It’s Time To Get Uncomfortable

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I was curious.

“What’s it REALLY like to run a marathon?”

In order to answer that question for myself, I decided to get uncomfortable.  What I learned is applicable to all of us in retirement.

Sometimes you need to get uncomfortable to determine what you’re truly capable of achieving.

It’s time for you to get uncomfortable.  Are you ready to embrace the discomfort?

Training for a marathon was uncomfortable, but sometimes you need to get uncomfortable to see what you're really capable of achieving. Click To Tweet

getting uncomfortable leads to results

It’s Time To Get Uncomfortable

In 2001, a buddy and I decided to run a May marathon in Cincinnati.  Since 5 months of training are required, we agreed to start our training together on January 1st.

In Cleveland, Ohio.

In the snow.

It was uncomfortable.

For the next 5 months, every Saturday morning at 8:00 am, we both left our houses and rendezvoused on an I-90 overpass that was halfway between our homes.  We’d head out together and conquer new routes, explore new roads, find new hills. Each week we added a mile to our previous week’s “long-run”, and we never missed a week.  Like the post office, neither snow, nor hail, nor rain, nor sleet would stop us in our quest (and yes, we ran in all of those.  It was a Cleveland winter, remember?).

As the weeks progressed, an interesting thing happened.

A distance that had previously been uncomfortable suddenly wasn’t.  After two months, it didn’t even feel like we had started our run until we had crossed the 10-mile mark.  Each week, the discomfort didn’t set it until a mile later than it had the week before. 

Uncomfort is like that.  

After experiencing discomfort for a while, the same effort no longer feels uncomfortable.  In the case of our marathon training, it actually began to feel good.  We felt no effort, no pain through 90 minutes of running. 

Then two hours.  Then two and a half.

Several weeks before the marathon, we hit our final “long-run” target of 20 miles.  It didn’t get uncomfortable until the 19-mile mark.  Amazing.

By intentionally making ourselves uncomfortable every week for 4+ months, the marathon was a success.  I never walked and finished under my goal of 4 hours.    By making myself uncomfortable, I was able to achieve something I never thought I would accomplish.  I now know what it’s like to run a marathon.  For the record, the hardest part of running a marathon is consistently hitting your long runs every week.  Consistently making yourself uncomfortable. Going 16+ weeks without missing a long-run takes serious commitment, but that’s what it takes to complete a marathon.  

Given the amount of discomfort I endured in my quest to run a marathon, I decided to memorialize my accomplishment with a poster, which I still have some 20 years later:

a time to get uncomfortable is marathon training


Why Retirement Is The Time To Get Uncomfortable

“Sometimes you need to get uncomfortable to determine what you’re truly capable of achieving.”

– The Retirement Manifesto

Retirement is a time in life to determine what you’re truly capable of achieving.  That often requires discomfort.  It’s also a rare time in life when you’re in control of deciding what you’d like to achieve.  I call it “The Starting Line” for a reason.  Retirement is the time to start your next chapter.  To pursue your dreams.  To achieve the things you’ve always wanted to achieve.

Retirement is the time to get uncomfortable.

Pushing yourself to achieve things you’ve never done before can be uncomfortable.  But, just as I found in my marathon training, once you’ve experienced that discomfort you’ll find things suddenly become easier.  Confidence increases.  Your mind and your body respond to the discomfort. 

Like the muscles in my legs through that cold Cleveland winter, you’ll grow.

If something interests you, pursue it.  If it makes you uncomfortable, accept the challenge all the more.  Take that first uncomfortable run on a cold Saturday morning, and come back next week for another.  Follow-up on that curiosity to learn how to play the guitar.  Sure, when you start those blisters will be uncomfortable. 

Until they’re not.


