Fear is a funny thing. We all experience it. Fear can be positive. It can keep us out of danger. It can stop us from making a super dumb decision, like getting in a car with a driver who’s been drinking too much. Fear can drive us to change for the better. At the same time, fear can cripple and, in extreme cases, can be deadly (I.e. suicide). Fear kills more dreams than failure ever has.
Fear is something we have to understand and respect. It’s a feeling and feelings do lie. Are feelings useful? Of course. But they can be affected by so many outside influences we are foolish to solely rely on them for guidance. Feelings can be affected by weather, diet, lack of exercise, a flat tire, a pile of unopened mail, stress, and on and on and on. Same thing with fear.
Fear of Heredity—Am I My Father’s Daughter?
My father was genius smart. He probably had an IQ off the charts. Yet, when he passed away at the young age of 50, he was working for minimum wage repairing bicycles. Though a fun, kind and generous man, he had no friends and lived a very lonely life. The only thing he left me of value was an antique bed that wasn’t even his. It was my great-grandmother’s.
Shortly after the funeral, we had to clean out his home. It looked like a bad episode of Hoarders. When I opened the front door, I broke down crying. Not just because of my father’s sudden death. The daunting task of sorting through endless piles to see if anything could be saved was enough to make me short-circuit. Almost everything he owned was set out on a curb for the trash.
That was the sum of his life.
Though he was a prolific and talented writer, I never managed to find any of his writing in all the days sorting through mounds of clothes, gadgets, books, papers, and trash. The only work I have of his are the ones I memorized and a handful of notebooks with unfinished stories or poems.
In the case of my father’s passing, fear became a double-edged sword. Fear I’d end up like him was stronger than fear of failure or being mocked by others to pursue being a writer. It saddened me that someone of so much talent left nothing. He never focused, never finished, never believed in the dream enough to take it seriously. Bluntly, he did more whining than working.
This fear drove me to examine where he went wrong and make corrections in my character. I was a lot like him both in good ways and in bad.
The good? He was intelligent, generous, kind, loved to read and he was the most fun person anyone could know. Neighborhood kids who friend me on Facebook tell stories of my father dropping everything to fix their bikes because their families were to poor to replace the shot gears or the trashed tires. Thirty years later these kids (now adults) still remember my father fondly.
My dad’s passion for reading and writing was passed to me at a VERY young age. While other kids were reading Judy Blume, I was reading Tolkien. I was published the first time at age eight in a popular children’s magazine.
My father was also very humble and fun and rarely serious. It was NOT uncommon for me to come home from college only to be attacked from the bushes with a long-range high-powered water gun. Here’s this 49 year-old man who was goofy enough to ambush his daughter with a toy.
My father wanted to please his family more than he wanted to be a writer. He wilted in the face of any criticism. In wanting to please everyone, he pleased no one, including himself and the consequences were steep. He feared failure so much he never tried, thus sealing he would fail anyway.
I was doing the same thing. I was in a job I hated because “it paid great money” and had lots of perks and made my family Oh so proud. Let’s just ignore that I had to pull over to puke on the side of the road every day because of the stress, because I hated my job with every fiber of my being. It was a fabulous job…for someone else.
I was paralyzed by the fear of failure to the point I was willing to work a job the world believed was “acceptable.” I crumbled at any hint of criticism. I lived my life by committee and was a wreck because of it.
The fear of ending up like my dad served its purpose for a time. It helped me stand up to family when I decided to leave the corporate world to become an author. I studied my father’s missteps then did the opposite. Where he retreated, I plunged ahead. My father was all about escape—music, books, books, books, TV. Ignore the real world and get lost in a fantasy. He neglected his writing, his home, his dog, his life to be…elsewhere. Like the grasshopper and all play no work.
This drove me to become self-directed, self-motivated, disciplined…and neurotic.
While it’s good to examine what we fear, we risk going to the other extreme. Fear, in many ways, is like a family dog. Trained properly it can defend us and keep us from harm. Yet, if we don’t keep it leashed and make it “heel,” it will chew on our souls and pee on our dreams.
Fear of Ourselves
When I examined my father’s strengths and weaknesses I witnessed my own. Yes, I was blessed with a sharp mind and talent. But, I let others have too much sway in my life. Why? The only one who’d face the consequences was ME. It’s hard to share this, but I was lazy. I believed more in luck and opportunity than hard work. My locus of focus was external. I blamed people and circumstances for where I was or wasn’t.
If I had a computer then I could write.
If I didn’t have to work a day job then I could finish the novel.
If others would take me seriously, then I’d be more “inspired.”
I relied too much on inspiration and underestimated the power of perspiration. I wanted the “Seal of Approval” from the outside world before I could do anything.
Lately, I have been on the opposite side of the spectrum. I’ve realized that fear has chewed through its leash and gutted my
couch self-esteem. I can accomplish a hundred things in a day, yet have come to see I’m only noticing the ten I missed. Self-examination has shifted to self-deprecation.
