Your Discomfort Zone

Just as we all have our comfort zone, we all have our discomfort zone. It's located between this rock and that hard place. Mine has been particularly discomfortable lately. [Yes, apparently 'discomfortable' is an actual word.]

My job took a turn for the crazy stressful right around when it went full time about 3 months ago. I'm happy that it's gone full time; I've wanted this to happen for a long time now. And actually, it's kinda sorta miraculous that this job I never exactly planned on applying for is now supporting my family, so I have a lot to feel thankful for. At the same time, it's brought a level of pressure with it that is decidedly unpleasant.

Full time shouldn't be that much different from part-time. Right? Other than more hours. Except it is so different, and so much more stressful.

My client is giving me more work, which means his business is growing. Becaue I put in more time, his business is able to expand further. My boss is also giving me more work, which means our business is growing too. Because I put in more time, our company is also able to expand further. The stakes are steadily increasing from both directions; both companies are completely dependent on me, without exaggeration.

And as far as I can tell, neither of them realizes that this level of intensity is untenable and unsustainable for me. Probably because I've been sustaining it just fine. Until this past month. This month, the hairline stress fractures widened enough that everyone felt the shift.

This month, I was exhausted. This month, for the first time, my client told me I need to up my game. This month, for the first time, I had to tell my boss that my client wasn't happy. My boss then told me that it is my job to figure out how to make the client happy again.

And he's right. It is exactly my job. I just have no idea if I can do it, because I am totally mentally and physically exhausted. I cannot string two more words together. I'm positive I have written the same sentences over and over again a thousand times. I no longer know how to keep my writing fresh and engaging on the same subjects again and again. I have nothing left to say.

Plus my neck is freaking killing me from sitting at a computer all day. I'm on my second desk and my third office chair with only minor physical improvements. Unlike a job I physically go to, I clock every minute when working at home. To put in 8 hours of work takes at least 10 actual hours, because I clock out to get up and grab some water or send a text message. An 8 hour day takes even longer than 10 hours when my brain is fried like it has been and I can't concentrate.

I'm missing time with my family in the evenings. I regularly end up putting in a few hours on weekends, which has more than once led me to working 2 straight weeks with no days off. I am totally invested in and thrilled about the success of both of these companies, and at the same time feel trapped because I cannot see a way out of this. Their success means me continuing to sit at the computer for long hours every day. I don't think my body can handle it. I have no idea what to do to support myself instead. And it's so incredibly disheartening to find out the thing you've wanted and worked toward for years may not be the answer after all.

I even debate about spending the usual hour or so I put in on this blog every week because every second at the computer needs to count; every second adds up to more back pain. But ultimately, I do my weekly posts here because I need to have just one thing that is fun to write. JUST ONE.

I'm not pleased about ruining my body for another job. It's still pretty ruined from construction. If I'm spending 12+ hours further destroying my back, I want it to be working on my own stuff. And that could really pay off big-time; I'm still pulling in monthly cash off the smut I published almost 2 years ago. If I put up a few more titles, I would be making just enough that I could cut down on some work hours maybe. So then I feel committed to finishing up those three or four nearly-done books I wrote for last year's National Novel Writing Month. Except I can't. Be. At. The. Computer. Another. Second.

And yet I have to push through all of this. Because I am committed to my job. And I don't just have to maintain the course. I have to up my game.

No pressure or anything.

Last spring or so I got a cold and skipped yoga for a few days. Then my shoulder was hurting and I thought I'd injured it so I skipped for a few weeks. Then summer came and I gave up on it entirely. Just this past few weeks I feel committed to my mat again-- mostly in an effort to uncrick my body from long hours at a keyboard every day.

And even yoga irritates me. What used to be a physical and mental solace now feels like weird and awkward stretches.

This is the last straw; if the thing that used to ground you and bring you peace fails you, what the hell is left? 

This moment, this moment when everything is falling on your head at once and you see zero solutions-- this is your discomfort zone. There is no visible escape route. There are no clearly marked exits. You can't move in any direction far enough to unkink your life, even though what you really need is a good long stretch.

So I'm cranky and on my yoga mat, angry at my body's inability to do what was so easy just six months ago, and the teacher says "It's easy, in this pose, to get frustrated with yourself, to think 'Oh my gosh, I'm so weak.' But you're not weak. You're getting stronger. If you were weak, you wouldn't even be trying."

Then my practice dissolved into tears, about the 23rd time I've been in tears this month. Only this was the good kind of cry, the kind that cleanses and centers and heals and isn't just your work-related stress running around in circles chasing its own tail.

And I thought, damn straight I can up my game.

After all, wavering is not a sign of weakness. It's a sign that you're finding your balance.

