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Uncomfortable is OK Podcast

Making it easier for you to get out of your comfort zone.

Chris Desmond explores the science, the stories, and the strategies of getting out of your comfort zone and finding your magic.

Lessons from Stephen McDowell "Th Buzzy Kiwi"

Aug 20, 2017

I had the pleasure of having a conversation with a young Kiwi dude currently residing in L.A. His name is Stephen McDowell, or better known on social media as “The Buzzy Kiwi”. Stephen’s plan for his life hit a bump a couple of years back. Just out of uni and working as a self-employed personal trainer an old rugby injury came back to haunt him. Undergoing what he thought was a routine surgery, he woke up to the news that the cartilage in his hip had started dying and he was experiencing arthritic changes. Instead of being back at work in 3 days, he couldn’t walk for 8 weeks, and couldn’t exercise for 8 months. I got to talk with him on the podcast about what happened and then his re-evaluation of what was important to the way he lived his life. Here are a couple of my take away points from the conversation with Stephen.

“My whole life was sports, when that was taken from me I needed a new passion”

Stephen’s life had revolved around multiple sports, but as with many young Kiwi males the main one being rugby. He had chosen to pursue a career in the fitness industry on top of that. Nearly everything he did revolved around sport or exercise. If that isn’t a passion I’m not sure what is. I’ve been injured often enough to know the short term feeling of loss associated with not being able to move. Thankfully all my injuries are ones that I’ve recovered from, they’ve slowed me short term but haven’t stopped me being able to do anything in the long run. To have your movement taken from you, coupled with losing your main drive at the same time is massive. It speaks to the phenomenal resilience Stephen has that he was able to take that on board so quickly.

I believe that part of the reason he was successful in overcoming this sense of loss was that he developed something else he was interested in very quickly. Stephen knew that he was interested in travelling from the small amounts he had done prior to his surgery. Planning and eventually participating in this gave him a sense of purpose to get out of bed in the morning. Something I can attest to that is vitally important as you’re rehabbing from an injury. He could have chosen to sit in that sense of loss, but that likely wouldn’t have led to us having our conversation, or him touching other peoples’ lives.

Stephen’s ability to quickly recognise how important this sense of purpose was in his life is impressive, but his strategic approach to finding a new one is probably even more so. After surgery he identified other things in life outside of sport and exercise that he was interested in, then set about researching how he could participate. He had to take into account his financial situation as well as his likely physical abilities when figuring out how he could get involved. Camp America was a perfect first step and things have ballooned from there. As much as Stephen says “I make this up as I go”, taking the time to understand what excites him and following what he is curious about has led him down this path.

“Change it from being loss to being a lesson of some sort”

Stephen was able to reframe this experience from being one where he “lost” (massive) parts of himself; movement, career, and even part of his identity, to an opportunity to re-group and learn. This is likely another reason for his success. Having an experience is just that, an experience. Stephen was able to view this experience as an opportunity to re-shape his life rather than losing the things that mattered to him.

Exploring the idea of travel has led to some incredible experiences in fantastic places, as well as the opportunity to have it sustain him. Stephen likely wouldn’t have been able to have these experiences without the injury and the results from it. If it hadn’t happened he may well be still working as a personal trainer in Dunedin. I don’t want to put words in his mouth but I’d be happy to bet that he would much prefer the path his life has taken.

“It’s not all rainbows and fairies — you go through some very uncomfortable times, but it’s worth it for those things that you experience”

This may be my favourite line from our whole chat, I love Stephen’s viewpoint here. Uncomfortable experiences abound when we start to test ourselves and push away from what we know, what is safe. Situations come up that we have no experience dealing with, that can threaten us physically but usually much more likely threaten us mentally. When unfamiliar situations come up for me I often find myself pulling back into myself, trying to revert back to what feels “safe” and shying away from what is uncomfortable even though I’m excited by what lies on the other side of it. Stephen shared his method of dealing with this on the podcast. He stops and puts his back to the wall so he feels safe, then sits and asks himself questions until he figures out what he is going to do, how he is going to get through, or around, the uncomfortable. Coming to a safe place is a great way to start, it allows us to slow things down, our breathing and more importantly our thought processes, often these are connected. Getting to a safe place may not require finding a physically safe place, instead it could be a step back from a turbulent mental situation, having a little distance between your thoughts and the situation. Not getting to this safe place first can lead to mistakes. When I’m flustered I tend to speed up. The more I speed up the more mistakes I make. The more mistakes I make the more flustered I become. It turns into a downward spiral. After getting safe I can slow down and ask myself better questions and take time with the answers to give myself the best options for dealing with the uncomfortable.

Sometimes life doesn’t give you the time to get yourself “safe” before it requires a decision, but more often than not it will. If I can train myself to get to get into this “safe” space when there is no time pressure I’m more likely to be able to get there when the pressure is on, and my decisions are more likely to be the ones I’m proud of when I look back. After all “we don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training” — Archilochus. Stephen has made this method work for him, and as far as I can see, it seems to serve him well

The final thought I want to leave you with, is that it “isn’t all rainbows and fairies”. But if you can navigate your way through the uncomfortable you may see a few on your journey and to me that is well worth the tip.

You can listen to the full episode here.