Sunday, March 16, 2008

Overcoming fear

When overwhelmed with projects needing attention, and discouraged from not seeing the results one wants, it's easy to feel discouraged. Maybe more than discouraged—depressed and immobilized. When that happens, STOP. Take a look at where you are versus where you want to be. What do you need to do to get there? It could be a new outlook, a change of pace, and an inspiration that you are not going to get sitting in front of the computer monitor, thinking, "what's the use?" Get to the root of the problem; the real cause of the inability to function.   (Please note that I am talking to myself. I don't know if other writers and/or publishers have the same experience, but I do, at times, and breaking out of it is a joyous experience.) 

And how do I break out of it? In trying to pinpoint the moment of Epiphany in recent days, I realize it started with an e-mail I read about fear blocking the way to accomplishment. As I worked through that fear, I experienced the building excitement that comes from believing in oneself. 

"Fear, it paralyzes us. It keeps us from doing the things we dream about. It prevents us from sharing our gifts," said Janet Attwood, author of The Passion Test.  Hmm. Me, Afraid? Well, yes, there is one thing I have always been afraid of. One thing that I have worked hard to overcome. It is the fear of success....No, really. It's a close kin to the fear of failure, probably disguised as such. But why should I fear failure? Through various incidents in my past as a child, some trauma as a teen, and a long and mentally oppressive relationship as an adult, I was conditioned to believe that failure was my lot, and I grew comfortable in that role. 

I was an incorrigible tomboy, growing up. I had no fear of bears, snakes, spiders, or risky adventures. I have, however, for as long as I can remember, had an overwhelming, paralyzing, debilitating fear of speaking in public or even conversing with people I didn't know well. (Especially talking to the male classmates that I really liked.) I was afraid to make phone calls. I was afraid to ask or answer questions in class. I could not without extreme pain, panic, and illness get up in front of an audience. Why? It's hard to analyze, let alone explain, but I believe it is a fear of success. A fear of breaking out of the internally held beliefs and the voices in my head that scold, "You'll make a fool of yourself. You cannot succeed. Do you really think anyone wants to listen to you?" And the most pervasive, "Who do you think you are?" in that scornful accusing tone.  So over and over I proved those voices right. 

In recent years, I've taken steps to prove them wrong. It isn't easy. But gets easier as time goes by, easier with each risk taken, easier when I realize that the fear that keeps me prisoner is unfounded. Then I realize that the biggest fear comes from the question, not "what if I fail?" but "what if I succeed?" There is a certain security in the expectation of failure. If I don't expect myself to succeed in certain areas, I am exempt from responsibility. "Everyone knows I can't do that."  But what if I can? Then I must. I have a responsibility. Now that's scary! 

I have presented seminars and school visits, have read passages from my book to audiences enough that I know that I can. But the old ghost of fear hovers nearby, always ready to take advantage of any personal or financial setback or any other cause for discouragement. How quickly the Old Ghost moves in and takes over, once again paralyzing me, preventing any effort to take back control of my life. He whispers, "Who do you think you are? You know you can't expect success. You are a failure." And I settle back into the familiar zone of inactivity and despair; my good intentions naturally failing, and loathing myself at the end of the day. So, upon reading Janet Attwood's e-mail, I looked at what the Old Ghost of Fear was preventing me from doing. The answer? Things that are very important to me. I have book ideas that need written. I have books written that need published. I have books published that need promotion. 

"But you don't have money to do any of it." 

I have the ability to make money. I have skills and knowledge that I can share. 

"No way!" Old Ghost shouts, "Who do you think you are?" (You see how strong those old, erroneous beliefs are?) 

Yes, they are erroneous. I have proven I can. Just as I proved I could climb the highest tree, jump off the highest point of the roof of the machine shed into the snow, pick up the longest snake, or, without anything to hang onto, attempt to ride a 1000 pound bull. (If you wonder, ask me for my poem about that.) —just as I proved I could do those things when I was a child, just as I completely overcame my fear of the dark by walking through it night after night when I was 11,  so I have proven that I can overcome this "fear of success" as an adult. Yet, because of Old Ghost's persistence, it seems I have to keep proving it over and over. 

"Who do I think I am?" I think I am the lady who wrote and published the books that thousands of children love to read. I think I am the lady of whom students in my seminars and school visits spoke so highly, saying my classes were both enjoyable and helpful. I think I am the poet who perched in front of an audience in front of a Chatauqua, last night. and confidently read her old poems; the one who received many compliments afterward. I think, that like everyone else in the world, I was born with certain gifts; potential talents, and with a purpose for being here. I really shouldn't have to rehearse these accomplishments, which, to those without fear must seem simple, in order to hush the ghost of fear so I can get some work done. Yet, I guess it's okay to think and talk about them, if that's what it takes to send Old Ghost away. 

I've long considered, discussed, and intended to schedule more workshops and seminars. It's even been on by "tudu" list. For far too long, I've avoided doing so. Why? Because Old Ghost whispered, and, unconsciously, I listened. Well, Old Ghost, back off. Realizing what you are up to has allowed me to show you a thing or two. I am not only going to host a workshop, I am going to write a workbook to go with it so that participants can take it home with them and use the exercises again and again, so that they can get the benefit of any lessons we don't have adequate time to cover in class. Take that, Old Ghost. This is just the first of many. With the proceeds, I can better promote the books I have. I can finance the illustration and printing of the books I still need to publish. With this renewed confidence, I can write more, and take on and complete more projects. 

Best of all, with Old Ghost's lies once again rejected, I am no longer prevented from sharing with others the innate talents I never used to allow myself to experience, let alone admit I possess. 


Mary Cunningham said...

I can so relate, Janet. My fear of "making a fool of myself" goes back to my mother who was so afraid of my getting hurt that she encouraged me not to try anything new. I grew up thinking I simply wasn't good enough. It's taken years to get rid of those "old tapes," and they still play in my head on occasion.

Thanks for the post. It's nice to know that someone else has conquered the same fears I've battled all my life.

Janet Muirhead Hill said...

Thanks for your comment, Mary. Likewise, it's comforting to know that you are also winning the battle. Your success is even more of an inspiration now that I know you had to overcome the same voices from the past.

I think our mother's fears were probably passed on from generations before. My mom seemed to have a phobia that her children would become egotistical, so she vigorously discouraged "sinful pride.' Her misguided concern may have been a product of the culture of that day, or perhaps it came from her religion. The "virtue of humility" was strongly reinforced.

Janet Grace Riehl said...

Yup. Glad you are moving forward...following the vision rather than the fears.

Janet Riehl

Anne Schroeder said...

Your honesty about your paralyzing fear reminded me of a day when Stephanie Zimbelist came into my pizza shop, late one evening while I was alone. We conversed while I made her pizza, and the subject of writing came up. She seemed so interested when she asked me what I wrote.

Suddenly the prospect of having her read one of my novels was overwhelming. I stood there, trying to recall what I wrote--or if I wrote at all. I murmured something while my mind raced with possibilities. I recall that I was absolutely paralyzed--even though I had a synopsis and a first chapter of my novel on my desk, twenty feet away. The moment passed and she left.

I have remembered that night when I read of people frozen by fear, unable to move from an oncoming train or a molester--even when given a chance to flee.

Fight or flight? I FEAR there is another option.

Anne Schroeder, author
Ordinary Aphrodite

Anonymous said...

Did you know that USA and Europe blocked Wikileaks? What do you think about it?
By the way, anybody home?!