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.

Why I Don’t Hate Minnesota Winters

There are lots of reasons to hate Minnesota winters: endless discussions of windchill (Really, people?!? I’m already wearing all the clothes I’ve got. There isn’t more I can do. Stop talking about it. Please!) Crusty black snow clumps on my tires. Slippery-road roulette. Trudging with shoulders hunched and body braced to withstand the wind, to name a few. But I don’t hate our winters. To me, they’re refreshing. Seriously.

Very few aspects of modern life make us aware of our animal nature. The change of seasons pulls us back, reminds us that we’re participating in a cycle that’s bigger and more enduring than the words and images scrolling across our screens or appearing under our clicking fingers.

I’m not some cheery winter sports enthusiast who can’t wait to ski, skate, ice fish, or snowmobile. I don’t do any of those things. I might snowshoe if the sun’s out, the wind’s down, and it isn’t too cold, but otherwise, forget it. I’ll spend as little time outside as possible.

What’s winter’s big attraction?

To me, it’s a time to slow down, renew, and turn back toward health. After the excess of the holidays—too much good food and drink, too many incomplete To Do lists, and general year-end bizzyness, it feels good to do very little. To pull on thick wool socks and silk long johns. Make chili. Binge on Netflix.chili

I feel virtuous exercising. Eating crisp salads and savory vegetable soups have their ascetic charms. I’m restoring my body’s balance.

Winter is also a time to turn inward and refocus. I’m an optimist and like the idea of starting fresh every year. What do I want to do and be? How can I shuck off the stupid stuff I do and spend more time doing what I care about?

Recentering leads to other improvements—reading the books I never get around to (burrowing under an afghan with hot tea . . . or a hot toddy to make a dent in The Brothers Karamazov). Making sense of my sweater shelves.

Winter is also home improvement season. Better to paint the living room in the dead of winter than to waste a sunny June weekend on that. This year, I’m researching landscaping options since our shabby deck may get turned into a patio come spring. Winter is also a good time to tackle big projects like making a quilt. Weeks go by as I complete the many steps.

I do like winter, but by mid-March, my strategies are wearing thin.

Although the sun rises at 6:30 a.m. (at least it does before Daylight Savings Time toys with the clocks), the alley’s nothing but rutted ice. Crusty gray snow piles line the sidewalks and roads. I’m sick of keeping track of gloves and clumping around in boots. Tired of brushing salt dust off my coat. Hot cocoa and crackling fires hold no allure. If I never see a shovel again, it will be too soon.

I’m. Just. Done. But winter isn’t.

Then it’s time to escape. I consider spending ridiculous sums I can’t afford to just see the sun and walk outside without my down coat. Escape to Puerto Vallarta for just $759? SURE!

When reason reasserts itself, I go to the Como Park Conservatory instead. Inside, the air is humid and HOT. Birds are chirping. It smells like dirt and growing. Like life. Tulips, hyacinths, Asiatic lilies, and azaleas are blooming in glorious profusion. The whole world isn’t dead.Como Park

There’s hope. By late March melting icicles begin their steady drip. Water rushes under skim ice on sidewalks, begging to be crunched. Winter will actually end. Maybe by April 1st. April 15th for sure.