Admit it, you’ve been there. We all know that feeling – stuck, staring into the inevitability of disaster. Fear. It sucks. It sucks the energy from our bodies. It sucks compassion from our hearts. It sucks reason from our brains. It sucks our ambition, our drive, our confidence. Fear sucks.
My husband and I actually made it to a theater (without kids!) last month for our anniversary to see The Green Lantern. I think that the thing I liked most about the film (and, yes, I liked the whole movie) was the fact that the bad guy was a giant, tentacled fear-monster named Paralax. Because that’s how fear makes us feel. Paralyzed.
We’re going about our day, just doing our thing when it hits. Maybe it was a word, a missed deadline, an argument, a phone call, the realization that life is about to take an unknown turn, but there it is – that feeling that we are completely incapable of dealing with whatever lies ahead. That we can’t possibly take that next step. That we are doomed to failure.
One of the things that I failed to realize when I first began writing as an adult was that this journey would force me to confront just about every one of my deepest fears – and on a daily basis. Rejection? Check. Judgment? Check. Criticism? Check. Talking to strangers? Meeting deadlines? Dealing with new protocols? Learning new skills? Financial uncertainty? Self-promotion? Being assertive, and even risking being a “bother?” Check. Check. Check. Checkcheckcheckcheck. Yeah, there are days when I would gladly take the charging bull over hitting “send” on a follow-up e-mail. After all, I can jump a fence pretty fast!
But here’s the funny thing about fear. Fear is a big bully. And like most bullies, fear is a coward. Face it down enough times and it gets smaller. When we look fear in the eye and make the phone call, hit “send,” apply for the job, or send our kids to the park on their own in spite of the amphibians in our stomachs or giant knots at the back of our necks, fear loses its power. It crawls back into its hole.
There are two questions I ask myself when I realize that I’m letting fear dictate my actions (or inaction), words, or emotions. What have I got to lose by doing this? and What I am (or others) losing by letting myself fear this?
If I let fear stop me from sending a query to a new magazine, I am potentially losing a new market and a valuable contact. However, I have absolutely nothing to lose by sending that query. If they can’t use my idea, don’t care for my writing style, or simply don’t like the fact that they can’t figure out my last name, I haven’t lost anything. There aren’t any negative points deducted for a wrong answer. On the other hand, if I don’t send the query, I certainly won’t land the assignment.
It’s harder facing down fear where the people I love are concerned. The answer to What have I got to lose? is more complex, and a lot more fraught. Yet, relationships are a bad place to be ruled by fear. This is where the What am I (or others) losing? question comes in.
Letting my kids push their capabilities and explore their independence is terrifying. What if they fall out of the tree? What if they get run over, lost, or kidnapped? What if they drown? The list is endless. But, preventing them from becoming competent, adventurous, independent individuals is not an option. And letting them see a mother whose life is ruled by fear is not an option. So, off they go. And yeah, even when I let them push the boundaries, they still accuse me of being overprotective.
Talking to my husband about something that upsets me? Ugh. I’d rather eat okra. It seems like there’s so much to lose by confrontation. But, if I fester in resentment, I lose, he loses, and our marriage loses.
Fear is a bully, and like a lot of bullies, it has a sneaky side. It likes to disguise itself as other things: anger, caution, sanity, detachment, busy-ness. But, even the sneakiest adversaries have ‘tells.’ Fear does, as well. For me, when fear tries to call itself anger, I can feel it in my body – in my stomach, shoulders, neck, and behind my eyes – everything gets tight and hot. The same tells happen when fear is pretending to be reasonable caution. If a “no” to a question by my kids comes with any of those symptoms, I need to take another look at the reasons for my ‘no’. Am I looking out for them, or for myself? In my world, procrastination almost always equals fear. There’s no other good reason for it. I’m not that busy. If I have time to update my Facebook status, I have time to pay a bill or send an e-mail.
The one thing that could defeat Paralax? Willpower.
So tell me? How do you defeat your fear-monsters?