The fear comes at night mostly, although it can extend its grip whenever it likes. Its icy fingers chill my heart and make it difficult to breathe.
The fear of failing. At life. At love. Failing. The fear of never being gainfully employed again. The fear of never meeting ‘THE ONE’. The fear of not being successful. Of not being happy. Of failing.
As if that’s a thing….failing at life. I mean, really, get over yourself. But the fear still lurks there.
It’s funny though, how sometimes fear can be a great motivator. Anyone who has left an essay until the last minute and is desperately hammering away on the laptop at 3am will know what I’m talking about. But this kind of fear is paralysing. There is so much I could be doing, should be doing…but I am becoming an expert at procrastinating. And it’s so hard to explain to people. Not that I really admit this to many people (except my lovely blogging audience!); in addition to becoming a professional boxset watcher, I am also now something of an expert at putting on the happy front. And I so desperately want to be that person. The brave, fearless woman who changed careers to follow her heart and turns down lucrative offers at major banks so she can change the world instead (okay, so maybe I won’t be unemployed forever but that’s not really what I mean). The women who, whilst doing her masters degree, got ribbed for getting more done by 10am than most people would manage all day. That’s the person the world sees so why don’t I feel like her.
I think it’s because this type of fear can be really debilitating if you don’t master it. And I do have to point out that these attacks are really rare. But here’s a few ways I try to get over it.
What Are You Scared Of
It’s really easy for your fears to become this huge conglomerate mess where the apocalypse is nigh and you might as well just give up now. Except the world isn’t going to end anytime soon and you still have a life to live. So get specific about what you’re afraid of. I am not really worried about never having a job again; I’m pretty confident that I could find a job within the next month if I wanted to. What I’m terrified of is not being able to do what I want to do, of not finding a way to make passions pay enough to cover my rent. So get a piece of paper and write down what scares you. In detail. Be precise. Suddenly, those fears don’t look nearly as big and bad as they felt, which brings us on to…
Having got a handle on what your fears actually are, you are now in a position to start to do something about it, because I guarantee sitting at home worrying about it won’t change anything. Personally, I love a to-do list but again it needs to be really specific. “Get a job” is not a smart to-do list goal. Break down everything into tiny, tiny steps: write a CV might be a good start, or register on a jobs website. For one, these things are actually manageable and, secondly, you will feel an exorbitant amount of satisfaction when you start crossing them off (well, I do!). But, as I said before, this kind of fear – the heart-stopping, panic-attack inducing fear – can be paralysing. So just do one thing. One tiny little thing. If that’s all you do today, then you did one thing. But maybe after doing one thing, you’ll feel like doing one more. And another. Until you’re on a roll. As my mum always says to me “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time”. Pro to-do list tip: don’t let your actions roll on week to week. If you’ve still got stuff left over from last week, you’ve probably made the action too big. Can you break it down into smaller bits that you can do this week?
Get a Routine
I, for one, cannot live without a routine. Maybe it’s all those years of military discipline but I just can’t do it. Even though I don’t have a job to go, the alarm goes off at 7am and I get up, get dressed and have breakfast. At which point, I feel like I might as well do some of the jobs on my list. Set the conditions for your own success. Sitting around in your pyjamas all day will not make you feel like accomplishing things. Get a diary and put things in it – yoga classes, going for a walk, go and sit in your favourite coffee shop for two hours on the condition you will do those three tasks on your list. And don’t forget to schedule in some fun. One of the hardest things I find about working freelance is that I don’t have an office full of people to chat to everyday so I have to work a little harder to make sure I’m seeing my friends and that I’ve got enjoyable things to look forward to.
Which is probably a good time to remind ourselves that you only get one shot a life so you might as well enjoy the ride. Whether it’s work or play, find things that make you happy and keep doing them. One of my fears, at the grand old age of 32, is that I won’t find love, that I won’t get married. Well maybe I won’t, maybe I will, who knows. But I’m not going to wait around for him to show up to enjoy my life. I’m going to live life to the full so if he never comes along, I know I had a ball; and if he does come along, hopefully he will see a happy, vibrant person doing all sorts of cool stuff and say ‘hey, I want to be part of that’.
When I was at boarding school, I would call my mum after exams in floods of tears. Through the sobs, she would eventually hear “I’ve failed, I’ve definitely failed this one”. Time after time, she would gently point out that I hadn’t failed one yet, in fact, I had a pretty good track record of As. But I guess what I meant is that I was worried I hadn’t got that A, that I wasn’t going to be perfect (we’re back to that thing about being specific about your fears). I have no idea where I got the idea that I had to be perfect. My parents never demanded perfection but I always have. What an idiot! What a totally unachievable goal to have in life. I’ve mellowed somewhat over the years but I still have the most ridiculous expectations of myself. If I’m not running sub 9-minute miles every day of the week, I’m failing. If I’m not practising yoga and meditation EVERY DAY, then I’m failing. If I’m not an overnight success as a freelance consultant, then I’m failing. Life doesn’t work like that. It takes time, it takes effort, and it’s not about achieving perfection. Nor does every day off, or every slower mile, mean that you should just give up. Choose your metaphor – life is a rollercoaster, or like being in a lift, or even a box of chocolates – but there will be ‘good’ days and ‘bad’ days. Days when it all feels easy and days when everything little thing feels like a marathon. The only thing you can do is go with it; survive the tough ones and thrive in the sunny ones. That’s how it goes. So make sure your goals and ambitions fit into that. By all means, decide you want to be an astronaut, but maybe deciding you want to be a drummer in a rock band when you don’t have any rhythm isn’t quite going to work, just like deciding to be perfect when you’re just human isn’t really going to go your way.
Your Friends Aren’t Wrong
I am not an Oscar-worthy actress. Nor are my friends gullible. I have not managed to convince them that I am an entirely different person. Alright, they don’t hear my internal monologue, but it’s my monologue that’s wrong, not my friends. I am the person that they see. I don’t know why that inner voice is so mean and destructive. I would never talk to anyone else the way that I talk to myself. So I’m going to stop listening to that voice and start listening to my friends instead. They’re a pretty fabulous bunch of people and if they think that I’m doing okay, then I’m going to trust that.