What happens when you feel a “calling” to change things up…but everything is going just fine? What if you’re doubting a choice is the right one to make…but you don’t have proof as to why?
In today’s episode of the WANTcast, a listener asks if she should follow her gut and change everything, even though life is great. I share some insight into my move to NYC after a lifetime in Los Angeles, plus a few big, get-honest-with-yourself questions to ask yourself when facing major change of ANY kind.
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THERE ARE SO MANY write-ups out there about how to step outside your comfort zone in big ways. Try a new class! Go skydiving! Find an unexpected hobby! Turn your hobby into a career!
In my own experience, the biggest changes don’t come in the big, grand moments – they come in the small details. Once those details accumulate, amazing things begin to happen.
For too many of us, the focus on those big-deal moments (like jumping out of a plane or trying that acro-yoga class down the street) means that stepping outside of our comfort zone becomes more of a “sometimes” thing than a tolerance we build or a habit we form. We go for the big, flashy moments because they’re a bigger, flashier story after the fact – when it’s really the missing mini-details that would make our existence exponentially more fun, bold and meaningful in much more than a “sometimes” way.
The mini details that have gotten me out of my own comfort zone and made my life more fun, bold, and meaningful are far from big or flashy. But they’ve got their own stories attached to them, and those stories live just as close to my heart as the stories of the big mega-moments…if not closer. And most of those stories can be traced back to an interaction or instance involving a woman in my life. Usually, my mother.
Growing up, my mom would traverse my younger brother and I around town as her two trusty sidekicks. And while I was proud to be her trusty sidekick, there was one thing that never failed to make me run and hide: the department store dances.
My mom was (and still is) not one to give a hoot about what anyone else feels is the “proper” way to behave. These…let’s call them freestyle routines…didn’t just happen in department stores (Target was a common dance location) and they weren’t confined to just dancing (a good self-made karaoke sesh usually ensued simultaneously), but the juxtaposition of high-end outerwear carousels and my mom’s IDGAF attitude was particularly mortifying to elementary school-aged Me. Here’s how it usually went down: we’d walk into this fancy space with bright-but-not-blinding overhead lighting to pick up school uniforms or a new pair of shoes. Undoubtedly, there would be a fancy piano player on the ground level, pounding away at some upbeat Billy Joel tune or 11 o’clock Hello Dolly number underneath the bright-but-not-blinging overhead lighting. And my thirty-something mother, sandwiched between Youth Apparel and Sale Boots, would sing and dance in the loudest way possible. My brother had three fewer years of life experience than I, which had not yet taught him that this was an absolutely mortifying event. So of course, his 4-year-old self would join my mom in her crazy antics as I ran and hid behind the denim rack.
My mom might have grown up amidst the fineries of Brentwood, CA life, but she’s always had a confidence and craziness about her that’s all her own. And no one – NO ONE – tells her what to do or who to be.
I inherited my mom’s strength and determination at a young age, but it took me a very long time to become ME instead of who I FELT I should be. I was uber-cautious and highly self-conscious. I considered myself “shy” around my peers, when in actuality I was just so longing to fit in that I squelched any impulse that would get me labeled different or odd. I approached life with fierce determination, but my inner Department Store Dancer was locked away in a vault somewhere, lest she should sabotage my attempts at being fabulous.
What a surprise it was to learn that when we let go of trying to fit in, THAT’S when our unique puzzle pieces find their place in the big picture. When we quit censoring our impulses, THAT’S when we become truly fabulous. But there’s no way those impulses will ever start to feel comfy if we stand with our feet firmly planted in our comfort zone.
Maybe you’ve been told not to take yourself so seriously. I get the intention. But I ten-thousand percent disagree.
Take yourself seriously. Take your life, your goals, your loves, your actions – take them all very seriously. But make sure not to confuse always taking yourself seriously with always being SERIOUS. There’s no way you’ll ever expand your comfort zone if you don’t take advantage of the wacky, bold impulses you have to simply be YOU.
