What do I talk about when I talk about fear
25 January, 2023
To fear is normal. I would say it is a necessary feeling for the human being to have. But those who fear too much know the struggle it can be to always be afraid. Right now my biggest fear is doing hard things. Yes, that is (sadly) correct. Taking up challenges has become unbearable for me in the past few years, a process that I would prefer never to have happened. Although this is not something that happens lighting-fast, I would say it happened faster than I was prepared to deal with.
I've been dealing with this sensation for a while now. It has permeated my academic experience, censored some life choices and has certainly impaired my development as a "adult". I've also been struggling to find to words to define it: how could I express such feeling in a way that others could understand? Reading Hemingway, I was inspired with his motto of writing the most truthful thing you could, and then working on what came out of this entrepreneurship.
The fear of doing hard things is not restricted to enormous challenges that you must overcome. It is not necessarily restricted by things such as learning a new language or writing an important scientific paper. We, humans, or I, at least, have a very broad and personal definition of what is "hard". Talking with someone can be hard, waking up everyday at the same time can be hard. We can create "hardness" where it does not previously exist, where it is not mandatory to exist. Things become unbearably hard when they could be just another mundane task.
But where does fear, anxiety or whatever you call it come from? Great question and I am not up for the challenge of answering it. In my personal journey, I realized that fear commonly stems out of a distance that is generated between reality and expectations. The larger the canyon gets (between what you expect of something what it actually is) the greater this frustration and fear grow.
I've dealt with procrastination (I don't like to use common names for things that are irreconcilably personal and, in my opinion, not up for generalization) since I was a kid. This process has been draining my energy for years, affecting the quality of my work and creating a permanent state of tiredness. The mind never stops working on things that you are not actually working on: the energy that would be allocated for developing a research, for example, is being drained towards guilt of something not yet completed.
The canyon grows and grows. You begin to excuse yourself for bad results as you have not given "the best you could": if only you began to write earlier, that text would have been perfect for publishing. In this piece of thought it possible to grasp the illusion of greatness that one who "procrastinates" have of himself. Those who delay, delay because they think they are capable of delaying. They cling to the illusion/possibility of a "great work" that never comes, because they are never putting in the required effort.
I am afraid of doing hard things, but it has not been this way forever. As a child I though I could do anything. Learn any language, choose any career. I am not necessarily talking about the kind of child-like dream of becoming an astronaut. I am talking about believing that you are capable of putting in the effort and achieving great things. I once thought this way - and it worked. It didn't work "better" because this line of thinking can direct you to the following process: "well, since I can do anything, I should then do everything and be the best at it". This is not only an illusion, but a black hole of energy and a relentless source of angst. Reality comes and you cannot do everything. You cannot read all the books, you cannot learn all the languages and you cannot excel at every sport there is.
Greatness, in this particular line of thinking, is an outside metric. Value comes from external recognition of your work and effort. You do not work for yourself, but spends your energy towards satisfying this eternal hunger for "more" and "better" and "greater". With time, this has become too much for me.
I am being absolutely honest when I say I look at my undergraduate journey and see only the missing parts. When I look at the books I read and am not happy for those I read, but sad for all of those that I did not read. "Why can't I do that?" "Why can't I be like them?". The real danger with not owning your narrative, as some like to say, is becoming paralyzed. Then you really won't have read any books, did any research, taken up any new language or even relaxed for a while. You just don't do things - you don't do anything.
Things become hard because they all come with a missing part. Imagine you buy a notebook (a Moleskine, for example). Normally, you would own a notebook. Well, not for me. Now I have something that I have to complete - write at every single page and finish it like "the others". You have a notebook but you don't have the other notebook you saw at the store. You have an undergraduate degree in I.R. buy you don't have on in Computer Science. Letting go of things is really hard and I recognize that. Sometimes its the worst thing to do, but it is necessary.
All these "missing parts" that you amass during the years, they have a weight of their own. They become heavier and heavier: unbearably heavy. You have to be able to let go of them as well. One of the reasons for me to have written this text - and written it in English -, is because I have been having second thoughts about my English skills. I have been fearful of mistakes, correcting every sentence in Deep.com/write, Grammarly and LanguageTool. I've been feeling like I am not able to write properly, that my pronunciation is bad and my vocabulary is small and repetitive. That is why I decided to write this - and decided not to correct it. Not even the HemingWay app will have a go this time. This is trying to let go of some missing parts and some of their weight. This is doing something while fearing it. This is taking up a challenge for once. Not the greatest challenge there is, but, as Hemingway puts it, the most truthful thing I could write at this day and age.