At the close of nearly all of my education classes, we’re required to write an updated “teaching philosophy” incorporating theories, ideas, and strategies from the class we just finished. Reflection, they tell us, is a scientifically sound strategy for making material meaningful and thus boosting retention.
In one of my favorite undergrad courses, we read a paper that peripherally discussed the importance of telling our stories (the paper was actually about something else entirely – although I don’t remember what). The idea was that we make meaning from talking and reflecting, and that meaning is central to true understanding and change.
Lately I’ve been on the verge of making a lot of meaning in my life, but I can’t find the energy or time to write, talk, or reflect enough to make sense of it all. It’s like my brain is both a bowl of squishy, tangled noodles and the constantly expanding universe. I’m nearly bursting with granules of profound change and understanding, but I’m having trouble nurturing them to fruition. It takes so much mental energy, and the outcome is uncertain. Part of the problem is a deficit of time, the other (and bigger part) is a surplus of fear.
The other day my therapist mentioned, in passing, the extraordinary amount of fear in my life. Fear. This is part of what I love about therapy – the keen outside observations of myself that wouldn’t necessarily come to the forefront of my brain. I haven’t, in recent times, thought of myself as someone who is driven by fear. But, upon reflection, I think she’s right. I’ve become so accustomed to its prodding and manipulations that it needn’t rear its’ head far before I change my course. Fear is the lead dancer in my life and I’ve learned to respond to extremely subtle cues. Worse, I respond before I recognize why and I think I often short-change myself in opportunities because fear has me assuming in my own failure before I even take a chance. So, I don’t take chances.
Unfortunately, recognizing a falsehood doesn’t necessarily imply a counteracting truth. Just because I can now (sort of) see the role fear plays in deterring me from seizing opportunity, doesn’t mean I can all the sudden see where the fear moves or how to combat it. It’s unclear which people, situations, or opportunities I avoid because it’s wise to do so, and which ones I avoid because I’m simply afraid I’ll fail. Worse yet, I often don’t even know what, exactly, I’m avoiding.
For example, I have never entered an alley cat (casual-ish bicycle race). Although I’ve run in biking circles for years, and most of my friends are alley cat veterans, I have never entered. Why? I used to say, “I don’t race.” Why? I think I was afraid, although it’s impossible for me to pinpoint exactly why. In part, I was afraid of being slow, of making a mistake, of coming in last, of making a fool of myself. Perhaps I was afraid of seeing just how I stacked up against everyone else. Mostly, though, I think it was a generalized fear of a generic form of “failure.” If I didn’t race, I didn’t have to contend with that.
Here’s the thing, though, I kind of wanted to race although it was nearly impossible for me to admit that to myself, never mind anyone else. I have a competitive streak, and I love bikes, and I have many friends at the events. It would be a blast.
It has taken me years to realize all this, to put all the pieces together, and wrangle the fear long enough to figure out how to overcome it. It took me ages to see I was shying away because of an unreasonable fear and not something more substantial or legitimate.
Amplify this several times over and spread it over my whole life and this is an unruly mess. What was FDR’s famous quote? “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”? That has been resonating through my body and mind lately as I try to seek and destroy the fear refuges in my life. I’ve registered for an alley cat in September. But where else does this fear live and how else does it dictate my decisions? That is less clear, although I’m starting to parse it out.
– I know it plays a heavy-handed role in my decisions about my future in school and work. I can see it retroactively, all the manageable challenges I avoided for no other reason than intimidation and fear of failure. This is such a hard issue for me, I think I’ll need (many) more posts to work through it.
– In the past fear has made it impossible for me to think objectively about the issue of children. I have worked through some of those issues and that is its’ own can of worms.
– Answering the phone. I have terrible and overwhelming anxiety when it comes to talking on the phone. It terrifies me and often I keep my ringer turned off because of it. Many reasons exist for this, but suffice it to say I typically do not answer it. Thank goodness for email, FB, and texting because I’d be a much, much more isolated person without alternative forms of communication.
Those are the ones I understand with the most clarity. Others that I’m still sorting are fears surrounding: crowded places, self-disclosure, abrupt or excessive noise, food, asking for help, talking to people I don’t know, authority, and transitions. Obviously, not all these are inherently problematic. Finding the line between personality and pathology is an inordinately important task for me.
Right now, though, fear also is a heavyweight in my self-reflections. I’m often so afraid of where they’ll lead, I try to avoid it. But I need to make meaning out of my story. I need to internalize all the excellent ideas around me, incorporate them, and allow them to change me. Fear is an outstanding self-replicator if allowed to run rampant. And that cycle needs to stop.
So I may spend some time here, in the near future, thinking through this stuff. I can’t continue to allow fear to prevent me from racing alley cats, learning to fail, and dreaming about my future in real and honest ways (no guarantees about answering my phone, though).