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.

For the lady in the pink rain bonnet

I noticed you on a sunny, fiercely windy day outside of a Caribou coffee shop. In addition to your warm coat, you wore a plastic rain bonnet, which was covered with pink chiffon and tied under your chin. Under it, your white hair looked freshly styled, and the bonnet protected your hairdo from being blown to pieces. You had to be at least 85—rain bonnets like that were popular in my mother’s era, and she would be 98 if she were still alive.

My immediate reaction was, “Aww, how sweet!” Then I thought, “Wait a minute. I’d hate it if young people looked at me indulgently and thought, “Aww, isn’t she cute with her matching jewelry and sensible shoes!” while I was going about my ordinary day being my badass, 65-year-old self. So, I decided to spare her the stereotype that diminishes and infantilizes even though it’s kindly meant. I don’t know anything about her. She’d probably a badass, too.

While I was placing my order, she came in and looked around. She seemed uncertain and quickly returned to her car, which was parked near where I sat stirring my tea and waiting for my friend.

Later she came back in and sat at a table. “Uh oh,” I thought, “I wonder if she realizes that this isn’t the kind of place there they come over and wait on you?” I could imagine my mom being confused about how Caribou works. A few minutes later, two middle-aged guys with leather-covered notebooks joined the woman.

I told my friend why I was distracted. We watched the three of them for a minute.

“I hope they’re not scamming her,” my friend said, reading my mind.

“Maybe they’re just selling her car insurance. But why two guys?” I asked.

The lady didn’t look worried or out of it. She was probably perfectly capable of making her own decisions about whatever they were selling. I turned away, thinking, “It’s none of my business. I have an overactive imagination—the downside of being a writer.”

My friend and I resumed talking about her daughter’s upcoming wedding and my Thanksgiving travel plans.

Why did this stranger capture my imagination? She brought to mind how unsure my smart, confident mother became in her final years. The woman with the pink rain bonnet also made me contemplate how vulnerable I might be when I’m in my late 80’s or early 90’s.

I wish I felt certain the lady in the pink rain bonnet was OK.