I’m blessed to have some fabulous people in my life, including career coach Kim Ann Curtin. Kim met with me recently to help me strategize about where my career is headed and how to get there.
As we talked about various possibilities, Kim asked what I was afraid of. My stomach knotted and my throat got hot. I’m afraid of a whole lot of things: unemployment, poverty, failure, humiliation, not living up to my potential, being miserable at work, wasting my life.
Trying to channel positivity, I started to tamp down these fears. I’m smart, I’ve done good work, I have a good resume, I don’t have to be afraid.
Kim told me to do the opposite — to spend some time really being with my worst fears, to explore what they are and how they make me feel. Wallow in them even.
Kim draws on the teachings of Raphael Cushnir, who wrote an O Magazine article about learning his wife was having an affair. A friend advised him not to run from the pain but to pay close attention to it:
there are only two questions to ask. The first is, What is happening right now? In asking, we pay specific attention to the sensations in our bodies and any emotions associated with them. Instead of looking for an answer, we just allow what’s there to make itself known.
The second question is, Can I be with it? To be with what’s happening means embracing whatever we find with no agenda whatsoever. In the expansion that follows, what’s been trapped is free to chart its own course.
Cushnir’s two questions can apply to feeling depressed or lonely, not just fear, but that’s the context in which we discussed him.
As often happens, once an idea comes up the first time, suddenly it’s everywhere.
A blog called Balance Beam, by one of my Relationship Masters Academy classmates, recently addressed judgment and fear:
When times get tough, our own fear of failure can back us into the corner and make us defensive or angry. (Personally, I tend to express this as impatience.) While the tendency is to put up those protective walls, this is the time when we need to be more open to and accepting of others’ insight, help and support. Put the claws away.
I’ve been reading “The Pathfinder: How to Choose or Change Your Career for a Lifetime of Satisfaction and Success.” Laying in bed reading the night after I’d met with Kim, I ran across this passage:
“Go for vitality, not comfort. Be unreasonable. At every moment you have one essential choice: to let the programming steer the boat or to take the helm yourself. Your present circumstances, your mood, the thoughts that pass by all have a life of their own, independent of your will. You can, at any moment, take flight on new wings into an unprecedented life by making a choice for vitality, for living fully, for LIFE spelled in capital letters. It is, however, an expensive journey. You pay by giving up the familiar, comfortable, everyday ways of living and thinking that are the wages and rewards of going with the flow of your programming. The willingness to feel fear and keep going forward distinguishes the living from the merely breathing. In fact, it is not just the so-called negative emotions that are uncomfortable. When you choose to live fully, your palate of experiences, thoughts, emotions and possibilities expands. This leads you onto new ground in other areas of your life, as well. And folks, all that newness swirling around just ain’t comfortable.”
Even more direct is this passage from Four-Hour Workweek, which I recently reviewed here:
“What we fear most is usually what we most need to do. As I have heard said, a person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have. Resolve to do one thing every day that you fear.”
So I acknowledge feeling that knot in my stomach and heat in my throat, and I’m willing to feel it all. I won’t let it keep me from doing what I feel is right, and in fact, I embrace the notion that if I’m at least a little afraid, that might mean I’m headed in the right direction.