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A few weeks ago my friend Matt and I were talking about our various projects and how this or that fear was making us squeamish about taking our much needed next steps. Maybe you remember Matt from the Reflections post? Back then he was toying with the idea of starting a business. Actually, it was more like he was being toyed with—by his fear and doubt.
Today Matt has the luxury of having a new set of fear that’s based on how to run the business he courageously started. No longer worrying about whether he could do it at all, now my friend finds himself skittish about issues of time management and choosing which among his many projects to develop. These are excellent problems to have, I reminded him. You’d never have faced this batch of fear if you didn’t decide to go for it in the first place, way back when.
It’s amazing what we discover by looking back at what used to scare us, if only to be shown that we made it through; we lived to fight (and squirm) another day. Whether you went boldly with your head held high, or if you got dragged screaming and wailing through your challenges—you made it, honey! And that is the victory that we must not overlook.
I look at fear as a scavenger, spiraling silently overhead waiting to swoop in and pick over the steaming remnants of my freshly deferred dreams. No need to seek it out in the skies, or defend against this buzzard because—trust me on this—it will be there, ready and ravenous the moment you give up on your goal. (And by the way, how’s your New Year Revolution going?) It’s in no rush and you better believe the old buzzard is patient and can outlast any of your indecisive, cowardly fence-sitting. It can smell defeat in us as soon as we let up on the thing we want, and it knows when we’re about to succumb. Oh, the things our fear knows about us!
As Matt and I talked we laughed at how easy it was to short-circuit our respective gripe sessions going straight to what we were up against: our fear. Only then were we able to relax and explore creative ways to move forward. Personally, I think everyone needs a confidant to share fears with. And we need reminders that, while scavengers will always be there preying on what looks like our weakness, we don’t have to give ourselves to it entirely.
Fear and real-life scavengers are natural players in the life cycle, and they can take on the form of negative family, friends, spouses, old ideas, and anything that makes us doubt our own dream. I’ve found that acknowledging my fear can keep me sharp if I let it. I’ve also experienced the grief of seeing it devour my hopes more times than I’ll tell you about. Not to make it out to be such a bad thing, fear can also offer us a good laugh when we let it.
I came across an old list of fears I created as part of my Soul Coaching exercises. Remember that experiment? Wow, talk about cleaning house. Anyway, by the time I’d finished my list, I was surprised at how much room I’d made for moving on—toward greater fear, even bigger buzzards, and problems I’m thrilled to be facing nowadays. Just curious, but can you see yourself in any of these?
1. I’m afraid of failure. Who wants to bear/bare their souls or bright ideas or even a new outfit or Significant Other and be subject to anything less than a warm reception and marching band? Taking the risk is risky. I’ve got a million ideas, and I’ve had plenty of them flop in the past. I couldn’t possibly present another one to public scrutiny. There’s a chance it could go belly up like my other Stuff. Leave all the creativity to people who really know what they’re doing, right?
2. I’m afraid of success. So let’s say I do venture forward with my Big Ideas, and somebody actually thinks it’s neat. And then, what if lots of people glom onto it and look to me to churn out even more, better, neater ideas and I come up short? I can’t possibly let everyone down like that. So maybe it’s better to stay where I am and not venture out into the deep waters of success. Besides, there’s no guarantee my cockamamie ideas will fly, anyway. So, yeah, I’ll just stay in bed. Pass the chips, please.
3. I’m afraid of mediocrity. For shits and giggles, how about we say my ideas, my pet projects, my Art finds its way into the hands of a few dozen people in the world beyond the handful of sympathetic friends and family members who put up with my artistic outbursts? They’re just being nice and can’t bear to tell me to sit down and shut up; I just know it, bless their hearts. After all these years, it stands to reason I’ve never gotten anywhere: I’m merely mediocre. Please save your Self Help books for me; I may need them down the road one winter.
4. I’m afraid of exposure. Great Scott! What if my creative musings and outbursts actually find a wider audience and people I may never meet face to face actually want to buy what I’m selling? That means they’ll want access to me. And if they get it, what if they see that I’m really a sham and not nearly as talented, beautiful and masterful—or kooky—as they were led to believe? Omigod, then I’m really sunk. I couldn’t bear being exposed for all to see like that. Help!
5. I’m afraid of being alone. Then again, what if no one ever truly sees me? I could wind up like one of those test babies that never got any hugs or love growing up and wound up being socially unacceptable and ostracized for the rest of their lives. There have been real studies done on this type of thing. If I play it safe, and stay inside the lines—even though it’s kind of too late for that—than maybe I’d never get noticed. By anyone. Even now, maybe the people who get me, what if they all move away and forget me? What if my loser friends make it B-I-G and I got nobody to burn my old manuscripts with for heat? Now I’m really getting frightened.
6. I’m afraid of rambling. What if nobody ever listens to me again because I simply can’t keep quiet? This Fear is really the only reason I have been able to hold myself back from giving you the extended version of this list. Consider yourself lucky.
See? Everywhere I turn, there’s Fear. Just like Air, it’s inescapable. Only now, I’m starting to see it. Unlike Charlie Brown’s funky friend, Pigpen, who was forever plagued with a cloud of Stuff, I’m becoming aware of my persistent Crap (See items 1–6), and it has arrived with quite a thunderous revelation: Fear is boring.
Like I said, that fear was so 2008. I’m chewing on new fear now, one humble bite at a time.
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