How to Tell if You’re Unhappy, or Just Uncomfortable

Growing up, I would often kick up a fuss about having to go to my Saturday afternoon cello group class, play in a recital, or anything scary like that. “Too bad.” My mom would say, shoving my flailing and sobbing body into the car, cello flung in (carefully) behind me. “It’s good for you.”

Years later, when I had finished school and was a full-fledged “Professional Cellist”, any stress I outwardly expressed before a big opportunity–a competition, fancy masterclass, or performance–was greeted with “Well, why are you doing it? You sound miserable.” and I would groan back “Mooommmmm, you don’t get it!” 

But I wasn’t really clear what it was she didn’t get or why, when I was miserable, I still sort of wanted to do it. 

I suppose it was because it was “good for me.” 



I talk a lot about getting our lives into alignment. Doing the work we love. The work that lines up with our values, desires, and dreams. Work that brings us a feeling of purpose and fulfillment. Work that is a major ingredient in the recipe for a joyous life. 


What happens when you’re doing that work, but wake up feeling a little bit miserable? 


A lot of people might think: “aha! I’m not HAPPY! I thought this work would make me happy, but it doesn’t. Clearly, I should switch and do something else.” 

But here’s the kicker. Living anything but a stuck, stagnant, boring life requires growth. Growth in your skills, growth in your experiences, growth in what you know yourself to be capable of. 

And growth is uncomfortable. 


They don’t call them Growing Pains for nothing.



The 24-year-old Kate that was a giant ball of stress before her first official professional concerto debut, complaining about having to practice, complaining about not feeling ready, complaining that her dress didn’t feel right wasn’t unhappy. She was growing. And she was feeling the discomfort of that growth from “I’m not capable of this” to “Oh, look, I did it, and I didn’t die. I am now someone who is capable of that.” 

Now, to address the elephant in the room. 

Yes, I have “retired” from my performing career, but that was more about my life circumstances changing, my values evolving, and the fact that I accidentally stumbled across something that I loved more, that fit better, that brought me even more fulfillment. 

I didn’t leave behind my life as a cellist because I was unhappy or uncomfortable, so much as I moved toward something that I was growing into.


And believe me, there have been plenty of uncomfortable growing pains in this world too. 
  • The First time I announced on FB that I had a blog–and gave everyone the link! 
  • The first time I offered an online workshop to my colleagues (on teaching online–March 2020) 
  • The first time I emailed very famous cellists to invite them to teach at my brand new Virtual Summer Cello Festival. 
  • The first time I launched a group program. 

Each of these steps made me incredibly nervous and uncomfortable, leading me to question my decisions, feel overworked (I wasn’t, it just feels that way when the work is uncomfortable), and stressed out. 

And each and every one of these steps also helped me to grow as a person, as a coach, and as a business. I look back on them with joy, and maybe that is the main difference. 




I once decided that I should expand my experiences as a musician, so I responded to an ad on craigslist (remember craigslist?) and joined a local goth band. They were all amazing musicians–the drummer was Amanda Palmer’s drummer!–and they were very serious about their future.

They called me Kiki (a nickname that has stuck endearingly amongst my closest friends, but in the context of that band felt a little slimy) I wore a neon blue wig (also slimy) and finally quit when they decided they were going to spend the entire summer on tour in the band’s smelly van. When I told them I couldn’t do that, I was berated for my “fear of success”, and I was “bailing on my dreams.” 

No. I was bailing on their dreams. 



How did I know the difference? 

The discomfort wasn’t about whether or not I could pull it off, whether I could lean into this new identity. It just seemed like pure hell. So out of alignment with what I wanted that my whole body had a visceral reaction and I felt every cell scream “RUN!!!!” 

Looking back? Right decision. But yeah, I still smile when my friends’ kids call me Auntie Kiki. 

So now, whenever I am feeling that discomfort in my work, whether it’s because I am pulling my hair out trying to figure out some complicated process (Mailchimp Automations, anyone?) or nervous before a podcast interview, wondering why on earth I said yes to this, I ask myself two questions: 


Question #1: “Who would I need to be for this to be no big deal?”

In example one: I’d need to be someone who was experienced and savvy at email marketing. 

In example two: I’d need to be super confident about spreading my work to new audiences, and trust that I had prepared both myself and the host for this conversation. 


Question #2: “Does that person seem like a natural progression from where I am now? Or a deviation from my true potential?” 

Savvy content creator, and confident interviewee? Feels like a natural progression. 

Goth Chick in a blue wig, standing by the side of the road by a broken down van? Definitely a deviation. 

What about you? 

Where are you currently feeling discomfort in your work or your life? Asking yourself these two questions might help you determine whether you are feeling the unhappiness that comes with deviating from your values and dreams, or the discomfort that comes with growing into them. 

Cheers, my friend! You’ve got this! 



P.S. Are you on The List yet? If you enjoyed this blog post and want more insider info on how to thrive as a creative, be sure you get on the list to receive my Friday “Weekend List.” Each one is loaded up with additional tips, tricks, and things to think about, including a new curated list of articles, books, podcasts, and things that I think you’d enjoy.  Click Here to Get the Weekend List! 

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