Some Areas To Consider Getting Uncomfortable

Ok, so we’re done with the theory.  What about some application?  While far from an exhaustive list, here are some ideas for where you may ask yourself if it’s time to get uncomfortable:

1. Transitioning From Work

Let’s face it, it’s uncomfortable to retire.  After years of a predictable routine, your world is upended on the day you retire.  For some, it’s easier to stay in the workforce than it is to deal with the discomfort of the unknown world of retirement.  If the only reason you’re staying at work is because of your fear of retirement, it’s time to get uncomfortable.

2. Finding Your Purpose

“Purpose” is one of those soft, fuzzy words that scares some people. I get it. What’s it really mean?  How do I go about it?  It’s uncomfortable to think about your life not having any meaning.  If you’re having problems, consider reading my book, Keys To A Successful Retirement.  Sure, reading it may make you uncomfortable, but isn’t it time to get uncomfortable and figure out what your Purpose is going to be in retirement?

3. Trying Something New

When I wrote my first post on The Retirement Manifesto, I was uncomfortable.  I had no idea what I was doing and stumbled blindly through setting up this website, figuring out how to set up my Twitter profile, how to publish a post, etc.  5 years on, I can do it in my sleep.  More importantly, I’m comfortable writing.  In fact, I’ve discovered that I love to write. Had I not endured that discomfort, I’d have never found a passion I now enjoy in retirement.

I’m experiencing the same discomfort now as I start my new woodworking hobby in retirement.  I don’t know much about it, but I’m learning fast and getting more comfortable around my man-eating saws. What was once uncomfortable is becoming a pleasure, not unlike what I experienced when training for that marathon.  

It’s always hard when you’re trying something new.  Don’t make discomfort your excuse to not try new things.  It’s time to get uncomfortable. Stick with it.  Just like hitting 10 miles was a breeze after a few months of running, most things get easier with time.   

4. Getting In Shape

You’ve been thinking about it for years, but why haven’t you done it? 

You may have started an exercise program, but gave up after a few weeks because it was uncomfortable.  Those muscles hurt when you’re using them in ways that are new to them.  Stick with it, it gets easier in time.  Within a month, you’ll feel worse when you don’t exercise than when you do.  Embrace the uncomfortable.  Your life will be more enjoyable when you’re in better shape.  More importantly, you’ll stave off the effects of aging and have more years of enjoyment before the inevitable decline begins.  Getting in shape is one area where you’ll have immediate AND long-lasting effects.  Endure the short amount of time you’ll be uncomfortable, and you’ll see the benefits for years to come.

5. Making New Friends

As I wrote in 20 Ways To Be Happier In Life, it can be uncomfortable making new friends.  That awkward small talk as you seek to find common interests.  That uncertainty about whether you should invite them over for dinner.  All new friendships start between strangers, but a true friend is as comfortable as a warm blanket on a cold winter’s morning.  Between the two extremes is a period of discomfort as you find ways to build your relationship. Maybe it’s time to get uncomfortable and invite someone to do something with you.


One final note:  Just like I discovered during my marathon training, getting uncomfortable is easier with a friend.  Consider inviting someone to join you as you seek out your first trial at getting uncomfortable. Are you going to decide to (finally) get in shape?  Approach a friend, and ask them to go for a walk with you this weekend.  Then, schedule your next walk before you head back home.  Before you know it, the uncomfortable will become comfortable, and your friendship will become closer.  

Further Reading:


Conclusion

Growth often requires getting uncomfortable.  In time, that discomfort evolves into comfort as we learn new things.  Retirement is an ideal time to get uncomfortable.  Don’t run from discomfort.  Rather, seek it out.  Look for challenges that will require you to get uncomfortable.  Your retirement, and your life, will be better for it.

Your Turn:  Have you ever gotten uncomfortable in the pursuit of growth?  What was the result?  Let’s chat in the comments…

14 comments

  1. Gosh, can I ever relate to “Sometimes you need to get uncomfortable to determine what you’re truly capable of achieving” ! As you’re aware Fritz, about a year and a half ago, my wife and I decided to start a blog. Both of us were way out of our comfort zones. Not only did we learn a lot about our selves, but it redefined our expectations of retirement.

