The fear lurking beneath rejection
My daydreams and night dreams are blurring into each other these days. In the morning I woke to wispy threads of emotion… I kept my eyes closed and reached for them, stretching myself, but they were just beyond my grasp. I can’t quite put words to the threads of the fabric, but the feeling was so warm and yummy… I was light and airy and connected to something right, doing something that filled me up. Joy was so present, I wanted to stay asleep because I felt as if I’d arrived somewhere I daydream of, a place where what I did every day drew together a complete me, a purposeful, fulfilled version of me that knew she was doing what she was always meant to do…
Next I’m daydreaming… I imagine the workshops I want to offer on cooking and eating a Whole Food Plant-Based Diet… of course, I’d have to start with why anyone would want to eat this way, but then I’d get to share the joys of discovering remarkable fruits and vegetables and grains… like Jackfruit from Indonesia and Lotus Root from China, Teff from Africa and Freekeh from the Middle East, pulses like Urad and Chana Daal from India… and then I’d get to teach people how to buy them and prepare them and cook them, how to season them and combine them and….
A loud voice boomed in my head. “God I’m sick of all this dreaming! Email that cooking school and tell them your ideas! Or go there, introduce yourself, hand them a resume and move on to the next possibility!”
I have to admit, my gut response was quick and confident: “Yeah! Why wouldn’t they say ‘YES’?” But it was immediately followed by a painful stab, “What then?”
I’ll tell you “what then”… FEAR; it came in thick waves, like Chicago summer heat. My heart raced, my throat tightened, and my forehead began to bead sweat. I suddenly saw things clearly…I wasn’t afraid of rejection; I was afraid they might say yes!
I realized that if they say YES, I’ll be committed to doing something with my time, my very precious time. BOOM… I see my fear clearly: there isn’t enough time! This triggers an escalating line of thought in my head: If I do A, I can’t do B. If I do A, I won’t ever know if I could make more money doing B. If I’m busy doing A, I’ll be constrained; I won’t be able to dedicate myself to B, or even consider C, D, and, E. And I definitely won’t have time to start my wellness business or play pool on Thursday nights, or…. Even as I write this, my fear is racing, my pen is chasing it across the page, and those beads of sweat are joining each other and trickling down my forehead into my eyes.
“What if they say ‘YES’?” Then I’ll have to make it happen, figure out how to deal with the money part, distinguish myself from the rest of the pack, create a business plan, get a license… what about taxes, etc., etc., etc.
“STOP,” I shouted at the mind chatter.
I know how to deal with these fears, how to navigate them — just reexamine all the big, scary choices I’ve made over the course of my life, and how I executed each transformation, one step at a time. I’ve managed multiple moves, career changes, and returns to school (for a master’s degree in my 30’s and a Ph.D. in my 40’s). And each time, I’ve planned carefully and pushed through successfully, pretty “F”ing well I might add. I know how to stand up and get things done!
But the dreaded fear of committing — myself and my time — that’s another thing entirely. This hesitancy has always been the elephant in the room, its tail tripping me, its trunk swatting me, or its pure enormity obscuring everything else. Yet it’s odd… I have NEVER thought of myself as having a fear of commitment, primarily because once I’ve made a choice, I am the most committed, loyal, hardworking person you will ever meet. Ahhh, but getting there, choosing one thing over another, there’s the rub, especially when it comes to vocation and avocation. I’ve always had many interests, diverse and multifaceted, and I’ve always felt conflicted about choosing ONE over the other. So, I’ve avoided the act of making a choice whenever possible, using one of two fruitless methods.
First, there is the tried and true “do nothing” approach. I am very good at this. The goddesses I created in 1991 still sit in a manila folder in my file drawer,
several mosaic projects languish unfinished in my craft bin, and I’m conflicted about which I should do first, adopt a dog or find Mr. Right. I’m not saying I sit around every day doing absolutely nothing, but I am much better at starting something new than committing myself to finish something that might turn out to inadvertently pigeon-hole me. Maybe that’s because every job I’ve ever had, from the time I was 22 until two years ago when I turned 54, literally consumed me to the point of burnout. What little discretionary time I had was so dear, the mere thought of structuring it, or setting goals, or making myself be anywhere but my comfort zone felt as oppressive as an elephant sitting on my chest.
