For many who know me, I’m a pretty confident guy. When I walk into a room, whether consciously or not, I attract attention. It could be the way I carry myself with a self-assured swagger, or the fact that I’m a tall black man who interacts with a predominantly white world (at least in Canada anyway). What many of the same people don’t know is that I struggle with fear. This would be where they would say…
…much in the same way they would react when I confess that I’m really an introvert despite the fact I can command a stage when I sing or host an event for 5000 with apparent ease.
The thing is, there is a difference between a lack of confidence and fear. I am one of the most self-confident people I know (did my stage comment not tip you off?), but also one of the most fearful. I believe in my abilities, I trust myself to the point of obsession and have zero doubts about my worth as a human being. The problem arises when you throw other humans into the mix, or really anything that’s beyond my control. Yes I’m quite aware that I’m beginning to sound like a control freak. That’s rooted in my fear of the unknown. This fear pushes me to structure nearly every part of my life in order to avoid surprises or disappointments. I’m talking calendars, spreadsheets, timelines, protocols, contingency plans, contingencies to my back-up plans…
But here’s the reality: human beings (self included) are inherently flawed and can make any situation unpredictable. When you make plans with a friend, put it in your schedule, remind them about it, plan your transportation to make it to your rendezvous 5 minutes early and they still show up 20 mins late, that’s evidence that you have zero control over the course of another human being’s life. You can hope that they respect you and your time as much as you do theirs, and all the forces of nature will work in your favour to make them punctual but there’s no guarantee that this will be the case. Such is life!
My second biggest fear is of rejection. Whether in a professional setting when we are afraid to let our ideas be heard, education (medical school I see you) or romance, we all know the struggle of not wanting to take a chance because we fear the outcome. “NO’ can be a hard word to stomach sometimes because it could come loaded with questions about your intelligence, attractiveness, abilities and value. This is something I struggle with every day because I know my worth and the closest people to me do as well, but when confronted with people who don’t know me, or situations beyond my control, doubt slips in. This doubt creates a disconnect between what I know of my self and how I handle myself in certain situations. And when I look back after the fact all I see is a big fat WTF!??
Can I get an AMEN if this resonates with you!
These two fears, of the unknown and of rejection, explain a lot about the low points in my life. Chances I never took… things I wish I had said…my painfully obvious difficulty saying no.
However in the past year, I found myself in some pretty life changing situations that had me evaluating the course of my life, my purpose, the things that bring me joy, and yes, the role fear plays in my life. I spent a lot of time in self-reflection and came to the realization that my fear can be as much a hinderance as a radical, albeit unconscious, act of self-love. Now stay with me here. Fear is really just your body’s way of saying there’s imminent danger; something that can harm you. It’s an evolutionary safety measure. Hard-wired self-preservation. There is no stronger acknowledgement of your self-worth than an innate drive to protect yourself. I think the challenge comes from distinguishing between physically harmful stimuli and those things that can hurt your feelings or make you vulnerable. Your body can’t tell the difference most times, so the onus is on you to tell your body who’s boss.
In the last year, I did just that. I took a gamble and left a job that had me in a comfortable place in favour of a new challenge. It was courageous (and stupid on some days), but as they say, courage comes from confronting your fears. This courage left me unemployed for about 5 months. I DO NOT recommend this unless you have some savings. Not being able to feed yourself or have a place to live is a legitimate fear to have as it has both physical and emotional consequences. I am immensely grateful for the friends who offered me a bed to sleep in during those months (shout out to my Day 1’s!). Nonetheless I approached my fear of the unknown head-on by leaving my job. Then came the fear of rejection by way of medical school and job applications. I must have sent out over 120 job applications. My confidence definitely took a hit after not getting 3 jobs post-second interview, but as time progressed, I noticed my approach and perspective changing. I was no longer keeping myself from applying to jobs because I didn’t think I was qualified enough. My “what’s the point?” became “what’s the worst that could happen?” And in a moment of serendipity, one of my unsuccessful “why not” interviews turned into a job offer for a position that wasn’t even on my radar. While medical school didn’t work out, I do find myself with more clarity about my goals than ever before.
This is all to say that fear is useful but doesn’t need to be a wall. You have the tools to turn that wall into a stumbling block and it’s all in your approach. The most powerful thing that worked for my fear of the unknown, and I’ve seen it time and time again, is approaching situations without expectations. When there are no expectations, the outcomes will always just be reality. Reality can either be a pleasant surprise or lean on the not-so-positive side, but it will always be just that: Reality. With this approach, when things work out, they are great and unexpected. When they don’t, you probably won’t be happy about them, but they will never be disappointments, because inherent in disappointment is a prior expectation of the way things should progress.
When you free yourself from expectations, you become a more joyful person. You are letting reality be reality. Without knowing, you are taking back the power that is often lost to anger and sadness at a negative outcome and freeing yourself from the control that situations have over you. In terms of a fear of rejection, really the worst thing that could happen is a “No”. No’s can be hard to take but the reality (there’s that word again) is that they are often a nudge in a direction that things should naturally progress anyway. If you are trying to make a decision, you’ll never know what’s on the other side of it until you decide. Rather than stress about it and let the fear take over, say what you want to say, do what you want to do and then tackle the outcome heart-first.
I’ll leave you with some parting words for those fearful moments in your life.
If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, leave it. Channel your energy into what’s within your control and let the rest work its way around you.
Don’t stand in the way of your own sunshine. Let reality be reality and let things naturally progress as they should.