Quit fearing and get to doing.
As a member of a 12 step fellowship, we talk a lot about fear. We have acronyms. We have its spiritual principle opposite. We talk about how to walk with courage.
All of us, including my teensy-weensy wimpy self, can let fear run our lives.
I stayed stuck in a marriage because I was too afraid to be alone, of the what-ifs of singlehood and also single parenthood.
I’ve been a teacher for way too goddamn long because it’s felt safe and comfortable and easy when it’s never truly been what I’ve wanted to do with my life. But summers and holidays off! I’ve always told myself. Insurance!! Even though I’ve wanted to be a writer since the third grade and doing it full-time would require me to quit and take an utter leap into the unknown.
In recovery, we say “fear” stands for Fuck Everything And Run. We have another acronym too: Face Everything And Recover, the idea being that we are so often afraid of change — even good change — that we become paralyzed by inaction, even when it comes to taking a healthy good step like putting down drugs and going to a meeting instead.
We also say courage is fear that has said its prayers. That means that courage isn’t the absence of fear; it is the fact that we do something with the presence of that fear.
I’ve been musing a lot over my fear lately. I am more afraid of success than failure. Failure can feel safe, comfortable, manageable, but success?? I don’t know what the fuck to do with that. I hate being in the spotlight. I hate anyone telling me, “Wow! You’re amazing!” because I always want to rebut them with, “Well, I actually am not, and let me tell you why…”
I get itchy when people give me compliments. The nasty neighbor in my head that is like a miserly old woman always spouts off, “You really think she’s amazing? Have you seen her teeth? She drinks too much coffee, and it looks like she hasn’t brushed in days. Amazing, my ass.”
Going after success like I deserve it would mean fighting against that narrative; it would mean telling that fear to go fuck itself. It would mean telling that old lady in my head to go bitch about some other person’s teeth or maybe think about brushing her own.
And that’s hard when I’ve spent a lifetime agreeing with them.
I like how Jen Sincero writes about fear in You Are a Badass®: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life.
Here are a couple of helpful analogies from her book:
1. View fear from your rearview mirror.
When we’ve conquered a fear, it’s…conquered. We can’t go back and relive that feeling once again because we now realize that fear was so small and inconsequential. We did whatever seemed so terrifying, and we made it out all right.
I used to be extremely terrified of public speaking, yet I became a teacher. This was a stupid choice on my part, choosing to put myself everyday in front of a room full of little ruthless dictators and convince them I knew what I was talking about and they should damn well listen, but life can be funny like that. Sometimes we get exactly what we need, and I needed to learn to become a better public speaker.
My first year teaching, I fear-sweated through the armpits of all of my cute cardigans and dresses. I’d come home absolutely stinking with my own fear. It’d ooze through my skin. But every day, it got a little bit easier. Every day, I got a handle on things a little more and more.
Then, I started only being nervous at the beginning of the school year when I knew I’d be starting with a fresh batch of students, but now, nearly ten years later, I don’t even have to worry about pulling out the prescription-strength deodorant to get through my day without someone pinching their nose shut around me. I got over it. It took me a while, but I did.
When we face each new challenge, we can recall those things we’ve already conquered and know that we made through those just fine. When I think about making the leap of quitting teaching altogether, I can imagine myself sitting alone at my desk fear-sweating, which seems vastly preferable to stuffing bathroom tissue into my armpits to make it through fifth period.
2. Flip the fear.
Often when we actually break down our fears, they really aren’t so insurmountable.
Maybe you really want to open your very own cupcake shop, but that would mean giving up the comfy cushion of your hellaciously terrible law practice. You’re exhausted every day that you have to listen to people bicker about what assets they want to divide or how they’re really innocent when you know for a fact they did take a blowtorch to their ex-boyfriend’s car. So all you do is dream of opening up your own cupcake shop as you’re dabbing pink cream cheese icing onto the strawberry cupcakes you’re making for your niece’s birthday because dreams are safe, remote.
So your fear would be:
I want to open up a cupcake shop, but I’m too afraid to quit my job.
Because then I might not have any money.
Why might you not have any money?
Because the cupcake shop might fail.
Then I’ll be a failure.
So you’re afraid that if you quit your job to open a cupcake shop that it’ll fail and you’ll be destitute and homeless on the street?
But how will you feel if you never even try to open up your very own cupcake shop?
I’ll feel like a failure.
So you’ll feel like a failure whether you open the cupcake shop or not?
When it’s put that way, there’s really no reason not to try.
I still have a lot of fear of the unknown. Will I be able to make enough money? Will I and my children end up eating out of dumpsters and sleeping under bridges if I take this leap and it fails? (To be fair, this would never ever happen, even if I was to fail.)
But the bigger monster, really, is what happens if I’m actually successful? What happens if it all goes swimmingly and I have to realize that I deserve all of that?
It’s scary either way, isn’t it? Might as well take that leap.