Here are some of my simplest go-to comfort-zone-expanders (which happen to also be mood boosters and boldness-builders!) when my world seems a bit too stoic and blah:
Paint your nails a bright color. I’m not talking red. I’m talking electric blue.
Sing out loud if you’re running outside. And run so fast that you don’t have time to notice if people turn and stare.
Have a dance party in your car.
Or the subway.
Or while walking down the street. If you live in NYC like me, you’ll blend right in anyway.
Learn the lyrics to at least one guilty pleasure song. Don’t forget to practice it every time it comes on: at the gas station, in the grocery store…you know the drill.
Then for bonus points, make a game out of singing it while imitating someone completely unexpected. I prefer Carol Channing or Britney Spears. It’s a fun party trick to have in your back pocket (or to put on the “Special Skills” part of your resume, if you’re me)
Wear a bold pop of color. Royal Purple leggings? Alright alright alright! Neon green socks? OWN IT BB.
Strike up a conversation with a random stranger. Like, an actual conversation. Weather and bonding over complaints don’t count.
Make corny jokes casually, just to see who catches on.
Learn moves from the 80s/90s and do them very imperfectly, very often (I still cannot do the running man properly, but that doesn’t stop me).
Three words: LOUD. BELLY. LAUGHS.
Use the weirdest, most offbeat filters on Instagram Stories you can find. Zero cares about how it makes you “look.”
Send a long text to a random friend or family member praising them effusively, knowing it’ll make them smile.
And if all else fails, make a trip to your local department store – and DANCE.
WANT yourself: What are some of your favorite comfort-zone expanders? What is ONE tiny thing you do regularly that helps boost your mood and build boldness? Comment below – I’m always looking to add to the list!
This episode should be subtitled “The Conversation That Gave Me A Vulnerability Hangover.” And that’s exactly why I love talking to Jessica – she’s a pro at being kind, inclusive, AND pushing you to examine your belief and your norms at the same time.
Jessica Murnane is an author, women’s health advocate, host of the One Part Podcast, and founder of endometriosis awareness platform Know Your Endo AND One Part Plant, a movement that’s all about eating one plant-based meal a day to make a big difference from small changes.
In this episode Jessica and I talk about depression, moving through mental and physical health struggles (especially in our “sharing” culture), her endometriosis advocacy, being an influencer vs having influence, fitting in with the other people in your industry, how the new-age wellness industry can step up their game and how YOU can help, and – my favorite – making change happen and creating impact out there in the world, FAR from the online space.
Every season, we’ll be spotlighting an organization that’s making strides when it comes to making shift happen. This season, we’re proud to support She’s The First, an award-winning non-profit organization that fights gender inequality through education. To learn more, go to shesthefirst.org
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I open my door and walk out into the still-sleeping streets and they close in. The busses plow by and I’m hit with their force. Signing onto Facebook, tweeted out on Twitter. On fitness product placards and grocery story windows and spa practitioners and mega-store outlets.
I know them so well: the claims and calls to change your life.
They make it seem so easy – just sign up and go. Just buy this thing or set this goal, and once it’s yours you’re the You that you want to be. Simple as that.
Honestly, we’re the ones that should be laughed at. We’ve been duped, and it’s at no fault of the companies and corporations. I mean, maybe some fault…but it starts with us. They know where to hit us in our soft spots and seize every opportunity. We WANT change. We’re starved for it, even. They’re just giving us what we ask for.
Why is it, then, that with so many available outlets for change…we’re still endlessly craving it?
There’s this somewhat confusing, somewhat contradictory feeling that comes with big change. It’s excitement, it’s anticipation, it’s bliss…but it’s also a little fear, a muddle of oddity, a dash of discomfort. The contrast can be enough to frighten us away.
And that’s where they get us:
Offering us a place to go when the real steps are too scary.
Working out is too hard? Try this machine.
Eating well is too expensive? Buy this cheap box of massive claims.
