The F#!%ing First Times

One in a series of Dear You greeting cards created by Jacque Fletcher of Heartwood Healing.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a huge fan of podcasts, having listened to every episode of everything from “Fresh Air” and “The Brian Lehrer Show” to “Ear Hustle” and “The Happiness Lab.” And while I know very little about Brené Brown other than her “power of vulnerability” TED Talk, her new podcast—“Unlocking Us”—caught my ear.

In the inaugural episode, she talks about coming face to face with what she refers to as the FFTs: the “F#!%ing First Times.”

She describes the FFTs as those awkward and sometimes incredibly uncomfortable feelings that arise whenever we try something new. Her FFTs included recording the first episode of her new podcast, getting bangs for the first time since the 90s and learning to ride her Peloton bike (for the first three months she left her shoes clipped into the bike because she didn’t know how to get on and off the bike with them on her feet).

But, as she’s been telling her followers for years, the only way to get to the other side of being uncomfortable is to push right through.

That’s what I’m trying to do. But gosh, is it hard.

Ready, set … re-set

I’d expected to be on the road most of the first half of the year, but the coronavirus cut my travel plans short. So instead, I’m at home, staring at a long list of home improvement projects I’ve been putting off for years—everything from clearing clutter to replacing windows, from landscaping to building a new garage.

The good news is that I’m finally attacking that list. The bad news is that nearly all the projects on the list are FFTs for me, some made even harder to get started on because of large price tags and conflicting opinions.

Take my garage, for instance. One contractor says the existing slab is fine, while another says it must be replaced. One advises keeping the same footprint, while another recommends building larger. One says my 200-year-old backyard oak tree isn’t a problem, another that it needs to be trimmed right away.

Then, their estimates arrived … and my eyes glazed over. There was no easy way to compare apples to apples, and even if there was, I have no idea what shape roof to choose or how many lights to have installed or …

What if I make a mistake? Choose the wrong builder, or worse, the wrong dimensions so that the truck I’m planning to buy down the road doesn’t fit.

So, the project has come to a standstill, which is exactly what Brown says happens when we get overwhelmed by vulnerability and stop trying.

Embrace the suck

While I will eventually choose a contractor (a friend who has built two cabins is coming over next week to help me evaluate the estimates I’ve received), Brown says we all too often shut down in the face of uncertainty.

I certainly have been guilty of that.

But I’ve also seen the benefits of embracing what Brown refers to as “the suck.” The suck is the yuck we have to get through in order to get what we desire.

She says that when we don’t embrace the suck, things start to shut down inside of us. And while I’m now in my 60s and beginning to contemplate retirement, I have no plans of shutting down.

Instead, I’m reminding myself that I have what it takes to get through the FFTs. After all, when I think about it, I’ve done it before. I did it when I launched my own marketing and employee communications agency, when I wrote my first book and when I bought an island beach house.

And while all of those things were terrifying stretches at the time, I not only survived them, I emerged from them stronger and more confident. Sure, I experienced the FFTs (and I even f#!%ed up a few times along the way), but I’m proud of all I’ve accomplished and know I’ll feel the same way once one the garage is done.

My key takeaways

Whether you, like me, are considering a home-improvement project or a self-improvement one (I have a long list of those as well), here are three tips to help you s-t-r-e-t-c-h out of your comfort zone and get comfortable with the FFTs:

  • Engage your imagination. Research shows that our brains don’t differentiate between imagining doing something and actually doing it, so amp up your confidence by visualizing exactly what you’d like to experience. For me, it’s pulling into a light-filled garage and realizing my vehicles fit perfectly.
  • Lower your expectations. When you first try something new, chances are you won’t be very good at it. That seems obvious, right? But it’s amazing how many of us let the fact that we’re “all thumbs” or “have two left feet” get in the way of trying new things.
  • Ask for help. Don’t carry the ball all by yourself. Instead, let other people help you get where you want to go by expanding your network to include people who are both younger and older, as well as those who have had different life and career experiences.

Our Handyman, Tim

Tim 004This is not a paid advertisement.

On April 28th, an article in the Star Tribune written by Paul Muschick stated that in 2012 the home repair industry was the most-inquired-about industry at the Better Business Bureau (BBB). It was also the second-most-complained about.

My family is lucky we found Tim.

When you have children you acquire (whether or not you want it) – a calendar – that posts events in your mind that are Before Kids or After Kids.  Tim belongs in the Before Kids category.

Our relationship started simply enough. Leaving the YWCA in Uptown, Jody lifted his business card off of the advertisement board. We were dating then. She had witnessed my attempt to block birds from nesting inside the air vents on the roof. Thank goodness a storm blew through Richfield breaking my windows and leaving me with hail damage. Insurance would pay for a new roof and I’d have to hire someone to do the work.

Tim, Antonio, Crystel

Tim, Antonio, Crystel

I had a history of floundering as a homeowner. An electrician I had asked to make a repair in the bathroom mangled an outlet and the wallpaper. It was never the same again. The contractor I hired to put on the new roof was unable, even after many attempts, to fix the leak on the porch roof.

Finally, I put a cake pan inside the ceiling to catch the dripping water.

Until Tim came.

Tim smiled, handed me my cake pan.

He fixed the leak and has been with us for over ten years. We’ve had him longer than we’ve had the children. I think of us as growing up together: Tim, Jody and me, Antonio and Crystel.

Our relationship has matured to the point where we keep a running list of any repairs we need done and schedule him in the spring and fall. Tim lets himself in and finds the list on the counter.

004I look around our home and there is little that he hasn’t touched. He’s painted and tiled, painted and tiled. Put in an egress, trimmed trees, planted trees, tilled our garden, put up fences, taken down fences, removed the window that kept slamming on Crystel’s hand and in its place put in a patio door. He’s taken apart and put together exercise equipment, desks, futons, and beds. He’s put in windows, taken out windows, the same with doors.  He’s tuned up what needs tuning in the spring and fall.

I have even had him change light bulbs.

Jody couldn’t believe that. She said she could do it. I told her, that I knew that she could but that it goes on the list and if it wasn’t done by the time Tim came then he’d do it. Now she’s a believer. The kids are too. When something needs repair, even a toy, they say, Tim can fix that and we put it on the list.

Tim working on our porch project

Tim working on our porch project

Tim is a person of few words. He never said anything when I had him make a jungle gym on the second floor for the kids. If I could imagine it, he could do it. They had a swing, a climbing rope, trapeze bars. He never said a word when I had him take apart Crystel’s bunk bed and move it to the finished basement letting her transform her closet into a cave. Hopefully, he’ll have few words when I have him bring the bunkbed back to her room.

Phone May 2013 344Our latest project has been changing our 3-season porch into a 4-season and taking down the wall between the kitchen and the porch. First, he added new windows and a door on the east side, then he added windows to the west side, and he just finished the mudroom – from conception to completion. The couch he built has storage underneath the cushions.

Next year the wall will come down.

In-between the large projects, Tim has lists.

This summer, if all goes as planned, he will be working with Antonio and Crystel to build a tree house in the backyard. We wanted someone to show the ten-year-olds how to use tools. Who do you call for that? Tim, of course.

The BBB advises homeowners to take the time to choose a trustworthy contractor.

What I like most of all is that at any given time, I have a home that I am proud of.

I have Jody and a handyman to thank for that.  Email timschwartz@wwt.net for an appointment.