    It’s been incredibly rewarding personally and hopefully we make a difference for others. Much like your marathon training, we’ve learned to embrace the discomfort of pushing forward. I might add you’ve been a guiding light and inspiration. We’re excited about what the future will bring, especially with our latest endeavor to start a podcast channel by early March. Looking back, we never would have dreamed what we could achieve if we hadn’t started.

  2. Hey Fritz,

    Great Post. Long time lurker, first time commenter.

    I was struck by the “Follow-up on the curiosity to learn how to play guitar.” I did just that a few months ago. With lots of “home time” and no more kids in the house, I picked up a guitar last September for the first time in three decades.

    It was uncomfortable and humiliating for me. I bought a book and watched some YouTube videos and cursed my aging hands and brain. As with your running, I took it step by step and learned one scale and one chord at a time. I got better, as we do when we practice. Now, I’m an advanced beginner and can play a few songs, mostly from memory and I am actually enjoying myself most of the time.

    I would never care to run a marathon, I ran enough in the service to last a lifetime, but I really enjoyed the spirit of this post. We’re never too old to start something new, never too far along to be a beginner again.

    Thanks, Fritz, I really enjoy your blog. Keep up the great work!

  3. Timely article and reflection Fritz. We have all been derailed from our retirement core pursuits somehow with this awful pandemic, however, advancing your point, what makes us uncomfortable will make us better. When this pandemic is over, we will all do those things we missed with an extra zest, while continuing those pursuits we acquired from this curve ball that has been thrown. I know now that I will not be complacent when it comes to family and friends. It shouldn’t take a pandemic to be closer to those you love. Moreover, I realize that in these challenging times that I can help patients navigate through their healthcare issues particularly guiding friends, family and even strangers through the complex cancer process of care. Sharing your expertise during other people’s uncomfortable times make you better adapt to your uncomfortable circumstance.

  4. As a runner that has completed 4 half-marathons – I loved your post and can relate to the training aspect! For someone who doesn’t really have a social media presence etc. it was a stretch for me to reach out to you while I was in Blue Ridge for a coffee (as a blog reader only) and I really enjoyed our conversation and it was a highlight of my trip! By the way , my wife and I made a weekend trip to BR in early January (it snowed pretty good that Saturday) and we went to the Swan Drive – In that night. What a fun night that took us back in time – we will make that a regular event while in BR !

  5. Growth occurs when we get out of our comfort zone. I love this post and it can relate to growing a business division, hiring new talent, starting a new exercise routine, starting a new diet, or anything that requires discipline. Great post!!!!

  6. You know this message resonates with me, about half of my blog posts revolve around this topic 🙂 And what you said is so true – I feel way worse those rare times I skip a workout. For those folks trying to start a training program they can’t fathom that being true, but it is. You just have to put the work in and be consistent to get to that stage.

  7. Hey Fritz, love the comparison and take aways. I think a lot of people have these feeling with personal finance in general.

    A few years ago I did a “Tough Mudder,” you know, the half marathon thing with obstacles and electric shock built in. Although there was a lot of anxiety leading up to it, it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. To look back and say, “I did that,” is a great feeling for sure!

    If you’re not familiar with the Tough Mudder, it’s worth a Google search for the entertainment value!

  8. I’ve run somewhere around 20,000 miles so far I think. 15 full marathons and countless training runs of 15 and 20 miles. Unlike you I’ve never found any run of any distance particularly easy or fun. I love the camaraderie of our running group but running is bleh. I just do it for two reasons. One, it is uncomfortable, and like you I believe we need some discomfort and challenge in our lives. And two it may add some days to my life span.