Finding love in all the wrong places? Gurl, you totally need a new wardrobe, and also a facial.
Hello, just go to that class 3xs a week and watch your life fall into place! It worked for us, it’ll work for you.
We often associate discomfort with something bad – but what if we’re just displacing our true emotions? Discomfort merely means a state of non-comfort. And sure, sometimes that’s a by-product of a very bad place to be. A place of falseness, lies, of going against who you truly are.
But discomfort can also be the by-product of massive shifts and important changes in motion – the by-product of being affected by them.
To make lasting change, we must allow ourselves to be affected and moved.
We must allow ourselves to feel.
Sure, joining a gym or buying a new pair of jeans can be awesome. But they’re baby steps on the road to lasting change. Supporting players, not leading roles. Going to a spin class for the sake of checking it off your to-do list won’t get you the change you want, attending yoga so you can SAY you did won’t make you FEEL zen, and eating healthy foods for bragging rights won’t get you glowing. You’ve got to surrender yourself to the experience. Because there will be bumps in the road, and they WILL be uncomfortable. But that feeling won’t be because you’re doing something wrong. Nope – it’ll be because you’re breaking new ground on the way to doing everything so very, very right. Breaking through anything is uncomfortable. If you disengage from feeling, you disengage from change.If you slam down on the breaks, you miss the breakthrough.
Ever entered a room or started a conversation and felt an immediate coldness? That is what happens when someone disengages, when someone decides they don’t want to be affected: everything freezes.Connections remain on a surface level, interactions are completely on the outside. No wonder so many of us flip out when we’ve found a new soul-friend or a lustworthy romantic prospect! It’s not that the depth of character is so rare – it’s that too many of us fight against depth or freeze it out. Depth is uncomfy, depth means you can be affected. Depth means you feel things that sometimes will hurt.
But depth is also what warms us up from the inside out. It’s our internal thermostat.
Ready to have your mind blown? Change does not come from something. It comes from all things. The insides, the outsides, the marriage of the two. There is possibility for change everywhere, and you never know for sure where you’ll find it. Allowing yourself to be affected, to be moved, to feel, is to allow yourself permission to move into that change that’s so meant for you.
And so while the bus sign and Newsfeeds and grocery-store windows try as they might, their claims are no substitute for the magic that unfolds when we just open up and feel. We’re fine-tuned on the inside to respond to every effect and affect in a way that’s all our own. Taking a deep, long breath and opening up our insides to our outsides is way more effective than any claim you’ll read.
You don’t need a pill to see a shift. You don’t require rules to make a difference. And just going THROUGH the motions is nothing compared to what happens when you are shaken to the core by the way they make you feel.
Open your doors. This is all yours.
Now go and change your life.
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My first big meltdown when I moved to New York City two years ago wasn’t upon touchdown or our first night in an empty apartment. It wasn’t because someone was rude to me, or I lost my way, or I missed a subway stop or four.
Nope. It was in the gym locker room.
I remember that first week so clearly: the champagne buzz I felt from the newness, the novelty of being able to get anything.you.want.at.all. delivered to your apartment instead of having to lug it home in bags that cut off circulation in your fingertips. The way you could be walking, skipping, singing, sobbing down the street and people accepted you like whatever you were doing was a part of the flow. The waking up early just because we were so excited to experience the morning. I remember so clearly. It was love at first footstep.
And then I lost it. I mean, I knew it was coming at some point – I definitely cried my second night, mostly out of sheer exhaustion – but I didn’t expect that my anticipated feelings of shock, overwhelm, and longing would show their sad faces in the women’s locker room on Greenwich Avenue after I made a corny joke to a stranger thrice my age and she genuinely giggled back.
My gym had been my safe haven in LA, and LA had been my safe haven in my life. Having grown up visiting the City That Never Sleeps on a regular basis but living in the City That Sleeps In Then Goes On A Hike my entire life, I was very familiar with New York but not enveloped in her. It wasn’t just my immediate neighborhood that I felt protected by in LA; it was EVERYTHING. The street signs, the off-ramps. The familiar faces and the predictable reactions. The sunrises, the sunsets, and the days the ocean-fog took over the whole sky so you couldn’t tell when one finished and one began. I knew LA from birth. She WAS me.