When life is discomfortable, every instinct tells us to fight that unease. But the truth is, the discomfort is essential; as my mom said the other day when I was venting to her, "Well, we don't change positions until we're uncomfortable." And she's right. I do know that. I know that release doesn't come until after the stretch, I believe in the importance of pushing your comfort zone.

With NaNo just a few days away, I am more determined than ever to figure out how to carve a space in my rock and/or my hard place that's large enough for me to fit comfortably. I know exactly the future I want. There will never be more hours in the day to get there. It's up to me to find a way, and sometimes the only way out is through. 


Becoming a "No Problem" Person

One of the things I love most about my husband is that he always says yes, and never yes but.

Yes, but just this once.
Yes, but I can only stay until 8.
Yes, but lemme check on some stuff first.

Dan's eternal yes is also one of the things that irritated me the most when we first started dating. He would ask the girls what they wanted for dessert. One kid would ask for a little tiny Häagen-Dazs from the grocery store. Another wanted a Blizzard from DQ. Dan himself wanted coffee ice cream from the local candy shop. And I wanted a caramel apple empanada from Taco Bell.

"Ugh, there's never any CHOICES around this house!"

I grew up in a house with 3 kids who never liked the same things, so this is nothing new to me. My dad handled this scenario with "If you kids can't agree on something, no one's getting any dessert." Very practical. Even a dessert you don't like is still a treat, right? As such, I suffered through many a horrible vanilla milkshake as a kid. Besides, what parent in their right mind wants to drive around town for an hour getting everyone their own separate dessert?

No one except Dan.

It's isn't that he's an indulgent parent (although that is certainly true). He's just a no problem person. A yes person. He says yes to everything. There is never a but. There is never an attached string. His generosity is utterly unconditional.

I have always hated asking anyone for anything. Until I met Dan I didn't realize that this was not just because I'm obnoxiously independent (again, certainly true), but because I dreaded the strings. The conditions. The guilt trips. The inevitable extraneous nonsense that comes with even the simplest request.

"Hey, could you grab some milk on the way home?"
"Weren't you just at the store yesterday? Never mind, it's fine. I guess I'll just be a little late for dinner."

"Hey, can you drop me on your way past my house?"
"Well, I was planning on running some errands right now but I'm sure I could make time. Hop in!"

"Hey, could we reschedule our meeting next week?"
"Yeah, I can probably move some stuff around to make that happen."

Not one of those answers sound like a real yes, even though they technically all are.

Asking Dan anything-- still, even after 8 years together-- is like when you expect closed-door resistance and, finding none, stumble across the threshold in surprise.

"Did you guys know there's, like, awesomeness out here?"

I never realized how much all those non-yes yesses wore on me. From every single person. Every single day. And it's not like I just hang out with sucky people; we ALL do this. I do it myself. We want everyone to know exactly what they owe us. Exactly how much we should be worth to them. Or how much they're worth to us, as measured by the amount of effort we're willing to put forth.

Dan's simple yes is a such a powerful and welcome presence in my life that I've decided to try and become a no problem person myself. I practice saying yes when people ask me things.

No excuses.
No temporizing.
No subtle punishments hidden between words.

Just yes. No problem.


Focus on What's Good Instead

A couple months ago, I found out that I have non-celiac gluten sensitivity. At the same time, I found out I probably have a lactose or casein intolerance of some kind.

"It'll be way easier for me to give up gluten than dairy," I said to my doctor. I'm hypoglycemic, so I have problems maintaining my blood sugar at reasonable levels. Lots of protein helps with this; dairy is one of my major protein sources. And also because of the blood sugar thing, I'm not a huge carb eater anyway.

"We can start with that," she said.

Farewell, my friends. Farewell.

It turns out that going gluten-free-- while about a million times easier today than it would have been even 5 or 10 years ago-- is way more of a pain in the ass than I realized it would be.

Gluten, by its nature, is all sticky and gluey, so it hides in things like wooden cutting boards. Also, if you live with other people who are still eating gluten, there are all kinds of cross-contamination concerns. Like, bread crumbs in the butter. Dipping a knife into the mayo, spreading it on bread, dipping it in mayo again. Learning that there's gluten in soy sauce, of all places. And my grocery trips take twice as long now, because I have to read every single ingredient on every single package. Modified food starch? Usually wheat-based, and a common ingredient in things like salad dressings. Oh, and malt vinegar is out too.

Fun quiz: Is this safe or not?

As involved as all this is, I will also say that it is far, far less of a pain for me than it is for many. I'm not a carb queen, I don't eat many things with long ingredient lists anyway, and I cook most things from scratch rather than using dips, mixes, or eating out. And I'm not so sensitive that just opening a bag of flour has me sick for days. Plus I don't actually have celiac disease, so that's good.

