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What if I regret leaving the comfort zone?

Here is an interview I just did with B3 magazine. The magazine is sponsoring a book giveaway right now. Visit the site!

One of our favorite things about ringing in the New Year is that it’s an annual reminder to shake things up in a big way. But as refreshing as grand-scale changes can be, they can also feel paralyzingly daunting—and that makes for prime negative-self-talk territory (Who am I to think I can do this? What if I fail? What if I regret leaving my safety zone?).

If you can already hear the doubts creeping into your New Year’s goals, stop what you’re doing and read our interview with Lauren Kessler, author of Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance the Nutcracker. When Kessler decided in mid-life to pursue her dream of dancing in the famous ballet, she could have found a million reasons to talk herself out of it. Read on to find out how she dealt with the negative self-talk, why it’s important to embrace change no matter what your age, and how making one big leap led to another even bigger one. (Kessler’s story is so powerful that Sadie gave a copy to each B3 studio owner when it first came out!)

B3 MAGAZINE: What advice do you have for someone who is considering changing course a little later in life?

LAUREN KESSLER: Simple advice: DO IT. Challenging yourself, making changes, leaving your comfort zone, raising the bar on your own life is exhilarating. Yes, also undeniably scary—but it presents an extraordinary opportunity for growth. Creating and embracing meaningful change “a little later in life” keeps you vibrant and vital, curious and interesting, humble and in learning mode—in other words, youthful. It’s not that you shouldn’t think hard about making real changes, but you can think yourself out of it. You do not have to be convinced that you can be successful, only convinced that you can bring energy, passion, and commitment to the endeavor.

B3 MAGAZINE: A lot of women reach a point in their lives when they want to take a leap, but sometimes they don’t know exactly what that leap is. Can you talk about how you landed on dancing in the Nutcracker as your big leap?

LK: Dancing in The Nutcracker was a big leap, not THE big leap. My reasons for choosing this challenge were complicated. I had loved ballet as a child and been told I had “the wrong body” at age 12. That statement by my (very famous) ballet teacher has resonated in my life for four decades. I wanted to revisit that, silence that negative self-talk so deeply embedded. I also wanted to confront and test the cliché “you’re never too old to___________.” Could I, in fact, get my mid-life body into shape to dance on stage with a professional company—or are there some things it really is “too late” to do? (Enter barre3, by the way. That’s how I did it.) As a writer, I embed myself in worlds I know little about and try to learn from that experience (and reveal it to readers). So another reason I chose The Nutcracker is that I was fascinated by not so much the world of ballet but the world of artists who give up so much for their art. The dancers I trained with, danced with, and befriended had very little other life than dance. I wanted to explore that level of passion and commitment.

B3 MAGAZINE: Negative self-talk is masterful at keeping us from trying new things. Can you talk about the negative self-talk you experienced, and how you quelled it?

LK: Aside from the “you have the wrong body” self-talk, there was also “you are too old,” “you will embarrass yourself,” “who do you think you are?” and “stick with what you know” self-talk. In fact, the self-talk was deafening. It was, at times, louder in my head than thinking. So…what did I do?

Instead of telling myself it was stupid and self-defeating to talk to myself this way (translation: I was stupid to think this way = just another form of negative self-talk), I carefully listened to each statement, pretending a close friend said these things about herself. How would I respond? My response to my “friend” who tells herself she has the wrong body? What a second, you have a strong, healthy body. It has seen you through 100-mile bike rides, killer mountain hikes, and three pregnancies. Wrong body? Ha! And so forth.

I am not sure it is possible to erase negative self-talk. For me, what works is creating positive (actually far more realistic) self-talk that speaks louder.

B3 MAGAZINE: Do you have any advice for people who want to make a change but are experiencing pushback from their loved ones?

LK: This is a very hard question, mostly because I cannot imagine someone who truly loves you standing in the way of life-enriching change. Or rather, the only way I understand this is to think this person is scared, too. You are scared to make the leap. The loved one(s) are scared this change will be threatening to the existing relationship. Talking through what you want to do and why you want to do it, what it means to your own growth, how this may enhance and deepen the relationship because it deepens you—this might help quell these fears and transform the pushback to loving support.

B3 MAGAZINE: Did taking this big leap give you the confidence to do other things you wouldn’t have considered before?

LK: Oh my, yes. I closed the door on a job that had become a black hole in my life (as in all the energy I put in got swallowed up). I had inhabited this job for a very very long time and had convinced myself it was central to my self-worth (and net worth). It wasn’t! I cannot fully express what a great decision leaving was. And how scared I was to make it. I am more creative, more focused on what matters, happier with myself and my work than I have ever been. I have learned to lean into the “yes.”


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