A few months ago I wrote about the “one little word” challenge as an alternate to the new year resolution. I chose “risk” as I knew this would be an important year. I wanted permission to throw (some level of) caution to the wind. It was time to shake up my life a little bit.
A few weeks ago I had my semesterly academic advising meeting. I, as usual, stumbled through the queries about “what do you want to do?” Then, I admitted that the reason I chose the “business track” instead of the “science track” wasn’t because I was particularly interested in business (although I did enjoy those classes), but I was intimidated by the advanced science classes with all that chemistry. I didn’t think I was smart enough. I further admitted that I was disappointed with my decision, now that I realized I was good at science.
When I stood up to leave he said to me, “Meg, can I give you a little piece of advice?” Seeing as how I can use all the help I can get, I sat back down. “Meg, don’t let fear dictate your life any more. Know there are a lot of people here who work with a lot of students. They see your abilities and know you have everything it takes to be successful.”
Last Friday I saw M. I’d been feeling ambivalent about therapy, wondering if digging up old dirt was really as helpful as I wanted it to be. I didn’t understand the process, or the dark place I was in. As I talked to M I unleashed all the worries. “What if, when this is all over, I’m just a miserable person? What if I don’t get control of my life back? What if the crying never stops? What if this is pointless? What if I’m remembering it all wrong? What if it never actually happened?” And on it went. M said simply, “Meg, you need to weed out the ‘what ifs.'” Normally M is all about taking the time and space to experience feelings but clearly her patience was limited for the endless supply of depressing scenarios I had concocted. “You’re still you, you’re still the positive and upbeat person you remember, you’re just mourning. And that’s okay.” She went on to say the “what ifs” where manifestations of self-doubt, and that had to go.
Refusing to let fear dictate my life is scary. As is letting go of self-doubt. Detrimental or not, those have felt like safety nets. Trusting fear and self-doubt has kept me doing only things at which I succeed, thereby reducing the chance I’ll make damaging mistakes. For most of my life I felt like I was on the precipice of serious, game-altering mistakes. I grew up surrounded by people who became deeply entangled up in drugs, alcohol, abuse. Some lost their actual lives and others lost their chance at a fulfilling life. I knew the chances I’d stumble down that same road were too high and mistakes were simply too costly. If I fell, who would be there to pull me back up? I couldn’t afford to make mistakes and so I didn’t.
But a life lived defensively only got me so far. I’m tired of surviving, it’s time for something better. But that requires stepping over the self-doubt and the fear, pushing boundaries, chancing failure.
But, serendipitously, my 2011 is about risk. So I’m learning to trust that I can meet difficult challenges and, even if I fail, I can get back up and try again. I’m learning it’s okay to listen to myself, to believe in what I want, to love myself as is. These things don’t seem to risky on paper but in my minute-to-minute experience they are risky, very much so.
Regardless, I’ve been practicing new ways of interacting with myself, with the world. I didn’t study for a quiz. I’ve asked for help. I’ve messed up and refused to beat myself up. I’ve been trying to let go of things beyond my control. I’ve let myself enjoy my own fiddle music. I allowed myself to quit a project when it became too much. I try to accept – and meet – my needs. I’ve tried to limit my ‘should’s in order to simply accept what is. I’ve been listening for ‘what if’s and, instead, practicing what it might feel like to trust myself. And I’ve asked myself what I wanted to do with my life and I’ve been willing to accept the answers.
Risk, the ride is rough but at least it’s going somewhere.