  9. Fritz, a great article. I have to remind myself that
    Anything worth doing well Is worth Doing Poorly until you can do it well.
    Unlike your description of each run revealing improvement. Most improvement reveals itself in disjointed intermittent jagged progress. Much like a beginner learning to drive a standard transmission, progress is by no means a straight line.
    During those times of delayed realization of improvement the imposter syndromekicks in. Self talk accuses you as an imposter and attempts to bring despair.
    Just remember the key words, Not Yet. I am a work in progress, and I don’t see the results, at least not yet.
    Each area of present comfort was a former area of discomfort.
    So, when those attempts to develop that new friendship, or new skill, or new body, are yelling at you; “this is crazy your aren’t …..” , answer back: Not Yet, but I will be if I don’t give up.

  10. Hi Fritz-

    I have been admiring your writing for about 8 months but only now have garnered the courage to post a comment. This particular article hit home for me because I ran my first (and only) marathon in Oct 2016 and can relate to the need to have to push yourself through many uncomfortable runs throughout the 4-5 months of training.

    My wife and I have also begun our retirement planning and are targeting our “starting line” for some time in 2024. Some of our conversations have involved the need to step out of our comfort zones. I am vey much an introvert so that will be a pretty big challenge for me. However, I have been active all my life and I am well in tune with knowing how far I can push my body to be uncomfortable. Reading your article provided an opportunity for me to reframe “stepping out of my comfort zone” by thinking about it from a different perspective; one that I am very familiar with.

    Thanks very much!!

  11. The end goal is striving toward a utility.

    If the utility is inline with our inner potential, there is very little discomfort in execution.

    For example, reproduction is a utility each and everyone here has and its execution was seamless.

    The average lifespan here in the United States is 77.8 as of 2020.

    Many of us will live long after our reproductive utility, yet, most of us will stop being useful (purposeful).

    FI will give many of us the option to explore our inner potential – test the water and
    have the courage to UN-RETIRED before the maggots get you!

  12. Excellent post, and I’ll echo those in the comments in agreeing that you really do feel worse after having not worked out. I struggle with finding time to work out during busy periods at work, and I’ve found that my mood and overall well-being aren’t as related to the workload as they are to the fact that I slacked on workouts over a given period.

  13. I decided to run a “half-marathon” at age 57 and had a similar uncomfortable feeling. It was on my bucket list and I remember those long runs you mentioned preparing for the “Snoqualmie Valley Half Marathon”. Given it was in a valley, I thought it would be a relatively flat, easy course for a beginner. WRONG! The first 6.5 miles were uphill and the last 6.5 miles were downhill! I was thrilled to cross the finish line 2 hours, 25 minutes, and 13 seconds later. The discipline and hard work had paid off as I made my goal to finish in less than 2 1/2 hours later. I am still running my work marathon (I celebrated my 40th anniversary of the day I began my career yesterday!) and am enjoying preparing for retirement by reading your blog – thank you!

  14. Fritz- I am a week behind on your posts because my email unexplainably (and rudely) started putting them under the “promotions” tab. Luckily my husband said something about your latest post and I was dismayed I had not received it. After some clicking around Gmail, hopefully my finicky email will now put you in the “primary” box where you belong.

    That said, this hit home because if you remember I was feeling uncomfortable telling people a few months ago that we are in fact retiring. Being in my (cough) late 40’s, i usually get the inevitable “wow you are so young to retire” (I am a clinical researcher and told a Med Student this week and he physically reacted with shock lol). After a few weeks of telling people that “my husband is retiring” and “I am leaving my job at same time” , I finally took the uncomfortable step to start saying “we are retiring!!” Then I started addressing the uncomfortable “you are so young” comment but saying “my husband is a financial wiz” – which is true but this week I realized was a cop out aimed to end the conversation so yesterday after I said the financial wiz part – i stopped myself and said – “Actually though that is true, we have worked very hard to be in this position – we have always lived below our means and maxed out our investments.” It was very uncomfortable but I feel like next time it might be a little easier.

    23 days until “The Starting Line” but who is counting!!

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