How I Have Let Fear Define My Life
I have let fear define many elements of my life. Not necessarily the elements that someone would expect, but fear was the guiding decision making factor.
As far back as I can remember, I have always been willing to take engage in risky, highly adventurous activities. As a kid I always stood on the tips of my toes to get onto the biggest rollercoasters. At 18 I jumped out of a plane and went skydiving. At 28 I went into a cage with a 440lbs (200kg) tiger and dragged my rather reluctant husband along to take photos. I have never been one to say no to an adventure and the adrenaline rush based in fear of an extreme potentially life risking activity.
Yet, when it comes to my big decisions in my life, I have let fear into the equation.
As a kid, I dreamed of being a lawyer – yes, I was the type of kid. I had no dreams of a big white wedding, or fairy-tale romance or becoming the next princess. Instead, my Barbie’s were always lawyers. In fact, if I dig out my grade 6 year book I made mention of aspiring to be lawyer. To this day, people assume I am a lawyer. On a regular basis, I am asked why I am not a lawyer. Well, I can assure you I am not a lawyer. I never wrote my LSAT and I never went to law school, instead I went to grad school in a completely different field. I didn’t become a lawyer for 2 reasons.
- First, I had never failed anything in my life, and I didn’t want to fail the LSAT. Or, what if I passed the LSAT, and still didn’t get in? Simply put, I was afraid of failure. So, because I was drastically less likely to fail, I applied to grad schools in a couple different fields and got into a few.
- Second, I chose not to go to law school because I wanted a family friendly career. After meeting with a few female lawyers, and having them tell me that it is not a family friendly profession and they chose not to have children and in fact were not able to manage long term relationships very well. And while I know some women have done it all, I came to believe that I could not be the lawyer I wanted to be or the mother I wanted to be at the same time. (Needless to say no the irony of this is decision making criteria is not lost of me). I should also point out that I now know a few female lawyers who are amazing mothers, so I mean no disrespect to anyone.
To this day, my husband still comments on the fact that he thinks I should have gone to law school. And to be honest, if we don’t have kids, part of me thinks I should do it. But, truth be told, after my life experiences in the last few years, I now have no interest in the hours required of an articling student. I think I needed to do that in my younger years, so I really doubt I’ll ever go back to law school. Funny how life works out sometimes.
Anyways, this isn’t a post about my coming to terms with not being a lawyer. Although, it is starting to turn into that. So, moving on.
Another example of letting fear help make my decisions was my adamant refusal to stop working when everything started to crash in on me a few years ago. The short version of the story is that I hated my job in a high stress industry and worked way too many hours for an employer who wasn’t always nice, and we also started having multiple miscarriages and high risk pregnancies and all the medical appointments that come along with that. I couldn’t balance everything, it was becoming evident to me, and possibly to others. Medical advice was that I should leave my job and take a break, I ignored it. Funny enough, I sought out professional advice on strategies to reduce my stress and learn to cope, but then I quickly ignored the advice I was given. Why did I ignore the advice? Simple, I associated the decision to quit my job with failure. Failure to do everything, and to do so perfectly. I couldn’t imagine letting myself down in such a tremendous way. (After our 4th loss, it became evident that something had to change. And here we are today, I’m nearly unemployed by choice and am working to learn to live a more balanced lifestyle).
But, here’s where I have to ask myself, why have a let fear have such a tremendous impact on these rather important decisions?
Was it fear of not leading the perfect life (as defined by my very high personal standards) and letting myself down?
I have always set insanely high standards for myself. My definition of perfect has no room for even the smallest of errors. I would never expect others to meet these standards, but anything less than perfect and success has never been something I’ve allowed for myself. (Hence, the name of my blog – a little play on my obsession with perfect, even when I’m clearly going through a significant life altering experience). So yes, letting myself down was a significant factor in letting fear influence some pretty big decisions. This just might have been the most important factor in all of this.
Was is fear of letting others see me as weak?
I have never been one to care too much about what other people think. I firmly believe in leading a positive life and leaving a lasting positive impact on the world. Yet, if someone doesn’t like me then I don’t tend to care too much and don’t tend to lose sleep over it. I realize, just as I don’t like everyone I encounter, not everyone will like me. Yet, having lived a life defined by academic and professional successes, it is very hard to let people see the vulnerability that exists. It’s one thing for me to struggle with something, but it’s a whole other thing to tell my professional colleagues what struggles are going on in my personal life. I have always kept my professional and personal lives very separate, and now I had to bring them together and let others know what is going on in my personal life and also acknowledge that not everything is perfect. So really, to start telling people about our challenging path to parenthood, and that I’m taking a break from work became about sharing my vulnerability and admitting that I’m not perfect. But absolutely not about shame or embarrassment over our situation, it was purely about letting the perfect façade come down and the type of personal transformation that required from me.
Was it fear of letting my husband down?
Yes, absolutely there is fear of letting my husband down. He fell in love with and married an unbelievably practical person driven by rational thought. And now, all the sudden, I am making decisions based on emotional criteria. Even though we made the decision together, taking a break from a high paying career to focus on me, my health, and our potential child’s health is so different than anything I’ve ever done before. So yes fear of letting him down is ever present.
Was it fear of letting my dead mom and sister down?
As for letting my dead mom and sister down, I almost laughed out loud when I wrote this sentence. First because it is so very true. I think in some ways I decided long ago, while I was still a teenager, that I have to lead the perfect life to honor them and make them proud. In some sense, I think I felt that if I was the one left alive, I had better make it a good life. In a way living my life and living for my sister as well. Second, I laughed because they are dead, and so have no way to be proud of me. I’ve let the idea of making two dead people proud of me influence my life in extreme ways. How very, very odd for me, a person lead by practical and rational thought.
So, I think my fear is grounded in all of these things.
While, I wouldn’t say that I my life revolves around fear, I would absolutely acknowledge that I have let fear of failure and fear of letting myself down and fear of letting select others down, play a part in my decision making.
More often than not, I can recognize when fear is playing a role in my decision making, and I am able to make a decision to push ahead in the face of fear. Or, I can recognize that fear should exist and doesn’t (i.e. tiger cage). But, now that I’ve spent time thinking about my relationship with fear, and therefore learning about it, I am more able to analyze why my fear exists. What is the root cause of my fear? What does the fear mean to me? And, what should I do based on where the fear is coming from. What has become important to me is to acknowledge why the fear exists and is part of decision making. Then, and only then, am I able to make an educated decision on what influence I should let the specific fear have on my decision making.
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