And this will happen. It’s natural. But why I’m blogging about this is I want you (and even me) to be alert. Watch for the read flags that good fear has turned on us.
My family had the Autumn from Hell in 2013. Two family members with MAJOR surgeries. My mom had a hernia so bad they almost thought they couldn’t repair it. My sister-in-law nearly went blind and had to undergo one of the most horrific and painful surgeries anyone could endure to repair her detached retinas. My grandmother passed away. I’d just about come up for air and then something else would knock me to my knees.
At the beginning of the year, we thought we’d be able to recuperate. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. The big trucks where my husband works all went down at the same time. No trucks? The company goes under and the company has only one mechanic.
My husband is trained in diesel engines. He’s worked 60-70 hours a week for the past month with one day off, meaning I’ve had one day off. Since Hubby’s gone most of the time, I do all the cooking, cleaning, shopping on top of running a business and writing…with virtually NO break from The Spawn.
To add a new layer of difficulty the washer died. Hubby can repair it, but he doesn’t have time. This has left me lugging loads and loads of laundry to a nearby laundromat. Also, a few days ago, my other grandmother was rushed to the hospital with a life-threatening and unknown infection. The stress has been crushing (part of why I added in vigorous exercise).
I’ve been working my tail off. Any time I sit down for five minutes, I hear the voices. You’re just not trying hard enough. That ten minutes you sat down? You could have been cleaning, working, writing, coming up with a cure for cancer.
I recognize that one of my early character flaws was laziness. But in the past couple days, I’ve come to recognize that I’m teetering on the other extreme. It’s great to be a hard worker, to be disciplined. But rest and play are vital to maintain balance, mental health and joy.
Fear Will Drag Us To Extremes If We Permit It
Fear is a riptide. Swim with it or allow it to drag us under. I can be so afraid of being lazy I become a workaholic. So afraid of being irresponsible I become over-responsible and even controlling. Fear can drive kids of obese parents to eating disorders, children of abusive parents to being far too permissive, offspring of broke parents to be obsessed with accumulation of money and on and on.
The trick is to face what we fear and see it for what it IS. Almost all of us fear failure, but failure is the tuition we pay for success. We can fear criticism, but criticism is a fact of life. Fear of criticism can lead to perfectionism or passivity. Conversely, criticism can help us toughen up or even become stronger, better or more resolved.
What’s the answer? First, be self-aware. Many of us bee-bop through life going through the motions without inspecting the why behind our choices. This is dangerous. Fear is both good and bad. What changes the nature of fear is how we are using it. Are we using fear to be proactive or are we being reactive? When we’re proactive, we’re acknowledging fear and taking positive steps. We hold the leash. When we are reactive? Fear has a leash on us.
Fear is a feeling, which means it can lie. F.E.A.R. can be False Evidence Appearing Real. Evidence requires examination. Do we hold onto it or dismiss it? I feared ending up like my dad. That I would value pleasing others so much I’d live an empty life.
We cannot live the dreams of others and be fulfilled. This was positive fear. The evidence of my father’s choices showed me the truth of what happens to someone too afraid to fail. That evidence was real and worth holding onto. I also had to examine what he did right and grab hold.
Unexamined fear can become The Hamster Wheel of Doom. The HWOD tells me I suck because I’m not a fitness model with an immaculate Martha-Stewart-decorated-home, twenty best-selling books, a mansion and I’ve failed to travel to Africa twice a year to feed the starving children.
That’s false fear.
If I asked any of you right now to take out a piece of paper and write down all that’s wrong with you, I’d wager most would have twenty pages. But what if I asked what’s right with you? Bet you’re stumped, too.
We all struggle. Struggle can be good. Resistance is what makes us grow. But if we only focus on what’s wrong with us, we’ll just get more. We are what we focus on.
In racing, part of how they train drivers to win is teaching the driver to acknowledge the wall, but never look at it. The car goes where the driver looks. Look at the wall and you’ll hit the wall. Focus on the finish line.
All of us have our “wall.” Mine is laziness, people-pleasing, blind loyalty, procrastination, and I could list even more. I recognize them. I respect them. But I must focus on the positive. I am also disciplined, kind, generous and passionate and these qualities deserve my attention. If we focus enough on developing the positive, it will eventually crowd out the negative.
We also must learn to focus on the realistic. I am human. It’s okay to take a nap, play some video games, or read a book. There will always be more laundry, more dishes. But at the end of my days will I remember the clean dishes or the hour I spent running through the house with The Spawn with NERF guns “hunting zombies”? I can focus on the negative legacy my father left, but that might cost me the positive legacy he gave me.
I will never be too old to enjoy a bounce house.
What are your thoughts? Who has the leash? You or your fears? Do you find yourself being reactive? Too hard on yourself? Do you struggle to list what’s good about who you are? Is it hard to have fun? Do you feel guilty for rest? Is it tough to cut yourself slack? Do you find yourself maybe going to extremes because you fear being like a parent or other adult influence? Or maybe you’ve made positive changes and you’re afraid if you take one day off you’ll slip back into what you worked so hard to change?
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