I tried my best to recognize this when I lived there, but just like so many things, there is always some little important bit of a-ha that happens when you no longer have that thing you loved. For me, that a-ha came in a locker room when I realized how alone and unfamiliar I felt within my surroundings. How, while I valued anonymity, I also valued (and took for granted) my ability to CHOOSE it.
Humans are pack animals; we’re tribal. We’re not meant to wander the hills alone until we find a mate and then go back off again to raise and let go of our kin. Our brains are hard-wired for connection, and even the most introverted of us need to feel a sense of togetherness to truly thrive. It’s been proven by sciency people who are book-smarter than I am: loneliness leads to depression and is a huge indicator of how long you will live.
I’ve been watching and reading a lot of Brené Brown lately (you should be, too!), especially the interviews and articles surrounding her newest book, Braving The Wilderness. The book is all about belonging, and (no, this isn’t a spoiler) how “fitting in” is actually the exact OPPOSITE of belonging.
When I moved here, I wasn’t looking to fit in – I wasn’t interested in molding myself to fit the shape of someone or something else – but I was struck by how shaken my sense of belonging had become. And moreover, how much I tied my sense of belonging to other people RECEIVING me.
That’s why the older woman laughing at my lame-o offhand comment got me so choked up. That’s why I started to panic as I became new eyes on centuries-old surroundings. I felt unfamiliar. I felt routine-less. And the smallest things like seeing the same parking lot attendant I only thank-you’d and have-a-nice-day’d and gym members I never even spoke to and just silently awkward-nodded to while we grabbed adjacent dumbbells were things I didn’t expect to crave. I thought I was autonomous in LA and above all that neediness, but boy did I have myself fooled. I was dependent on other people to validate my experience.
The last couple years have brought more change to me than I thought possible: two apartments, two neighborhoods, a new job, multiple events, brand new soul-friends, marriage. And as I contemplate where I go from here, as I head closer and closer toward my thirty-second year, which I have ALWAYS felt in my gut holds something major for me (micro- or macro- major, who knows at this point), I think about how my sense of belonging has changed too – or maybe how it hasn’t. I am on the precipice of something big, but for the first time in a while I’m hesitant to take a much-needed step to fall and build my wings on the way down.
Brené says that we belong everywhere when we belong to ourselves. So if I belong everywhere, then why is it that I’m so tied to THIS sense of place? Maybe it’s for the same reason people stay in relationships that are fine but not GREAT, or stay in jobs that earn enough to live but don’t add enough to LIFE. Because I “know” this sense of belonging is secure IF I just do all the right things, and check off all the to-do boxes, and it’s a very external and define-able belonging. Predictability and ease. Mother-effers.
When I moved here, I felt placeless. I remember telling my friend Sarra that I felt freaked out by the amount of places I could go where I knew no one and no thing (Soak it in while you can, she said). I belonged to no one and no thing. I was trying to see where I fit, and tried on a lot for size. I don’t think I really knew how to belong to myself yet. That’s the cool thing about New York, though: it FORCES your identity out of you. The people who try to fight the force are the ones who have it hardest in life, but especially life in this city. But once you stop trying to fight your emerging identity – which is tough, because trying to fight it can sometimes FEEL like trying to find it – everything is magic.
I don’t think everyone is able to belong – or rather, find a sense of belonging – in NYC. You’ve got to be a little wild, a little crazy, and very comfortable getting uncomfortable, to even catch the first glimmers of it. That process and this city will kick your ass before you realize that your recovery is a part of your becoming. It will spook you, but your challenge is to never let it SCARE you. You’ve got to be next-level brave to become and belong – everywhere, but especially in this city that could care less whether you walk around anonymously and disconnected or full and enmeshed.
