Currently, I am working with a new group of clients who are all transitioning from one career to another. As can emerge, when change is forced upon us, fear of the unknown surfaced for many of them. What can also surface is a desire to avoid the fear by keeping busy or escaping using many forms of distraction – over-indulging in sleep, food, alcohol; applying for any and all jobs; running those errands that never seem to get done because of work; etc.
For the most part, everyone in the group has run the gamut of emotional responses typical when transitioning from an ending through the void of uncertainty to a new beginning. As William Bridges illustrates in his transition curve, we can find ourselves “stuck” and “spinning our wheels” if doubt and worry become our primary responses to change.
In my own journey between endings and new beginnings, I discovered the “ditch of doubt” is a fertile valley for letting go of the old and unserving, and learning what we need to take forward into our new life and identity. The key is to embrace the adventure emerging for us in the moment and recognize that fearing the unknown is our irrational response to change. I continue to see F.E.A.R. as the acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real, and to remind myself and others that transition, change or transformation are what we as children referred to as adventure. And every childhood adventure was all about fun and the joy of learning.
I wrote the piece below in 2001 during a time when I was determined to face my fears and find my way free of their desperate clutches and influences.
Passing Fears October 2001
This has been my year of living with Fear. She became my roommate, moved into my home and heart. I don’t like her much, and I often want to evict her moody, dark ways. I reckon with why I never allowed her residence before. So what is different for me this year, that I allowed Fear to so brazenly pitch her tent in my living room?
The now obvious answer is a year ago, almost to the day, I asked for love — an unconditionally loving, understanding, respectful, accepting and appreciative romantic partner — to be exact. I now know when one asks for great love to enter, her dance partner, Fear, is always in attendance. As I opened my heart to love, Pandora’s box emptied her life-long contents.
As great as my love was, an equally large knot of fear unravelled and introduced itself. Even in writing this, I resist giving life to her. How can I feel in one moment such immense, eternal love with all the energy to erect a pyramid single-handedly and then, in the next, be stopped cold in my tracks, shivering with fear? And not just one fear but all fears came to roost. With all those ‘pitched tents’, my living room resembled a Boy Scout’s Jamboree.
There didn’t seem to be one aspect of my life I could confidently claim as a fear-free zone. I was overwhelmed by the complexity, quantity and weight of its sum total. I am humbled and horrified by the toll I paid. I am saddened and frightened at my ability to hide it for so long. I am weary of its oppressive weight. And I am determined to clean these tents out of my home.
Slowly, one-by-one I witnessed Fear’s attacks on my psyche. From self-doubt to loneliness to deep sadness, I watched myself propelled between delight and deflation within a matter of hours, sometimes on a daily basis. This self-induced, emotional roller coaster had my head and heart equally challenged. So much information, so much emotion. No choice but to live in the moment. No more space or energy for other thoughts or other times. It scares me that my mood is so easily influenced by others’ thoughts, words and deeds. And then I remember, these feelings aren’t about them. The feelings I am experiencing are about me. I am the creator of this emotional imbalance. I can find my way out.
In the transition from fear to freedom, I traveled somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow. Today, I feel my spirit guiding heart, head and hands to join efforts in healing me. This powerful trinity led me to the edge of my wilderness. The confusion is dissipating. The hurt is not so paralyzing. I know what is happening. I know what is required of me. I am practicing what I know.
As I inch closer to understanding, I resist the urge to blame and shame myself or the fear-induced actions of those I love. This is good resistance. Though my heart is vulnerable, my head nods reassuringly and my spirit whispers, “You have lead with love. Rejoice in demonstrating your mastery. Celebrate what you have learned.” Even as I write these words, my heart lifts and the Fear-mongers in my head break camp and exit. I remind myself –
slow down, all good things stand the test of time
enter the silence and solitude to evoke inspiration
feel what I feel and express what I feel truthfully
stay grounded in my vision
practice unconditional love no matter what
What are you afraid of — loneliness, depression, death, uncertainty, being revealed as an imposter, anger, rejection, intimacy, commitment? Choose a fear from this list that plagues you and inhibits your ability to thrive. How do you avoid this fear? How can you begin to face this fear, one step at a time? Finally, what would it feel like and look like for you to be free of this fear?