Facing fears head-on

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I didn’t think I was going to tell my family about my recent realizations regarding graduate school, but I’m just so excited about my “awakening” I could barely contain it. After several conversations with my most trusted confidantes, it seems like the best path for me right now might be to keep working at this degree, but with the understanding that I don’t necessarily want to apply for a tenure-track job. That admission alone has been immensely freeing. It’s the only future I’ve ever allowed myself to have, and I basically just opened my clenched fist and let the balloon drift away on the wind.

In order to allow multiple futures to open up that allow me to pursue value-based pathways, my authentic self, I have to start doing other work alongside my graduate work. The 5-9 job, so to speak, the side hustle, although I don’t like the word “hustle.” I have to open myself up to small, imperfect steps; uncertainty; and possibly more monetary investment in myself–knowing that each day that I do some work is one part of my journey. And it’s also a day that I have allowed myself to live for myself. I don’t know where this journey is headed, but I’m enjoying each day.

I’m currently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I’m only 60 pages in, but already I’m so into it. I can barely put it down. When she discusses “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear” (9), she is speaking my language. I am just learning how to let go of my fear, or at least confront it, and embrace my curiosity again. Here at my mom’s house, home for Thanksgiving and going through boxes of my childhood possessions, I read through the dozens of notebooks I kept as a kid. They are full of poems and stories and journal entries and sketches; these are the productions of a curious and unafraid mind. I am working on getting that creativity back because some time between then and now, I let it go and I became deeply afraid.

Here are some of the things I’ve been afraid of:

  • that I have no talent
  • that I will be rejected, criticized, ridiculed, or misunderstood
  • that there’s no market for my creativity
  • that someone else is doing it better
  • that I won’t be taken seriously
  • that my work isn’t important enough to change anyone’s life
  • that my dreams are embarrassing
  • that I have no discipline
  • that I lack the right training
  • that I will be exposed as a “fraud”
  • what my peers will think of me

(Thanks to Big Magic for inspiring this list!)

You see, I’m pretty sure one of my core values forgotten from my childhood is creativity. All kinds of creativity, with an emphasis on writing and meaningful conversation and problem solving. I used to make my poor sister play a game with me that I called “Perfect Girls,” and while the effects of perfectionism are super real to me now and part of my struggle, this game was more about self-optimization: becoming our best selves. I forgot all of this as I began to define myself by my achievements.

Graduate school especially, or the socialization process of graduate school, edited my conception of what I can be or believe. It has been, sadly, a highly successful process with me, so I am only just now understanding that I can re-balance my life. What if I worked on a life coach certification in the evening? What if I kept creating content on this blog? Those activities doesn’t make me a bad grad student. I’m setting myself up for multiple futures. I’m learning how to face my fears head-on.

One of my take-aways of The Power of Now was the ability to separate myself from my ego’s automatic thought train. That ability allowed me to develop self-compassion. And self-compassion is allowing me to face my fears–all of which have to do with other people. Let me lay out how I am working on those fears listed above.

  • that I have no talent –> or, it’s not necessarily about measuring talent but simply creating from my values
  • that I will be rejected, criticized, ridiculed, or misunderstood –> or, who cares what anyone else thinks? Their reactions are reflections of their states of mind more than anything. And if I’m creating for me, because it gives me vitality and joy, then who cares?
  • that there’s no market for my creativity –> or, right now, I’m not worried about market. I have a deep belief that if I keep creating and putting myself out there, some day, the person who needs to hear me will hear me.
  • that someone else is doing it better –> or, well, they definitely are, but who cares? I have just started. I am an amateur. It’s so freeing to say that.
  • that I won’t be taken seriously –> or, by whom? Is this a real thing? I take myself seriously. But I can also laugh at myself.
  • that my work isn’t important enough to change anyone’s life –> or, right now, this is not something I can worry about. I think some day it will be. I can’t be the only person with the experiences I have had. We all experience pain and suffering. And we can all heal.
  • that my dreams are embarrassing –> or, nope, nope, nope, nope. Not embarrassed. Working on my dreams on a daily basis. How is that embarrassing?
  • that I have no discipline –> or, I am working on it. If I can do a little work every day, if I can do what I am capable of doing every day, then I have discipline.
  • that I lack the right training –> or, right now, I’m just writing. If I encounter something for which I need to train, I can train. I can speak with authority because I’m speaking from experience. Marie Forleo says everything is “figureoutable.”
  • that I will be exposed as a “fraud” –> or, go away, impostor syndrome. You’re just my ego talking and frankly, that narrative is getting a little boring.
  • what my peers will think of me –> or, again, not worried about it. Let them think what they think! If I can help someone, then I will feel my work is worth it.

So that’s the sort of confused, jumbled place where I am right now. I’m leaning into the discomfort, the lack of a concrete plan, and the not-knowing. It actually feels really good right now. We’ll see how my thinking evolves when I get into Brené Brown and vulnerability. Now if only I can tackle these fears when it comes to getting through comprehensive exams and a dissertation!

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