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The Things We Didn’t Do

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One of my biggest motivators in life is porch swings. If you travel with me through any residential neighborhood, you’ll find me peering into every front deck to find them. And it’s because of this vision I have of being 80 years old (of course, I tell myself I’ll still look the same as I do today) holding hands with my eventual partner in life, able to reflect on the amazing journey I’ve been on.

This visualization shapes how I make decisions, motivates what I go for, and drives how I act. I want nothing more than to look back on my life and be proud of what I’ve lived.

My largest fear? Regret. Of not doing, not saying, and not going for. So when people ask me where I think I’ve developed my audacity and the way I run towards things or how I conquer rejection, it’s in being scared of having to say “I should have…”

We have chances. We encounter opportunities. And we have choices that we make to do… or not to. Most of these decisions are difficult, as is anything with any real meaning.

So why do we hold back?

Because it’s (sorry, mom) fucking terrifying. Putting yourself out there is excruciating. Enduring the pain of not achieving and the shower of self-doubt seems unbearable. Loving someone so much to then have your heart ripped away leaving an empty hollow pit in its place is devastating. Taking the risk to go for something uncertain and for public failure to mark you is humiliating.

These are real feelings in play, ones that choke your heart and paralyze your mind.

So we create excuses:

“I’ll quit you first.”
It sounds petty as I read it back. And while not a conscious thought, it was a conscious action. Maybe it was a job, maybe it was a friendship, most often it was a relationship. It’s easier to pretend you don’t want it so there’s no chance it can’t choose you. In this way, you remain in control, and you diminish any risk of being rejected.

Whether or not it’s the outcome I wanted, I did it to shield myself from any heartache that not being wanted might inflict. The second I sensed any perception of pull-away (real or not), I would walk. “I’m strong, I will not be broken,” I would tell myself. And so I flitted around, never getting too deep with too many so as to protect. At least I could never get hurt that way.

“Why start?”
I wanted to be a singer. I spent my childhood singing every available chance, waiting for days when my parents would leave the house so I could indulgently sing on the bathroom mirror stage. I fantasized as I stood at the front of my empty church of eventual stardom. Watch out world.

After my acceptance into All-State Choir and being exposed to hundreds of other gifted singers, my reaction to such an honor was to return home and permanently give up singing.

I couldn’t face the thought that I wouldn’t make it or that others were better than me. How could I stand a chance? Rather than not be chosen, I never even started.

“Who am I to…”
Speak? Paint? Act? Ask? Insert your desire here. The stifling question where it’s easier to mark yourself as undeserving or not good enough. Who was I to walk across that stage, or ask for a raise, or start this company?

Why do we do this? Scars, deep wounds and emotional bruises teach us to wrap ourselves in layers of bubble wrap. We put pockets of space around our hearts. Like Ralphie’s brother in A Christmas Story, we allow the need for safety to pad us with full-body jumpsuits. This insulation camouflages our true selves, stifling us from moving and even being authentic. We allow this question to paralyze us and hold us back, but at least we can’t fail.

You don’t leave the safety of your job to take the big chance because you convince yourself it won’t work.
You don’t tell her how you really feel because exposing your vulnerability is something you just don’t do.
You don’t ask for what you want or say what you think because the fear it gives you stifles your ability to say anything at all.

And it haunts you. Over time, you can push it down. Distract yourself. Tell yourself “it wouldn’t have worked”. But deep down, it stirs.

As I’ve worked over the years to succeed in sales, be bold, and walk confidently, I’m sometimes questioned: “How did you get rid of your fear?” And the truth is, I haven’t.

I think I’m always afraid. Even of silly things, things that I actually think others are not fearful of. I fear writing this. I fear pursuing my next dream. I fear I’ll die alone. I fear birds.

But by practicing little tiny instances of facing it, I’ve been building my familiarity with my fear. The more I accept the feeling, the less discomfort I feel with it. The more I identify and vocalize what holds me back, the more it sets me free.

I know that what I want and the possibility is stronger than the unknowns that gate me.

Re-framing what that palpitating feeling means, I tell myself I do what others aren’t. I say the what if is worse than the did. I intentionally surround myself with those who won’t let me stop.

I work to appreciate my fear. It was built within me to protect me, instinctually… From danger, from hurt… But over time I accepted this false radar and the limitations it enforced on me. Now I become familiar with my fear, acknowledging it, thanking it, and then using it as my compass.

You’ve handled kicks. You fell down, you pulled yourself back up. You failed, you eventually recovered. You loved, lost, loved again, and still made your way to today.

You exist as proof that you can overcome.

Whatever ignites that spark of courage, whatever push that helps you take a step, the song or the quote or the story, a compelling dream board, the right soul talk… Seek it, discover it, make it, repeatedly use it.

Can you feel that tingle? I do. It’s the I want to, but I really just can’t that creeps its way in. When I encounter that feeling… I close my eyes, move fast before I lose the millisecond of nerve, and head-butt it.

Ask if she wants to buy it. Ask him for his number. Pick up that phone and dial. Say I love you. Confront the elephant.

Sometimes it’s a blurt. Generally your heart will race. A minute longer can make you reconsider. But what if…

What if the answer is a yes? What if you get everything you ever wanted? What if you fall in love?

Emerson said, “Do the thing and you’ll have the power.”

Rip off that band-aid, go after that thing. I’ll do it with you.

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Porch swing: photo credit: Mr. Greenjeans via photopin cc

Elephants: My travel to India

8 Comments

  1. A good dose of inspiration to become friends with our fear instead of running away from it. Once we get to know fear and acknowledge it in ourlives, it has a little less power over us.

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