Feeling Our Fear

Feeling Fear

It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” – J.K. Rowling

Recently, I’ve put quite a bit of thought into what it means to be afraid and to feel our fear. Fear is both an inhibitor and an equalizer, as we are all confronted with it at various times throughout our lives and it can be paralyzing. It can also offer us some magnificent opportunities to overcome its hold on us. This week, I was presented with one such opportunity and was slammed with the epiphany during a workout as I sort of dry-heaved on the track and convinced myself that I was experiencing a heart attack and how embarrassing my funeral would be when it was exposed to everyone that it happened after four wind sprints.

Anyway, I work in a therapeutic environment that makes it difficult to avoid encounters with my own buried baggage and emotional loose-ends. I found myself struggling with a client who had little empathy for others and my interactions with her left me feeling reactive, drained, and inadequate, questioning my competency and skill in my position. When I left the work week, I had to ask myself some tough questions about how I wanted to show up in the world and whether or not I was willing to be honest with myself about my own fears and insecurities. The answer was yes, and the fear that I most needed to address was failure.

Failure is my arch nemesis. To me, failure is absolutely terrifying because failure can be public, mocking, and tangible. Failing can induce ridicule, rejection, and dismissal. Over the years, my struggles with inadequacy and disbelief surrounding how lovable I was led me to be performative and distracting. Those beliefs also led me to underachieve in a lot of ways because if I didn’t take anything seriously, it didn’t matter if I failed, right? I tended to check boxes and skate by in both jobs and relationships, everything being “good-enough” yet not my best effort. I often found myself sizing up others who were “outstanding,” knowing that I could be them, but was instead making jokes in the back row or ditching practice to be cool in an effort to make myself feel better for not having the courage or self-esteem to commit to something whole-heartedly. I look back at many experiences and realize that “completed” did not equate to “excelled.”

I imagine a lot of us fear failure, or more accurately, not meeting our true potential. In Marianne Williamson’s words, “it is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Some of us fear commitment, intimacy, vulnerability, change. It doesn’t matter what the fear is– the idea is the same. We’re all going to feel anxiety and fear at some point and learning to admit that we’re afraid, and to be okay with that, doesn’t make us weak. Owning and accepting our fear allows us to digest it and face it with insight. We must be willing to lean into the discomfort of uncertainty and the pain of introspection and honesty with ourselves, or we cannot grow.

I get that it’s fucking hard and scary. And it can be tempting to retreat into cynicism and mediocrity because it feels less intimidating than facing the sometimes overwhelming enormity of work required to expand, but it’s the only way to become something greater than ourselves. We may not get it right the first time, or second time, or two hundred and seventeenth time, but it doesn’t matter. Keep going. We cannot recognize the infinite potential of our authentic selves without taking some risks.

So, today, as I pathetically lay strewn on the hot turf contemplating how best to stand up without vomiting, I realized that this is my life– today is my life. I can choose to float through it, skimming over the hard parts and forever knowing that I never discovered what made my heart swell and my soul flourish, or I can begin taking the brilliant risks that allow me to embrace my spectacular aliveness.

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