Recently my mother said something that caused me to stop and reflect on who I’ve become. We were talking about when I was young (before marriage and children) and she commented on how I was fearless. I wasn’t the one to dip my toe into the water and think about what I was jumping into. Instead, I got a running start and just jumped, learning how deep the pool was only after I was in it.
When you are young, you think you are invincible. Nothing can happen to you. You’ll live forever. When I was young I had the courage to be fearless.
When had that changed?
I suppose it was after grad school that the fear slowly started to creep in. I was living in southern California, surrounded by people with dreams. Not that Californians have cornered the market on dreams, by any means. But these were big crazy dreams, dreams of fame and fortune, of becoming movie stars, rock stars, overnight sensations. Dreams harder to fulfill, some would say they were long shots, which is what I imagine some of the people from my childhood thought of my aspirations to be a writer. And I began to wonder what if? I didn’t graduate with a book deal in hand. What if I never got a book deal? What if I spent my whole life pursuing something that I wasn’t any good at? What if I would always be a failure at the one thing I loved to do?
Cheryl, my best friend since practically birth, had gotten married and every time I saw her husband Vince, he would ask about my writing. I know he was being kind, trying to show interest in his wife’s friend, and maybe he was even a little curious about my writing dreams, him being an accountant and all. But I began to dread seeing him. And when he would ask, I would feel the blush forming on my cheeks and mumble something before quickly changing the subject. Eventually he stopped asking and I was relieved.
Some years later I got married. My husband, as he climbed the corporate ladder, would tell those that asked about me that I was a writer. “Don’t tell them that!” I would say, flinching at the very idea that even more people would be aware of my failure.
The funny thing is I don’t really have anything to base this idea of failure on. I don’t have thousands of rejection slips because I don’t send anything out. I don’t try because the fear of failure has stitched itself into my skin like an invisible tattoo, taken over my shadow to ensure we are never separated, whispered secretly, seductively in my ear.
But today I am digging my dusty Doc Maartens out of the back of my closet and crushing that fear into dust with my boot heel. And I’m starting to feel more like my old self again. My vivid, complicated, detailed dreams are back. The running dialogue in my head as I live my life has returned, the writer me is writing and rewriting the everyday me as if I am a character in a book. And it feels really good.
I have the courage to be fearless.
Will you follow along? When my confidence wavers, when I start to mumble, will you remind me fear is a four-letter word?