“Your fear is 100% dependent on you for its survival.” ~ Steve Maraboli
If we placed our fears in a petri dish and the universe asked what it needed in order to survive, we all know the short and long of it – it’s us. We’ve seen the Pinterest boards and Facebook quotes. We get it. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, and we must do the things we think we cannot do. If only our understanding of fear somehow brought feeling back to the paralyzed consciousness it creates.
Just because we get why we’re afraid, doesn’t make our feelings less so. A child’s fear of monsters under the bed won’t lose validity when the lights turn on. They’re relieved when discovering the monsters don’t exist, but their fear was always real.
As we get older, the monsters morph into tangible worries like having enough money, making life changing decisions and to top off the insomnia trifecta, being in good mental and physical health.
Although fear is universal, our own struggles narrow the scope and they become much more crystallized within the walls of our story. Each of us has our path, and it’s always walked alone. Our compass is built from life experience, the realization of who we are (which only comes from letting go of who we pretend to be), and the choices we make based on how we handle fear.
Fear is fucked. No one really talks about it, because the more we talk about it, the more it exists. Also, with fear lives vulnerability. It’s a he-said-she-said trap of “I know you are, but what am I”; fear points the finger at vulnerability, while vulnerability blames its very existence on fear. It’s six of one, half-dozen of shit, making us feel weak and alone. So we bury them both, deep inside ourselves, hoping bravado serves as our cloak of armor.
Once we realize this – our perception shifts. Instead of feeling envy for those who [we think] have their shit together, we suddenly recognize parts of ourselves among the people around us. It’d be a much different world if we all realized the connections in which we live are through this maze of dysfunction and fear, buried deep in the underbelly of having it all.
Which brings me to a story of someone I know (we’ll call him Nicky). Nicky hangs within my circle of trust (and after an all-night jam session with him about fear, has earned mad props in my personal, dysfunctional fear-based wheelhouse).
We started talking about fear, and the conversation that transpired was illuminating.
“It keeps us from being who we are and who we wish to be.” He explained. “Fear is what keeps us from promotion. Fear is what keeps us from our true potential. Fear is everywhere.” His voice was solid. “The question is – how do we deal with it?”
“The biggest critic in life is us.” I replied.
“I’m a bitch for The Man. I take on more than I should.” He continued.
“I know.” My head, nodding in agreement.
“The problem is – what do we get from our job? The money? Fulfillment? Or both? Money has a heavy price tag – which means my efforts have a heavy price tag, which means this job has a heavy price tag.”
“I may not have children. I may not have a wife. But I have people who I support. The reason I do what I do isn’t because I’m weak. It’s not because I’m incapable. It’s because I’m tapped. And it’s all out of fear.”
In Nicky’s case, what was wringing him dry was his fear of making a fair request with his employer. Having just completed another string of 18 hour days (22 days with no time off, to be exact), he was teetering on the edge of classic burn out – a mental breakdown.
I could see he had more to say.
“‘I need two days off’ – this is the phrase that will galvanize a defining moment for me. We have the right to earn our moments. We have the right to fair wage. We have right. This is not merely two days off. It’s an opportunity to earn my life back.” His voice was trembling. “The same people we’re trying to earn for, we are sacrificing our time with. We fall on the sword so they don’t see it coming. This creates imbalance. The imbalance of simply being human.”
By now, I was taking notes, and he realized our conversation would make its way to my blog.
“There’s your blog.” He laughed, throwing his hands down, as if dropping a microphone and walking off the stage. He watched me type feverishly on the keys.
“It’s what I do.” I threw him knowing laughter, continuing to type.
Whether we carry the weight of expectation with the people we support financially, or simply because we want to kick ass at our new job – there’s only so much we can take until the levity of our struggle knocks us the fuck out.
Less than a week after our conversation, that’s exactly what happened. After eight months of working on fumes, Nicky, paralyzed with fear, broke down. Not by asking for a fair work schedule, but by allowing his pendulum to swing in the other direction. He let go, pressing his fuck-it switch and had a full-blown meltdown. Because he suffers clinical depression, he stayed down – for days.
I didn’t learn of this development until he confessed after the fact – and after I badgered him for disappearing (as a fellow depressive, falling off the radar is hauntingly familiar).
What happened with his employer, Nicky would tell you is completely unfair and he’s not entirely wrong. But what I think is a twist of fate in how the universe handles our delicate souls when suffering, I believe it’s a gift. By all accounts, not showing up for work for days would justify termination. On the same token, what drove him to his breakdown was an inhumane (and I’m pretty sure illegal) work schedule.
Nicky wasn’t fired. Instead, his boss offered him a demoted position (with a huge salary decrease). He’s also required to re-visit a mental health professional to help sleigh is personal dragons, which opens up a whole new file on our Personal Fears desktop.
One of the hardest things to face is who we are as a result of where we’ve been.
Nicky and I have much in common. Like so many of us, the cloth from which we’re cut is from the same, fucked up tapestry of abuse and neglect. Each of our stories is a brick thrown down on our road Oz.
It’s no picnic, having to lift these bricks of why and how (can you imagine being required to do so by your employer?). The good news is that Nicky still has his job – and demotion or not, it’s a call for contribution and a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
We may not be working our dream jobs, but there’s tremendous honor in knowing our work is valued. Whether we sweep floors, work a drive-through, or push paper for The Man, what we do is making a difference (if Nicky wasn’t valued, he’d be collecting unemployment, living with one of the big Three’s of fear – not having a job).
