I did an interesting little exercise just now. I made a list of my fears. These aren’t the situational fears like my fear of deep water, but the life/future fears that have so much influence over how we make decisions and live our lives. Here’s my list:
1. I’ll never amount to anything./I’m going nowhere.
2. I’m not smart enough.
3. I’ll never be a real artist (writer, etc. — substitute “creator” if you like)./I’m not creative enough./I don’t have what it takes.
4. Something will happen to me before I can make my mark.
5. I will realize too late that I wanted to interview relatives or friends.
6. I’m going about things the wrong way.
7. Someone else will do it first.
8. I’m telling the wrong story/stories.
Hmmm, intriguing, no? First, there’s a clear pattern of worry that the project I should really be undertaking is interviewing older relatives, getting their stories before it’s too late. I have wanted to do this for years (well, there are varying degrees of wanting, many involving guilt), and I guess a somewhat-recent remark of Erik’s mom’s just pushed this over the edge from vague interest to urgency.* After reading over my fears list and seeing this straight from my subconscious, I went online and ordered a digital voice recorder. Next time I go home, I’ll try to start taking down my family’s stories, if they’re willing to share them (which I think and hope they will be). I have an idea that short comix about their stories would be very compelling, but beyond that I really don’t know what I’ll do with them. Still, the first and most important step is to get them recorded.
Then aside from this, there are my fears themselves, so different from those outcomes I most feared just months ago. In my private journal, sometime this summer, I wrote:
“I am afraid to mess up in front of other people. I am afraid to be proven wrong in others’ eyes. I am afraid to share my deepest thoughts, because people might disagree and I’m afraid of caving in under questioning.”
At the time, these fears were all-consuming, and I wrestled with them daily as I decided whether or not to return to grad school this fall.
What’s fascinating to me, and intensely, vividly gratifying on a daily basis, is that these fears are now totally absent from my life. In making the choice to break from grad school and take up creative work and my library job (which yes, I realize I have yet to describe to you all), I threw out the first two of these fears definitively. Having decided to stray from the academic course, in the eyes of those “other people” I feared, I had already messed up, so what they thought could no longer hurt me. Moreover, once I stopped caring what they thought, I no longer felt it was in their capacity to prove me wrong. I won’t say that I’m totally brazen now in terms of sharing my deepest thoughts, but now that I don’t care so much what people think or whether I’ll be proven wrong, it sure as heck is a lot easier to say what I think. I still have some natural reserve, as I’ve noticed at my job, which often prevents me from speaking my mind. But when I’m quiet, now, it’s not because I’m afraid of what others might think or say if I speak up.
I also had another list, somewhere in my scribbled handwritten notebooks, in which I detailed other fears: fear of being exposed as a fraud, fear of making the wrong decision, etc. Those, also, have dissipated with my choice to take the “riskier” non-academic path. Huzzah! It’s so liberating – I didn’t realize how deeply my fear affected me until I looked back on it this evening, now freed of that burden. It’s funny because what I’m doing now (which I repeat, I realize you still don’t actually know) is so much less certain than the path I was on before, but in a way my new life is more certain. After all, whatever may come in the future, at least I’ll know I tried and took a risk. And if it doesn’t work out, well, that will be that worst-case scenario I used to worry about, and I’ll recognize it and know I have survived it, and that’s something else that’s valuable.
I don’t run around these days jumping for joy the way I used to, but there’s definitely a freedom that there didn’t use to be. I’m so grateful. I’m tired, and busy, but I’m doing what I want, and it makes everything so much better. And yes I will get around to explaining what I’m doing sometime!
*Erik told her, last time he was home, that I was interested in writing graphic novels — and she got super excited and said, “I have stories to tell!” Her view was that the first generation’s stories need to be recorded before those who lived the stories have gone, and I think she’s quite right… only… I thought I might tell my own story first? I don’t think I want to wait on mine, either, but maybe there’s a way I can do both.
[This post was imported on 4/10/14 from my old blog at satsumabug.livejournal.com. It’s worth noting that in that list of fears, I’m no longer concerned about #2, 7, or 8, but the others are still present daily.]