The second method I employed to avoid making choices was nearly the opposite of the first. I call it the “grab and go,” making an impulsive choice, acting on the first thing that shows up… Like when I was finishing my Ph.D. with no clue what to do next… “Holy crap, I just spent five years and $120 thousand to get a Ph.D. so I could be a professor, and now it seems academia isn’t any better than Corporate America. I have no “F”ing idea what else to do and everyone expects me to take a teaching job!” But when an assistant professorship with the “right” title suddenly appeared, I didn’t miss a beat. It was run, little girl, run… move across the country, find a new home, bury yourself in hard work and seek the success defined by others, never your own, for fear of seeing the truth of who you really are, or what you really want…
What do I really want? There is a Robert Frost poem called “Two Tramps in Mud Time”¹ that ends with a stanza that has gripped me for over 30 years:
“But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.”
Uniting my avocation and my vocation has been my mission, my holy grail, from the first time I read these lines. They awoke in me a yearning to feel what Frost wrote about, and they’ve inspired me to journey far and wide, seeking that sacred union.
Yet when it came right down to it, for all my seeking I still didn’t know how to choose amongst the variety of interests that stirred me. Whether I made no choice or chose impulsively, I avoided the intense discomfort that comes with not knowing what to do, not being able to FEEL the right choice.
Subconsciously my methods kept me from having to venture to very dark places, places so scary I couldn’t allow myself to visit. It’s taken me a long time to learn that if I can muster enough patience and bravery, and just sit with the queasiness in my stomach and the heaviness in my heart, in the quiet, a knowingness will come. Sometimes it arrives like a sudden thunderclap, other times it rolls in thick like fog. This knowing clarity tells me which way to turn, lights the path — the shoulds, the maybes, and the musts become clear. In the clearing, my heart and my mind come together to reveal the source, soul.
The “me” who’s been conflicted by so many interests, ideas, potential directions and can’t choose, the deer in the headlights, that me — last year she finally chose to sit with the discomfort of not knowing. She sat for six months and finally the knowing began. It continued another year and a half, right up to this very moment. She… I… WE created a business model based on a kaleidoscopic approach to wellness, and to becoming whole, so that choosing any one thing would be unnecessary, even damaging to the process of truly becoming myself. I’ve created scribbles and essays and pictures describing in detail how I can push out in all the directions I’ve always wanted to go. They are the constant reminders I need to reassure myself that I DO NOT have to choose any one thing, or rather, whole wellness includes all things!
I can write and cook and teach and decoupage and learn and share and grow! I can do it all! I have the binders and the notebooks and the folders to prove it and I can juggle all of them at the same time, just like I clean three rooms at the same time, a little here and a little there. But can I?
“What if they say ‘YES’?”
I’ll have to prove it, prove that I can become myself, my whole self, the “me” that is that crazy kaleidoscope of urgings, and that I can balance my whole self in the chaos of this world we all call home. That is the fear I felt when I realized they just might say “yes.”
Yes indeed, why wouldn’t they? I have a Ph.D. in behavioral wellness, 15 years of teaching experience in higher education, before that a successful 15-year career in financial analysis, but most importantly, I understand people. I know what motivates them, scares them, and keeps them up at night. I can communicate with just about anyone, from the corporate CEO to the artist next door to the little neighbor boy who loved to play with my dog. I have a macro view of the world but can also work the detail like nobody’s business. I can think critically while also considering the feelings of those involved because my superpower lies in my duality. I used to consider it the bane of my existence, but I’ve come to see it through new eyes. By uniting my heart and my mind I can exponentially increase my effectiveness and use my knowledge, skills, and abilities for the greater good, including my own.
“What if they say ‘YES’?”
How about we find out…? Let’s take a risk in order to discover the path forward, the next part of the journey, the wonder of possibility. Let’s find out what Becoming Whole really looks like…
¹Frost, R. (1934). Two tramps in mud-time. New York: Spiral Press.