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A friend who recently went through cancer treatment emailed to say he was doing well. He said it was a bit touch and go for a while but he’s on the upswing. I know him from dancing. He’s one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. He dances with every newcomer, women of every age and skill and always looks like he’s having fun, whether his partner can follow or not.
He said he has taken up a new type of dancing—in between cancer treatments and traveling for work—and he is having a ball. Each style of dance is helping him with the other one, he said. “But it does get a little confusing going back and forth between the two. Fun confusing.”
The other night at a foreign language conversation, the guy next to me was struggling to find the right words. I’ve been there—unable to be as articulate as I would like. The words you want to say in English rush to the front of your brain and then sit like thick fudge in your mouth as you try to translate. I looked at him and smiled “It’s like giving birth sometimes isn’t it?” “Yeah,” he smiled back and let out a big sigh, but still managed to say something we all understood.
On a recent trip, where I had to speak another language, I had moments of exhaustion and frustration. But in the midst of this—in moments of clarity—I reminded myself that we benefit from being out of our comfort zone. Short of sitting on a beach somewhere, almost all travel forces us to confront the unknown and be a beginner of sorts.
Of course, there are good and bad ways to be out of your comfort zone. Not every struggle is the right struggle.
That said, we’re too often sure of the steps we take, the words we speak. We avoid being out of our comfort zone because we can. We default to the known, the easy, the places we’re reasonably sure we’ll shine—if only a little bit.
In a recent yoga class, we were introduced to a new pose. Though we were a class of advanced students, we guffawed at the near impossibility of this pose. Nearly all of us crumbled and fell to the ground with a thud. Some of us laughed. Our instructor said, “This is the kind of pose you just have to have fun with.” Which translates to: you are not going to get it right the first, or even the second time, so you might as well embrace failure and not take yourself so seriously. We were speaking an unknown language with our bodies.
The key to fun confusing is that it should be an activity that uses enough of your potential, without being too much of a struggle that you can’t enjoy what you’re doing. Too easy or too comfortable and we don’t stretch enough. In his great book Flow, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains this concept as one of the eight aspects that constitutes a state of focused enjoyment.
So the question is, do you have enough fun confusing in your life? Or are you staying in your comfort zone too much?
Sometimes saying no is a benefit to both parties.
A LinkedIn post lamenting requests for cheap work called to mind what many of us forget, especially in a bad economy, or else during a long dry spell of romance. We forget what we value, we forget our standards, we forget what we’re worth. Or maybe we forgot to consider those things in the first place.
A tight economy or even naysayers can conspire to make us operate on a scarcity model, one that dictates that we take what comes our way—in case nothing else does. We feel we have to say yes to work that we can’t afford to say yes to but believe we can’t afford not to. We have to put food on the table, but many of us panic or at least become cynical long before we really face starvation.
You have time to breathe and ask yourself some questions.
What are my strengths?
What do I offer that has real value?
What is that worth?
Is this client or project in line with my values and goals?
Will this challenge me in good ways?
A good exercise is to recall the bumpy roads you’ve been down that you swore you wouldn’t revisit. Perhaps it was the low-budget project you allowed yourself to get talked into, with the promise of exposure and more work. Recall how you felt after that, and what it confirmed about the type of work and client relationships you wanted.
If you find yourself being resentful at the assumptions people make, like a website should cost $500, then you’ve positioned yourself to be a contender for that work. If you didn’t see yourself as a contender, there would be no reason to even flinch as such a request. By giving ourselves time to evaluate before reacting (even if our reaction is only internal), we deepen our commitment to what we value.
Having then shifted that focus, we may even arrive at a solution that we hadn’t been able to consider at the beginning. Maybe that solution is passing on a name of a junior designer, offering up a simple service they can afford, or helping the client understand the work involved…all from an objective distance.
In this Zen Habits post, the author gives some tips for saying yes more slowly, for those who can’t stomach saying no. The person who posted the question on LinkedIn, as a result of repeated requests for low-cost work, lowered her rates. Prevailing logic says now is the best time to raise them. David C. Baker’s website Recourses has great position papers related to this, like Avoiding Marketing, Saying “No,” and Rethinking Rates.
We get locked into ways of thinking—that clients want cheap websites, for example. When instead, the real answer lies in what we draw to us. And why. This requires puzzling through issues we want to avoid—Why am I afraid to say no? If I find better projects, what if I fail? What do I owe to myself and my business, and what do I owe to others? And how can I make it work so both of us benefit?
This is why saying no sometimes works better for both parties. Saying yes for the wrong reasons can lead to working with a disengaged spirit, which serves neither party well. And more importantly, each time it happens, it’s a missed opportunity to learn something about ourselves.