I’ve been staring at a blank document for at least an hour now, afraid of writing this blog. Pretty fitting; it gives me a good introductory sentence for this subject. Fear has been on my mind a lot recently thanks to a number of different sources I’ve been learning from. I didn’t realize it was the common denominator in the lessons until I became more aware of the fears inside myself.
This story began with book, as all good stories should. A few weeks ago, I read Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in A Thousand Years, which chronicles the process he went through to turn his first book into a movie. Throughout the process, Miller records what he’s learned about writing (and living) an interesting story. (I really wish I’d read it before writing this post last year.) He explains that a good plot mainly consists of a character who wants to reach a certain goal and must overcome conflict to get there. A Million Miles is a spectacular book, and I can guarantee you’ll be motivated to do something exciting after reading it. The seeds of this blog were planted by that motivation, although I originally planned on writing about the “exciting goals” part. Instead, I found out that fear is a good plot device as internal conflict.
The “goals” I was able to come up with in the first draft were all positive and vaguely inspirational phrases like “open up to new opportunities,” “grow in relationships,” “be authentic and intentional,” blah, blah, blah. Of course, these are all great things to work towards, and I’m sure everyone would be better for learning to apply them in their lives. However, they all easily fall under the category of growth and preparation I wrote about in my last post. As I started trying to write these goals into my story, I was confronted with overwhelming anxiety about their lack of specificity, my confusion about how to pursue them, etc. (I’m beginning to think panicking is just my way of processing information at this point.)
If you happen to follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I have been listening to a lot of Ben Rector this summer. Until recent weeks, I hadn’t paid a great deal of attention to his song “Fear,” but as you can probably guess, it’s become one of my most-played songs since I listened to the lyrics more closely.
“I’ve been scared to death of failing / Scared that I’d look like a fool / And I’d rather quit than risk that I could lose” – Ben Rector
These lyrics describe the “safe” approach to life – the approach I have historically been most likely to choose. For example, when someone throws out the challenge to “Go hard or go home,” I’d choose to go home nine times out of ten. Logically, it makes sense! It’s much more difficult to mess things up when you’re lying in bed; however, it’s also more difficult to tell an interesting story. On some level, we all know that’s true, but I think sometimes we don’t understand the scope of the possibilities we’re missing out on. (Maybe you do, and that’s great for you, but this is my blog, so I’m still gonna write about it.)
Around the time I sowed the seed of motivation from A Million Miles, I had more inspiration implanted by a short series of online lectures. Brené Brown is a self-proclaimed “researcher-storyteller” who has spent years studying things like courage, shame, and vulnerability. The lectures that stood out most to me were “The Power of Vulnerability” and “The Price of Invulnerability.” (I know, right? The titles alone made me want to go home ASAP.) I watched both with great trepidation. Suffice it to say that they destroyed me and that you should definitely go watch both of them. In “The Price of Invulnerability,” Brown explains that vulnerability is at the center of fear, shame, and anxiety. Because of this, our culture is losing tolerance for vulnerability. However, it is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, and faith. By avoiding the dark valleys, we miss out on the mountain peaks. As Brown says, “When we numb vulnerability and fear and shame of not being good enough, we by default numb joy.” Consequences of this numbing can affect all areas of our lives, from experiencing “low-grade disconnection” in relationships to hiding behind perfection as a shield. The fear of not being good enough, or not living a life that is extraordinary enough, drives this intolerance of vulnerability.
“In this world, somehow an ‘ordinary’ life has become synonymous with a ‘meaningless’ life.” – Brené Brown
I mentioned in my “Send Me” post that I’ve been learning about the Enneagram recently. The Enneagram is essentially used as a tool to learn about nine different personality profiles, as well as how each can grow in relation to the other eight. I fall into the Four’s profile, with an inclination towards Five as a “wing.” I learned from the book The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz that the basic fear of Fours is to have no personal identity or significance – to be “ordinary” and, therefore, meaningless. In relation to this fear, “Fours ache to be understood. They deeply desire to be known.” Fives, on the other hand, are described as the most withdrawn of the nine types, being suspicious of attempts to reach them as intrusions on their privacy. (Trying to find a balance here might throw you into an “Existential Hole.” Seriously, it’s a real thing.)
Somewhere between unhealthy isolation and unhealthy oversharing, there is the line of proper vulnerability. A while back, I was talking to my good pal and fellow Four Ashtyn about walking this line of appropriate self-disclosure while blogging. On one hand, this is an exercise in vulnerability. On the other hand, it’s also the Internet, and theoretically anyone could be reading this, so let’s consider this a very controlled exercise. I’m willing to admit to the Internet that, like most of us, I’m afraid – afraid of doing something wrong, of getting hit by a truck, of being alone, of facing the innumerable unknowns of life, and definitely of allowing myself to be vulnerable. However, I think I’m a little more afraid of not telling a good story.
“I remembered who I was when I learned to dance with the fear that I’d been running from.” – Ben Rector
To bookend this blog properly, let’s go back to some Donald Miller (who, by the way, is also a Four. Don, if you’re reading this, let’s be friends.) His most recent book Scary Close examines the way of “dropping the act and finding true intimacy.” In one particular section, Miller describes a memory of sitting on a dock overlooking a pond, hesitant to jump off for fear of the sudden change. Fortunately for the ultimate lesson of the chapter, he jumped. Fear has a way of lying to us, whether it’s whispering that we could never perform well enough to impress, or merely that we won’t like the temperature change in the pond. In Miller’s words, “What else keeps us from living a better story than fear?”
My fears keep me on my toes. Striving for perfection actually prohibits me from growing, whether it’s in my performances, relationships, writing, etc. It also leaves a pretty wide margin for error. A while back, I came to the exasperated conclusion “I’m just winging it.” After thinking about that for a minute, I realized how liberating it was. It reminded me of another chapter from Scary Close. In it, Miller records a “list of new freedoms” such as “I am willing to sound dumb,” “I am willing to be wrong,” and, fittingly, “I am willing to admit I’m afraid.” In summary, “I’m perfectly willing to be perfectly human.” In order to tell a good story with my life, I must be willing to journey through fear to experience joy. This means living with (*gulp*) vulnerability, along with enough grace to clean up the inevitable imperfections. While the adventure might seem a bit ordinary, learning to dance with fear is far from meaningless.