One day, I woke up, and asked myself, “What am I REALLY afraid of? What is REALLY preventing me from living my life to the fullest?”
(Ok, so I am actually afraid of fish, but that’s a completely different issue than what I want to discuss here).
I’m afraid of criticism. I’m afraid someone is going to criticize my outfit choice, my music choice, my paper topic choice. As a writer, I especially fear criticism. My ideas and what I write about are so tied to my identity that when I find out someone doesn’t agree with me, I personally feel offended, because criticism means there might be a better way to do something, and that perhaps I am not as smart as I once thought I was.
I’m afraid of rejection: As a society, we are trained that rejection means there is something wrong with you, and if there is something wrong with you, that means you are inferior to other people, and therefore your opportunities are limited. That really hot guy rejects me, which therefore must mean I am not attractive enough for his standards, which means I will never be able to obtain anyone close to his hot-ness scale, which severely limits my options, because now all I am good for is someone who doesn’t shower, doesn’t brush their teeth, and doesn’t have a job.
I’m afraid of failure: Failure puts all of these things together. Failure means I didn’t do something the right way. It means maybe I am not smart enough, maybe I am not attractive enough. It means someone else is better at something than I am. Mostly, failure means having to explain these factors to everyone else: I wasn’t smart enough to get into that college, I wasn’t pretty enough to make that dance team, I wasn’t qualified enough for that job.
Fear really stems from an uncomfortable sense of being out of control. People fear climbing mountains, because they are afraid they might fall, hit a tree, and die. People don’t like to try new foods, because they are afraid they may not appreciate the taste. People don’t like sharing stories about themselves, because they are afraid people may not find the story as funny as they do, and that might be ego-depleting. Even my irrational fear of fish comes from this reason; I’m afraid to go in the water for fear a fish will brush up against my legs (something completely out of my control).
What inevitably happens is, our fear prevents us from climbing that mountain, and seeing that majestic view. Our fear prevents us from trying that new dish, and potentially it being the best thing we ever ate. Our fear prevents us from writing that story, that then becomes a national best seller. Inevitably, we allow our fears to limit our experiences of the world.
I used to be this girl who was always afraid to do things. I was afraid to disrupt my schedule and kept everything very regimented, for fear I would fall into boredom. I was afraid to break up with that long-term boyfriend, for fear of never finding anyone else. I was afraid to take a risk at my job, for fear of chaos and anarchy in my classroom. And one day, I woke up and asked myself: what would actually happen if I was criticized? my writing was rejected? my lesson plan failed?
It turns out that actually nothing would happen. Rejection, criticism, failure–those are all just words. These tragedies might incur some kind of emotions in me, which could then produce some more fear, but in all reality, I’m still existing. Right, like having a brain tumor and having to get brain surgery, like Ryan, is physically something that could limit my behaviors, because then I might have stitches that prevent me from playing softball. Developing an auto-immune disease where I throw up everything I eat is physically something that could limit my behaviors, because then the fear of new foods is actually a fear of me laying around the house, sick for days on end, and not being able to reach my goals. Having my right eye permanently swollen shut from a bad bee sting is physically something that could limit my behaviors, because then most likely, I can’t drive anywhere. But, criticism–rejection–failure, those are all illusionary barricades we set up for ourselves that actually do not physically exist.
Here’s how I conquered those fears: I stood up to them. If I feared rejection from not being pretty enough, then I made sure to not wear make up around a guy, and if he DID reject me, I couldn’t take it personally; I don’t want to be with someone like that anyways (because, if we were to get married, he would certainly eventually see me without makeup). If I feared criticism from something I wrote, I made sure to write something that was controversial, and if it was criticized (which it was), I had to remain confident in my purpose. And, if I feared failure, I made sure to pick something I would definitely fail at, and I couldn’t take it personally when I did–for this, I forced myself to go into the most foreign venue I knew: the auto parts store. Even though I don’t particularly enjoy it, and I have plenty of people who can do it for me, I always make myself go. I can’t let the imaginary-ness of fear regulate my experiences of the world.
“Once you become fearless, your life becomes limitless.”