becoming larger, having a different relationship with your environment and other people.
Those are all likely to create discomfort.
Discomfort is an experience that stems from messages we get from our brain. The primitive part of the brain, known as the reptilian brain (what I like to call the lizard), is responsible for keeping you alive, keeping all things functioning. It wants you breathing, eating, sleeping, maybe having sex. It doesn’t care what kind of work you do, although it loves money. To the lizard, money means you can breathe, eat, sleep, and have sex.
Maintaining the Status Quo
The #1 way it achieves all that is to maintain the status quo. As soon as you say something like, “I’m going to jump out of this airplane,” or maybe even, “I’m going to board this airplane,” the lizard freaks out. It wants no part of that. That’s not status quo. That’s not keeping yourself alive. The lizard is not interested in adrenaline or going to Disney.
So, if you even think about disrupting the status quo, the lizard goes on high alert. The bigger the disruption, the more panicky the alarm.
That discomfort that you need to feel to change — that’s just brain chemistry, pure and simple.
Now, here’s where I was going to quote Eleanor Roosevelt to back me up. I believed she had said, “Do one thing that scares you every day.” That’s pithy, but it turns out it’s not what she said.
Her thing was actually deeper:
“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” (Props to Emily Triplett Lentz whose blog https://www.helpscout.com/blog/do-things-that-scare-you/ set me straight.)
Eleanor Roosevelt knew about the lizard. She knew how to push past that safety zone that the lizard has created. She knew how to make it shut up.
Growing is often about pushing ourselves until we fall, and then we get up and try again. A successful learner is someone who gets curious about falling, learns from it, and gets up and tries again. We all learned to walk in this way.
Let’s talk about the kinds of things that might come up when you go about pursuing your dream. The first thing that I’d like to do here is to get specific. I’d like each of you to think about a goal that you’d like to accomplish in the next year. This should be a big, hairy goal. Something that would be a real game changer for you. Something that will push you outside of your comfort zone. So, think about that goal. You can share it in the comments.
As you contemplate that big, hairy goal, what fears come up for you? What obstacles do you anticipate encountering? Put those in the comments, too.
All right… I’ve got a lot more to say on this topic, but I’m going to cut it off here and save the rest for later. In future blogs, we’ll look at your specific fears, plus I’ll share some fears I typically see with my clients. And then we’ll get to the things you can do about it.
Catch ya next time!
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