I’ve been pondering a lot on fear lately. Fear of the unknown. Fear of rejection. Fear of success – all the hard work and risk involved in getting it. Fear of asking for what I want and need. Some days I get afraid to do my business as a creativity, transition, and relationship coach. I get afraid to finish off my master’s and get licensed as a therapist. I get afraid to write my next song. I’m afraid to finish this article. So instead of going for it – the best way to bust through fear and anxiety – I’ll procrastinate, doing things around the house, getting other work done, sitting around watching Netflix. Of course, much of this is really common with creative work. Many of us seemed trapped in anxiety and self-doubt because deep down we’re worried we’re not good enough. But maybe that’s not it. Maybe I know I’m good enough, but I’m too scared to make myself vulnerable and open to shout it from the rooftops. I mean, I know I’m talented at many things, including helping people out and giving them hope. But somewhere along the line, someone told me I wasn’t and made me think it was wrong to say. So when I say “I’m good at this thing,” I cringe… I almost cry.
There’s a fair amount of this stuff grounded in gender norms. For all that’s been done for women, by women, we’re still taught that we’re not good enough. I don’t need to rehash what media says to women – I know you’ve heard it – but there’s so many subtle (and not so subtle) ways women are told that they must be different and better than they are, somehow. We’re taught to follow, to shut up, to look pretty, to help everyone but ourselves. Again, it’s better these days, but I remember being told I was too loud or boisterous while boys screamed nearby. It’s subtle, but it’s there and when things like that get repeated throughout your life, you start to absorb it.
I’ve met so many women that all but refuse to ask for what they want or need because they don’t want to inconvenience someone else. I was one of them and still am when I go into “old me” mode. It’s not an easy thing to shed. Why do so many women end up with difficult jobs helping people for little money? Because someone told us to feel guilty when we didn’t do for someone else before we did for ourselves. Because the attitude that women should serve is still embedded in societal norms.
It’s getting better, but we’re not there, yet.I unpacked this and some other “this is why I am the way I am” stuff with my coach recently. She validated it all, but then said, “Look, there’s no real link you can draw between what happened before and what is happening now. We can come up with all sorts of reasons why, but it still won’t give us the answer of how to move ahead.” I laughed. As a couple and family therapist, my whole world is systemic. The systemic therapist believes there’s no linear cause-and-effect to mental health – it’s all relative and it’s all connected – how I behave, how you behave, how our parents behaved, what we say, what we don’t say, where we work, where we go to school, how much money we have, how society treats us as women, men, minorities, whites, Muslims, Christians, Jews, English-speaking or not – all of it matters. So, while processing the past can be helpful, it only is when it leads to changing the present and future. I love this philosophy. Funny how, in my own life, I forgot it and went right back to cause and effect.
I have to admit, trying to succeed often makes me feel guilty. Living here in Baltimore, you can easily see the sharp divide between rich and poor. In my therapy internship, I treated a lot of people on medical assistance who had experienced terrible things. I became very grateful for my life, scared for my clients, scared for myself and the people I love, and finally guilty that I have while they do not. I don’t even have that much, but I’ve got way more than they do. Of course, what’s always amazing about these people is their resilience. Despite all of the hardship and turmoil they smile, laugh, joke, and most importantly, they have hope.
I’ve been doing some research on conquering this type of fear and guilt. So far, I’ve heard two really helpful notes: “Just because you have, doesn’t mean there’s suddenly someone else who does not,” and, “When you have more, you can give more.”
I’ve been repeating these quotes to myself every day. It’s strange being a person who wants to help people for a living. I find myself not wanting to ask for money – it seems wrong. But I have to remember that I won’t be very helpful if I’m constantly stressed for time and resources. And trust me, if I don’t start getting paid to help out soon, I’ll be drowning in the very debt I created in order to be able to help people effectively.
I share all this because I want to live my life out loud and I consistently encourage my coaching clients (and friends and family and everybody) to do so. Part of doing that is showing others that I have to do the very work I prescribe them. It means doing the scary stuff, asking for what you need, showing your worth by saying you’re worthy, and taking the time to get the things that matter most to you done. Getting through fear and anxiety is not easy. My husband says “The thing you’re most afraid of doing is probably the thing you should be doing the most.” He’s right- he’s busted down some pretty scary doors recently for his own career and sense of creative fulfillment. I try to remember: fear is passing, but regret can be forever.