Let’s Talk About Fear

This is a personal post. For that I make no apologies because this one ain’t going to be easy.

FEAR-IS-THE-MINDKILLER

When I first read Dune, I thought I was going to get myself into a story about blue-eyed alien folks, spices and giant worms. I had no idea that when I picked up that book I would learn one of the most important lessons in my entire life.

Let’s talk about fear for a moment, shall we? And let’s get a little personal.

I know a lot about fear, as many of us do. Growing up, I wasn’t especially brave, even though I wanted to be. I read comic books and science fiction books and all kinds of adventures about children who did amazing, wonderful things against unbelievable odds because they could be brave. I wanted to be brave. But I wasn’t. I grew up in a place where fear was the watchword, where people believed that everyone out there was going to be bad to you. Either they would treat me badly because of my religion, or because I was a girl, or just because. Only behind protected walls could I be safe, with my family as the only people to trust. That’s what I learned growing up, and I learned it so well that I carried it with me all the days of my life. I spent a lot of years afraid: afraid of people’s judgement, of the dangerous world outside, of losing things and of not being accepted. I was scared for a long time of a lot of things. And that fear was a paralytic. It still is.

It isn’t easy unlearning fear. Fear itself can take on so many forms – self-consciousness, doubt, guilt, rage – that if you have to find it, it hides very well behind lots of masks. You have to spend time stripping back those masks to really get at the heart of things. Growing up, I didn’t know any of that. I just knew that things were terrifying in the world and I wished it wasn’t so. I wished I could be powerful, like my heroines in the books I read. But mostly, I wanted to be able to trust people.

I remember reading The Chronicles of Narnia and marveling at Lucy Pevency as a character. (I thought she had a funny last name but never mind that, says the girl whose last name sounds like kissing socks). She always stood in my mind beside the characters I wanted to model myself after because she was not only clever, but sweet, and caring, and gentle. And she trusted others. She wasn’t foolish in her trusting, though she would sometimes make mistakes, but she understood what it was to give others another chance. She believed inherently that no matter who you were, you could always be better.

I tried to learn that lesson. I tried to hold it in my heart. And for years and years, I failed.

Let’s talk about fear. Let’s talk about what happens when fear gets reinforced.

Live a sheltered life and then come out in the world, and you learn quickly that things aren’t what you were told. First, the whole world isn’t full of horrible people who are different from you. You learn that folks are just folks. But you also learn that along with the good folks, there are bad folks too. And even when you’re careful, folks can still hurt you. If you grew up in a place where you don’t believe in trust, when someone hurts you that little voice rises up and says: You see! You were right all along! You were right! You can’t trust them! And that’s where bitterness comes from, folks, and anger, and lots of resentment. Enough to choke you straight into the ground.

Let’s talk about fear. And what it has to do with business.

If you’re afraid, you can’t create well. If you’re afraid of what will happen, of what the future will hold, of what people will think about your work, how you’ll be received – then you’re focusing in the wrong place. You’re focusing on a future that might never be and things that might never be said. You worry so much about what people will think about what you do that you’re not concerned with what you’re doing. You’re not living in the present. You’re not creating something good, but tainting it instead with your fear. And you mire everything you do in it. And if you think people don’t notice, they can and often do.

That’s not a condemnation. Far from it. It’s a sympathetic nod, an ‘I know’ from someone who does know. I know what it’s like to keep one eye to the future and think I’m being wise, and instead turn to look back at where fear has passed through me to see what is left behind. And after some consideration recently, I don’t entirely like what I’ve seen. Fear takes on lots of faces, folks – and sometimes it takes on the mask of your own face, saying ‘You’re just being smart, you’re just being careful’ when what you’re really being is afraid and self-protective. And that self-protection can drive you into nasty behavior.

Let’s talk about fear and how it can sometimes make you into the ass you never wanted to be.

I’m excited by the work that I’m doing. I’m excited about the projects I am working on. More than that, I’m excited by the path that my life is on and the people I’m spending my time working with now. Underneath all of that, for the last couple of years, has been a nagging fear that I couldn’t outrun, outwork, or outpace no matter how hard I tried. It whispered in my head, “You just have to keep moving, or else-” Or else what? What was I afraid of? What would happen? Would people forget my name if I stopped producing for five minutes? Or if I did one thing ‘wrong’, would people turn up their noses and laugh? What was I afraid of?

Failure. Ridicule. Mistakes. Suffering. Ruin. Being nothing. All of these things.

What’s at the heart of all these things? Fear. Fear is at the heart of them all. I was afraid of fear. I was driven by it.

And it has meant that I haven’t always been the best person I should be.

This isn’t an apology to individual people. I think I owe that to a few folks on a one on one basis. There are folks who haven’t deserved my doubt that have gotten it, whose motivations I’ve questioned without thinking about why I was questioning them because in my heart I can’t stop thinking: be afraid of that person, you don’t know what they want. Be a big scary dog and they won’t think to mess with you, won’t hurt you. Forget that it makes you sound like an ass sometimes. Forget that it’s a wall a thousand miles high between you and others, a wall almost impossible to climb. You’re afraid, you need that wall. 

I don’t need that wall. Not really, if ever. Not anymore.

This isn’t some kind of manifesto, a way to cure your problems or mine. This also isn’t some resignation to always be a smiling, happy, shiny ball of love and peace – I wasn’t made for that. I’m still the snarky, loud-mouthed, opinionated woman I always have been and probably always will be. This is something else, an identification and inspection of intent behind actions that have been tainted by fear for way too long. This is an identification of a problem, in the hopes that it helps to keep me honest going forward. I have a lot of great people in my life, and great work I want to do, and great stuff I want to share with people. There are a lot of folks who might read this blog, who might see me on Twitter or Facebook or at a con, and I want to share and talk to them and create with them some amazing, wonderful things. But I don’t want to do it from a place of fear. I don’t want to mistake caution for fear, or fear for supposed wisdom. I instead want to remember that fear is the mind-killer and let it pass through me so that I can be left behind and smile instead and say ‘whatever’ when my heart beats too fast out of anxiety for things that haven’t yet come to pass.

Let’s talk about fear, and how bravery isn’t its absence but the sum of what you do while it’s present. Let’s be ready to forgive myself for the days when I do fail and be prepared to apologize and course-correct when needed. More than anything, let’s see what I do from here.

4 Comments

  1. The Pevensie children in the Narnia books take their name from the town of Pevensey in Sussex, which—in what I’m pretty sure is not any kind of coincidence—plays a fairly major role in Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill.

    Great post. You know about ‘imposter syndrome’. of course?

    1. I totally do. It’s at the heart of a lot of the freaking out I did when I got into graduate school. And a lot of the success problems I’ve got. Then again, I feel like tons of people have the problem. It’s something to keep my eye on.

    2. Thank you by the way for pointing out about the origin of the Pevensie last name! I never knew that too!

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