That being said, it's still a pain in the ass.

One of the things that every single book or website about celiac disease, non-celiac sensitivity, and eating gluten free says again and again is to think about all the great foods you ARE allowed instead of bemoaning all the stuff you can't eat.

You just focus on the good instead.

And it's true that the list of things that do have gluten in them is much, much shorter than the list of things that don't:
  • Fresh fruits and veggies
  • Homemade chili
  • Split pea soup
  • Steak, baked potatoes loaded with butter and sour cream, and a green salad with tons of avocado and a nice balsamic vinaigrette on the side
  • Enchiladas, if I use corn tortillas and buy gluten-free enchilada sauce
  • Homemade granola, if I use gluten-free oats
  • 15-bean soup, with a handful of sautéed apple-gouda sausage and kale tossed in
  • Roasted autumn vegetable bake-- sweet potatoes, parsnips, yukon gold potatoes, onions
  • Pasticcio made with this pasta, my favorite of all the brands I've tried so far
  • Mushroom alfredo over chicken instead of fettuccini
  • Gluten-free pizza from Beau Jo's that's actually delicious
  • Sushi, dipped in tamari instead of soy sauce

Sushi actually freaks me out, but it's so pretty I eat it anyway.

Much like gluten, the less-ideal things in our lives feel sticky and everywhere a lot of the time. Relationship problems. Money stress. Dull cubicle jobs. The daily grind. It's easy to get hung up on these things, give them weight, dwell on what you wish they were. Mire yourself in lack.

But, just like wishing my unpleasantly dry and crumbly gluten-free toast were a thick slab of delicious whole-grain goodness slathered with fresh apple butter, wishing doesn't make it so.

I focus on what's good instead.
  • A husband who puts up with my nonsense and makes me laugh every day
  • My teenage daughter who, as yet, is not doing drugs or having sex, and has decent grades to boot (except in Spanish, and I'm willing to overlook that) 
  • Ever-decreasing back pain; ever-improving overall health (quirky gluten issues notwithstanding)
  • A job that has become the impossible pipe dream I would've sold my soul for two years ago
  • Fruition everywhere
Every day, my life looks a little closer to ideal.

The stuff that takes you further from your ideal? Get it out of there. At the very least, refuse to dwell. 

Focus on what's good instead.


Finding Your Niche

In Vegas, our shop was located just off the strip in the main industrial park neighborhood. There was this great Greek place right down the road. We'd stack our breaks so we could enjoy one long break (gorging on the best spanakopita I've ever had) instead of a lunch and and two short breaks.

Oh, yes.
Then our shop moved. Although we found new love at the Pizza Cafe (and an absurdly handsome barista named Pablo), it wasn't the same.

Then, lo and behold, the Greek place relocated too! RIGHT BY OUR NEW SHOP! So exciting! As soon as we found out we were neighbors again, we skipped our morning break to hit the hummus over an extended lunch. We ordered without looking at the menu first.

"No, no. No spanakopita. We got new things now." The guy puts a menu in my face and points a thick, furry finger at the grease-splotched paper. "See? We got subs. We got pizza."

We all expressed sorrow over the loss of our beloved spanakopita, but found other things to order. And they were delicious. Just not quite as delicious as before.

The next time we went back, a bunch of the Greek menu items were crossed out with a ballpoint pen, and the burly Greek guy who usually took (and cooked) our order was no longer in evidence.

Pasticio? Gone. Tabbouleh? Falafel? Gone and gone. And the top-notch quality that used to be in evidence had, like Elvis, left the building.

That was our last time visiting the Greek place.

I am always baffled by businesses-- and individuals-- who have a niche all nailed up, then water it down with some dumb crap that anyone could do. ANYone.

Like the disappointingly named VikingHus gift shop that had one small shelf of sorta-Scandinavian swag, and otherwise looked like a Hallmark store. Like the Pizza Cafe, our Greek restaurant replacement that started out as a fantastic high-end gourmet Italian bistro and worked its way down to a quasi-sports bar. Like the last couple seasons of just about any decent TV show where they lose their way and forget what made them stand out from the crowd in the first place.

The world does not need more bland, safe mediocrity.

When you have a thing you nail better than anyone, it's easy to doubt yourself. It's easy to think that the guy over there is seeing amazing success with his broader, less complicated vision that appeals to the public at large. Surely you should cater to the masses too, instead of your small niche market.


The people who invest in your goods, your services, your presence give you the gift of their time/money/support because they like what you're offering. What YOU are. Not what everyone else is.

Not despite your differences. Because of them.

They say you should write the book you want to read. I say find your niche, that niche that needs filling that no one else has filled. Then fill it.

This lives on my desk. It's an interesting story. I'll tell you sometime.