And now, I’ve found my way, and I’ve found my spaces. I have a “place.” Of course, I know that’s just a feeling and an illusion. And I wonder: is my newfound sense of place, coupled with my acute memory of what it’s like to NOT have one, keeping me in a new loop that doesn’t serve me? I think so; maybe. I’ve been here before, so I can recognize when I am here again.
The great thing, though, is that I know that I am my own and no one else’s, and that an external sense of place is fab but an internal one is fabber. If I know I’ll be okay no matter what, and I know I will be mine no matter what, then maybe, just maybe, I can start to take those steps that lead me to places I don’t know yet.
Two years ago I woke up for the first time as an NYC resident. I know it’s only been two years but I honestly can’t imagine waking up anywhere else.
Brené Brown says that true belonging only comes when you belong to yourself and yourself only, everywhere and nowhere.
Living here, I finally feel like I’ve found where I belong.
“I wake up every morning and say to myself, ‘Well, I’m still in New York. Thank you, God.” ― Ed Koch
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I woke up this morning with the kind of heartache I hadn’t felt in a very, very long time. Bigger than that one hour I had a mini meltdown when I moved. Bigger than packing up my things and saying see-you-soons. No, it was more akin to the type of heartache I used to feel in my teens and twenties, when the person I loved wasn’t the person I was with.
I missed the theatre.
Now, let me be clear: I love my life. L-O-V-E my life, all caps. I’m of firm belief that regret is a useless emotion other than its ability to steer us in the best direction when we ask ourselves if it has the possibility of popping up later. Every choice I’ve made is intentional, ever decision has been from the heart. I don’t do easy, after all. I do right.
And hey, I DID theatre! I lived that professional, unionized actor life. I committed my entire college education to it (*okay, not entire, I went to a liberl arts school which required tons of general education classes and became particularly enamoured with sociocultural anthropology but that’s beside the point). I had agents – multiple. I got to act on major television shows and do national commercials and be in both independent and major movies – and just before you call me out on the fact that theatre, not film, was my true love, I did that too. I talked and sang and laughed and cried on stages to audiences of 15 and of 500. I did it. I was there.
I have mega-talented friends in the theatre world, friends on Broadway and friends quite literally touring the world. And when I see their posts on Instagram or Facebook or hear about rehearsals, I often need to do a gut check: I LOVE their life, but do I wish it was mine as well? And the answer pretty much always is: no.
I didn’t veer away from theatre because “the rejection is so tough,” as many people assume when we talk about my Former Life. Nope, not at all. It’s that as I grew older and started to examine the type of life I wanted for myself –and the things that would give me the quality of that life; the things I was willing to sacrifice and the things I was willing to trade in place for the kind of stage career I’d always seen myself having (which, for me, lived on National Tours and in New York City) – well, I started to realize those things were actually my non-negotiables.
A lot of it came about after having controlled myself for so long: I realized I had within me a tendency to control and obsess, and while those things were fantastic when it came to memorizing lines or fleshing out a character, they worked waaaay against me when it came to the rest of my life. The control robbed me of my ME-ness.
I never acted to escape myself, always to explore myself. But the more I explored myself in a controlled environment the more unsafe I felt going there in my life outside a rehearsal room. Not to mention the paralyzing anxiety I’d get during almost all auditions – anxiety that stemmed from nowhere, anxiety that wasn’t tied to being scared (I wasn’t) but being liked. And no matter how much I prepped and no matter how much meditation I did beforehand to center myself and believe, truly believe, that no this was not an audition but a performance opportunity, and no they were not judging me and yes they were hoping I was their answer walking into the room…I would still get the shaking and throat closing and hands and feet going numb.
I tried everything. And 99% of the time, it didn’t work. So you’d think that when I nailed it, I would feel a sense of fulfilment and confidence. But when I did get the part, when the fleeting validation fled, the control would kick in. Very rarely did it feel joyful. I realized that the joy I thought I would feel when I got the thing was not the reality of the thing. What I was after was not what I was getting.