I know Nicky feels that he ‘lost’ somehow, by being demoted, and although I feel his plight, I see the up side. He’s showing up for work – head high, walking tall, navigating through office chatter and judgment (this reminds me of waiting tables in my 20’s in a place where my high school bullies used to frequent). He doesn’t see it now, but his actions are building a solid foundation of self-worth (that neither one of us received in childhood). This serves him well in his current situation, and is exactly what will carry him over to his next career opportunity.
How we manage our shitty circumstances in the present always lays the ground work for how we kick ass tomorrow.
There’s something to be said for character-building experiences born from humility, and Nicky’s story is no different. He’s taught me many things through example and the latest is this: with all the fear we struggle with in life – there’s nothing braver than simply showing up.
5 thoughts on “Sine Metu (Without Fear)”
First, I think it’s really sad how employees are treated like a commodity. It’s hard to stand up when in the back of our minds we know someone else will take our place. Secondly, I agree that he must be valued at said company if he still has a job there. I also think it’s incredibly brave going back to work after having a breakdown and being demoted. Many people would be paralyzed by the fear of what everyone was going to think/say upon returning to work. Finally, though it is awesome that the company kept him on, it doesn’t sound like the sort of place one should stay long term. He should work there till he can find something else.
Thanks Nicole – I agree. I believe he’s currently exporing outside opportunities as we speak. He’s far too experienced, hard-working and good at what he does to work there. I told him this is just the “push” he needed.
It all boils down to how we are raised – isn’t it? I wholeheartedly believe that if Nicky (and all of us who grew up under the same umbrella) were raised with a healthy sense of self that facing these types of fears (the types of fears that are natural – we all have them) would be different.
The good news is that we never stop learning. This experience is shaping him to be an ever better, more self-assured person.
Hey Christine, thanks for reaching out on twitter — this took a bit because of some RL stuff that needed attention, but I’m glad I read this post. Fear is, without a doubt, a constant player in my life. And as you stand, once I turned Thirty the ghosts and monsters have made way for money-troubles and employment status fears.
I have friends like your friend Nicky. And I used to work a job just like his. I don’t know his story, so I can’t judge him, but he just like many of us adults sometimes forget that fear doesn’t need only us to exist, it also needs irrationality. We need to be so scared and so willing to protect our important factors that we sometimes lose sight of what’s available to use in terms of resources and solutions.
Nicky did what any person on the brink would do: He put himself first and said “Fuck you” to showing up because his job was taking advantage of him and his talents. As hindsight is 20/20, I used to work 60+ work weeks, exhausted, being made to feel like everything was my responsibility (like it sounds with Nicky) when the fact of the matter is it’s flat-out illegal. The US Department of Labor has strict, strict guidelines regarding hours, breaks and overtime salaries because of assholes who like to bend the system and treat their employees unfairly. Nicky’s demotion is a sign that his employer needs him, values him, but saw it as a way to pay less, possibly think they couldn’t trust him (which is bullshit since the guy was formerly working so much) and push mental-health requirements on him, which they may be legally required to do, or want listed in his file if another issue should arise.
But, I digress. Fear needs us to survive. But it needs more. It needs us to isolate ourselves from reason, long-term planning and self-worth. The child fears the monster because he thinks the monster wants to hurt him. Regardless of the fact that the child has never seen a monster in real life hurt another child, he assumes that’s what monster do because he’s been told that.
I fear everything. I’m finally getting better, but fear needs over thinking. Fear requires us to have both sides of the conversation by ourselves — we identify the problem (source of fear) and then assume what will happen: i.e. We will lose our jobs, and then we’ll be homeless and ashamed because we don’t have enough money. Therefore we stay, because we can’t have happen what we assume will happen.
I’ve written more than I intended that, but this was a great post that really inspired a lot of thought. I think to get over fear–the specifics fears we adults often share–we need to think about a game plan for ourselves, to realize that the worst possible scenario is not necessarily going to happen, but what would we DO if something bad would happen.
So, if A. I lose my job, then my plan would be B. I would collect unemployment, apply for X amount of jobs a day, make extra money doing [blank] and be able to cover my necessary expenses.
Since fear lives in our heads, so can our solutions. And if you think your solutions are too simple, or might not happen… well, the thing you fear might happen might not happen either, the point is we all built this up in our heads. I say look at the things we fear head-on and envision how you’d cope/deal. What you would do in case it happens. It takes away some of its power and makes life more enjoyable. I hope your friend Nicky is ok — and I’d urge him to report his employer to the US Dept of Labor, and the state. Putting that kind of information on file is worthwhile and they take conduct seriously. If he thinks it’s illegal, it probably is, and he can report anonymously. Danger is real, but fear is not. It’s an irrational construct of our life experiences and imaginations.
I love your blog, as usual 🙂
As someone who hasn’t been able to work in, fuck, seven years, I applaud Nicky’s perseverance in so many ways. My husband and I have lived on his salary (and, several times on the past five years, on his unemployment) and it’s a struggle, in more ways than one. Fear is so incredibly overwhelming that anyone who faces it and chooses not to cash it all in is a hero in my book. I hope Nicky recognizes that his ability to manage is a huge inspiration and I thank you for sharing his story (and, as always, yours). Much love, friend.