A friend of mine posted on facebook recently, “I really adore Lizzo and wish I had half her self-confidence. Never, though.”
Her wording suggested such confidence was a choice and she’d made a decision she couldn’t ever be that person. No doubt I’d done the same. So I asked her – “why never? What do you think you’d look like with her confidence? What a cool thing to imagine. I’m going to try it.”
In that moment, I imagined myself writing and standing on stage talking about love. When I see people like Lizzo or anyone that I admire, I tend to believe that they knew something or had passion for an idea that I don’t. But I’ve read enough interviews and memoirs to know that more often these people didn’t believe that what they wrote, said, sang, or painted would be anything people cared about. They just knew that they had to do it and they didn’t let their fears and sacred cows about who they were “supposed” to be or how they were “supposed” to act hold them back.
I have moments when I feel this confidence. I started this blog wanting to write about an experience of finding unconditional love for myself without having to go on some big trip. I wanted to explore what it would look like to hold onto that love even in the midst of the daily shit that bombards us. I never imagined how transformative the process would be for me. Not only discovering what it means to love myself and overcoming a lot of my most deeply held shame places, but I’ve rediscovered my passion for spirituality and I’m exploring a whole new life path for myself. It’s been invaluable whether or not it has helped others – although I hope it does. I’m convinced that I need to persist even as I struggle with what to write about.
In the midst of this seeming certainty that I’m in the right place, I have not been able to escape fear’s three a.m. wake-up calls. So often they are triggered by days spent, not writing, but clearing out an arm’s length to-do list like getting the dog’s annual check-up done, replacing the windshield with the huge crack in it, and paying bills. Or it might be triggered by “frivolous spending” like buying tools to carve pumpkins with my niece and nephew. The details may change, but fear’s voice often sounds like this:
You need to figure out what you’re doing with your life. NOW!!! Your only commitment is the blog and you’re barely writing because you don’t know what to write about this week. You’re never going to make a living writing if you can’t even manage a weekly blog post. But you should be doing more – you need to start submitting and pitching story ideas. How could you waste your whole day just getting items checked off your to-do list? Do that after you finish writing. Should you really have spent money on those pumpkin carving tools for your niece and nephew? You shouldn’t spend money right now.
And what is this whole interest in studying theology? It seems like you’re just excited about your new found faith and you’re translating that excitement as something more than just a personal endeavor on the side of your career. Maybe you’re just afraid of sticking with the law; you’re just afraid of commitment and yet again, you’re running to some new interest. If you can’t stick with something, you’re never going to achieve anything except spinning your wheels. And you definitely can’t take on more education debt.
Timidly, I respond, But I need to trust God leading me.
Fear is cynical. Yeah yeah. Keep going with that new age bullshit. How’s that working out for you? You aren’t earning any money.
In support of my trying to stay in the present I argue. Jesus said “ask and the door will be opened.” He talked about the birds and the flowers not worrying, but being provided for.
Fear always has a response. Sometimes birds starve and sometimes flowers die in drought. At the very least, you need to find a new housemate. You can’t afford to lose that rental income. Just get a job already.
I am so bored by this inner dialogue. Lately, it’s been every night. The current dialogue may revolve around spiritual life versus a return to lawyering, but I’ve had variations of this dialogue for as long as I can remember. I need to change something so I can move forward and not continue to be bogged down by it. So a couple days ago, I had a long conversation with my fear hoping to get beneath why she’s pestering me and to ask her to stop.
Fear rehashed all the usual arguments about why I need her and why she can’t go away.””I know you’re just trying to protect me and I appreciate it, but your constant second-guessing is keeping me from actually making decisions. Can you at least tone it down so I can sleep? I love you and I accept you.” Then I fell back to sleep.
A friend, though, who later read the conversation asked me, “Who’s in charge here? You? Or Fear?”
I defended fear, “You’re missing the point. Fear has something useful to say and I need fear.”
I gave her an example, “when I went out with friends still in International development, relief, and human rights, I felt a twinge of excitement and wondered if I was missing out by not trying to get back into it even though it doesn’t feel right and mostly doesn’t interest me anymore.”
I suddenly realized, “it’s a little like my sexual attraction to the ‘wrong’ guys. Guys who I believe won’t be good for me in a relationship, but something about them turns me on. While I may not specifically want that job or that guy, fear helps me to not ignore that there’s something important here that I need to keep in mind as I’m exploring. Without fear, I think I would just focus on the ‘not right’ part without exploring what is enticing to me about these experiences and people and how it might figure in to my future path.”
Before she could respond, I continued, “Yet, when I’m staying just in this moment, I feel absolutely certain that I’m in the right place with the writing and the exploration. Especially after conversations like I had this morning with my Priest. When I talked about my interest in native earth-centered spiritual traditions, he spoke of Celtic spirituality. He suggested places to look for jobs that would meld all of my skills and experiences that I had never considered.”
That wasn’t all, “I know I don’t want to go back to a 60-hour work week and most of the “exciting” jobs would require that. This time and flexibility I have to spend with my niece and nephew is so precious and I don’t want to give that up. I know I’m going to get busy again one day regardless of the direction I choose. The fear, though, keeps me from being able to fully appreciate and enjoy the life I have now as I worry about not knowing what’s coming.”
Knowing what she would respond, I hastily added, “Resisting and trying to push the fear away, though, just makes it more insistent. I’ve been here over and over again in my life and I’m trying to find a new way to address it. So now I’m trying acceptance and love. That’s not putting it in charge.”
My friend insisted, “You just told me you are listening to yourself and you know what you need to do when you stay in the moment. Fear isn’t the one doing it. You are. I’m not saying resist or push fear away. Yes. It has its purpose. Instead, be like Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic and tell fear you love her, but she needs to get in the back seat. You’re driving this vehicle.”
I’m back to the place that often feels like the predominant theme in my journey this year. The discovery that when I stay present I know what to do. Not just when it comes to writing and exploring my next steps, but even on those days when I can’t write and I just need to get other tasks done or I want to spend money on something that will allow a fun experience with my niece and nephew.
If I want to have the confidence of Lizzo, or, thinking bigger, Galileo, it’s a choice. A really scary choice, one that can cause fear to be a snarling dog with teeth bared, because it means letting go of the illusion of security that I know what comes next. The possibilities for now and the future are far more exciting when I don’t play it safe, however. So I am officially telling fear to get in the backseat.
Great post, Jen. Your writing keeps getting better and better. You are able to put into words in such an understandable way what we as humans struggle with everyday—whether to unchain ourselves from the routine and face the unknown or stick with the predictable. I’m finding that the predictable is rarely so anyways.
Thanks Laura. This is about the nicest compliment I could receive. And agreed. The predictable/the safe is just an illusion, but it’s a powerful one.