Recently, meaning within the last six months, I realized the origin of ninety percent of my debilitating fears: fear of rejection from others, and fear of failure.
First I’ll describe the fear of rejection. When I have a dopeass idea for a project, or some cool aspiration for what to do with my life, whether it’s creative/creative, creative/commercial or commercial/commercial, what often holds me back from really pursuing it with all my heart—the way “successful” people do—is the fear that people will respond harshly. There will be critics, especially online critics, who are hateful, who point out my faults, and who revel in their perceived superiority, though they do nothing else with their lives besides criticize, belittle, and put down.
For some reason, I believe that people will not take me seriously, and many will not like me or the things I do. I find that idea hard to handle, that anyone would not like me or think what I do is great and of value. I think my parents telling me I’m a valuable person and that my ideas are good has something to do with this, but it’s also that many others have said the same thing since then: friends, teachers, coworkers, professors, colleagues, bosses. I have a decent idea that what I have to say IS indeed of value, and yet I still fear the voices of those who have never met me, who don’t know what a nice, generous, friendly person I am, and who, without that familiarity, would judge my contributions very harshly. Because the world doesn’t care about you, or what a “great person” you are.
Does their lack of familiarity mean their judgments are more fair? I think it depends on the person, but maybe that’s partly what I worry about. True, some people are shitheads who just get off on being critical (or worse) when they themselves lack either comparable expertise or accomplishment. Yet, for others, maybe it’s a little bit of the “human nature” that society instills in us: maybe everyone who has ever said something encouraging to me was only doing so in light of my warm, uplifting personality. To reciprocate, so to speak. I am generally found to be a considerate, pleasant, enjoyable person to be around. Almost by necessity, making someone feel good is likely to improve that person’s impression of what I do.
But I realize this borders on pathology, this level of suspicion. What it really signifies is a fear that I will be exposed as less of an exceptional person than I identify myself as. Additionally, I have very thin skin for harsh criticism. Constructive criticism, yes, I welcome it, but many people equate harshness with constructiveness. They have an idea in their minds that because they “don’t pull any punches” and they “speak their minds,” somehow the content of their minds is worth more, when in reality they are often like the folks I describe earlier, who get off on being harsh and have nothing of their own to show for their lives besides their harsh views.
So I am not averse to constructive criticism. I have a natural deference to authority figures whom I perceive to be intellectually superior to myself, like great professors or people who are better readers than I am (I’m a not-great reader, to my chagrin.) When these people can say something useful, I like, appreciate, and might even act on it.
It’s the rest of the fools out there that I worry about, the hidden “haters,” “trolls,” and the like.
The other fear that keeps my ambition at bay all too often is the fear of failure. What I absolutely cannot stomach even thinking about is setting up something cool and interesting and exciting, only to have to break it down and to remove it later. Think of it as a storefront, literal or metaphorical. The idea of dismantling it—of tearing down the walls, the organization, the floor, the personal touches, of a dream now lost, broken, and burned—is abhorrent to me. Putting my heart, my love and passion, into something, and having that thing fail….the idea of it physically upsets me.
Perhaps that’s why so many people would rather work a regular, decently-paying job as someone else’s employee and have some children, rather than start their own businesses, because it’s somehow easier to envision raising a child relatively well, healthily, “successfully,” than realizing some dream in real life: a music career, opening an art supply store, coffee shop or restaurant, or even to be a dentist instead of a lawyer, or an engineer instead of taking over the family business, George Bailey-style. Never mind my dreams or dream job; my children will fulfill my dreams. My own life doesn’t matter, nor does challenging or changing the world that denied me my dreams, even though I chose not to pursue them. And I will raise those children to believe they can do whatever they want with their lives, and then when they are 18, I will tell them the truth: make a living, or be a failure.
I can understand people’s aversion to taking such chances. It would be great to be a paid novelist, or musician, or voiceover artist, but I have yet to pursue those dreams to their full conclusion. Still, I can’t stomach the idea of going the straight-and-narrow route either. I don’t want marriage or children. I want what I want. The degree to which I want it, however, is the variable. Do I WANT one thing or another enough to make it happen? And if decidedly so, what is keeping me from acting on that want?
Fear, largely; fear and follow-through, or procrastination. But this blog entry is not about procrastination. It’s about fear, which I think is the main cause of procrastination anyway. I don’t want to start something—say, a novel—that I won’t finish, or that won’t be of superlative quality, and I mean transcendent. I want everything I do to be excellent, and finished. Nothing wrong with that. But what exactly is it? Fear, the fear that someone will not like what I do. And for some reason, I think I can control that by being so focused on quality and universal appeal that NO ONE will not like it, or it will not lead to total success as I envision it. The actuality is I do control it: by not writing anything, by not putting anything out there, I completely avoid any chance of rejection, or for that matter, failure. And I have met others who possess this apparent tendency far more notably than myself.
Obviously, that is not a very Alpha manner in which to live. So what is the solution?
A week or two ago, I came up with two slogans to help me circumvent my fears somewhat.
“You are not important enough to worry about true rejection.”
“What you are trying to do is not difficult enough to really warrant a fear of failure.”
The purpose of them is not to redraw the scale of my ambition, but rather to remember that there is no need to worry about large-scale rejection by society when I’m not really all that important.
Though getting a novel published or whatever else I might do is certainly difficult, there have been people who have spent their lives doing MASSIVELY more difficult things: integrating public schools, getting a vote for women, trying to end wars, and the like. Additionally, I have numerous levels of privilege on my side, whereas those who fight those kinds of battles often do not. For many non-white non-male non-heterosexual non-able-bodied non-middle-class non-cis-gender non-criminal-record-free folk, some dreams will remain infinitely closer to “dreams” than to reality because they don’t possess the freedom to act on them.
So, what I am doing, on my own, is not all that hard in any absolute sense. And if I remind myself of that, I can do it. And if I try to do something that IS that hard also, with others to help me, as the Freedom Riders, Suffragettes, and antiwar activists had, that’s even better, and it makes my own dream, not inferior, but part of a greater vision of the society that we fight for: one in which the fulfillment of a dream—like the freedom to practice one’s art without fear of poverty—is not the exception, but the rule.