We are told as kids, as teenagers with big-ass dreams, that there are people who give up and there are people who keep going. We’re told that’s it; that it’s easy to choose a different path but it’s right to stick the course. That those with a calling are supposed to follow it through, no holds barred, through the fire and sleet and make their way to the other side. The people who keep going are the people who reap the rewards, and the people who veer off track get zilch.
What if those aren’t the only two options, though?
And what if… what if… what is supposed to be the right choice is really the easy one, and the choice that to others would seem a cinch is actually the hardest and rightest?
It would have been easy for me to stick with theatre, with the career path I paved for myself. It would have been easy to stay with the familiar loops, goals, dreams, aspirations, patterns with the justification that this was the life I had set out to build for myself. But was it really right? And moreover…was it all really that mutually exclusive, a definitive hard start and stop?
I think back on my time pursuing a career I don’t currently have – really-truly-seriously pursuing it – and I realize it only truly spans a decade. Sure, a decade is a lot….but is it? My life and professionalism started to truly take shape when I started voice lessons at 14, tenaciously pursuing education and opportunities that would support my growth into the woman I wanted to be in the world, then booking my first work at 18, then booking my first union show at 20, then getting an agent and building my resume and doing all things from modeling swimwear to playing a tween to filming a scene with Jessica Biel that left me with bruises on my arms (story for another day, but if you’re curious check out the Deleted Scenes from the movie Valentines Day. yep, #itme) to singing backup vocals on a Miley Cyrus karaoke track to investigating alongside Batman for a film I still to this day get really creepy messages from comic-and-cosplay-obsessed guys about. I did it all. It was a weird, wonderful, wacky experience – until I realized I’d grown into a person very different from the one I thought I was going to be at that point in her life. All in a span of ten measley blip-of-time years.
Yeah, I dabbled in acting work after the age of 24, but it was almost always at the request of a friend-of-friend who knew me from such-and-such and very rarely did I even enjoy the experience. I kept trying to test myself, trying to see if what I’d had was what I’d been longing for. It wasn’t.
Sometimes I wonder if I am trying to convince myself otherwise. That I really should be singing onstage, that I really should be pursuing the magic-of-the-theatre…but that’s not my life now, so I better be happy with what I’ve got.
But here’s the thing…I AM. I am happy. I can be happy but still want more. I can choose not Either/Or but And. And for me I choose to look at how I can accomplish the EXACT things I loved about working in the theatre WITHIN the life I lead and person I am today.
Just because we feel a sense of joy from one thing doesn’t mean we’re immune to feeling the absence of another. Just because we strive for the look of one thing doesn’t mean we can’t wonder if we’re missing out on the feel of the other.
But my recent revelation is: We can always go back. We can always veer the course, because we have PROOF we’ve done it before. We can always do everything from test the waters to fully cannonball-dive in. Will I ever go back to theatre? Who knows. But it’s not unthinkable, I know that. In the here and now, I know I am after a FEELING in my life, I am after the accomplishment of the actualization of myThrough Line: using my unique, authentic voice to help and inspire others find their own. What that looks like now might look entirely different 10 years from now. Nothing is ever off the table.
Cheryl Strayed has a wonderful quote that says:
“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us.”
We can ache for the dream of what we think one life COULD be like, but the reality is that its rarely what we envision it to be verbatim. There is always some caveat. Always something that made it the sister life, not ours.
But I think…I really, truly think…that if we pinpoint what exactly we value most, and go after that, the aspects of the sister life that WERE meant to be ours will come sailing into the port. Which aspects? TBD. We must only stay open. And make the right choices instead of the easy ones.
Sometimes I look back at the kid I used to be, and I wonder if she’s gotten everthing she’s wanted. But then I realize how absurd that thought is… Gotten. Happened. Done. To question if she’s ALREADY gotten everything she’s wanted, like it’s been so long.
Of course she hasn’t. Because she’s only just gotten started.
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