On Being Afraid

As I dug through old blogs a few weeks ago, I came across an entry I wrote while pregnant with H. It's about confidence, and motherhood, and how I was changing, and as I read it, I thought simultaneously, Ah, yes, here is the genesis of what comes next and Oh honey, you have no idea.

In the blog, I discuss an article called “The Confidence Gap” in The Atlantic, about how often women--even wildly successful ones--are plagued by self-doubt, take fewer risks than men, and fear failure. 

After reading that article, I wrote,

I saw myself on every page. How many decisions have I made because I was afraid? When I was sixteen, I wanted to go to undergrad at UC Berkeley. I fell in love with Berkeley when I visited at sixteen, my first time on the West Coast, my first time in San Francisco, and I instantly and hopelessly loved San Francisco and the whole Bay area. The hills and the blue bay and the burritos in the Haight and the wig shops in the Castro. The cold fog on my face. The sound of barking sea lions. The smell of eucalyptus. I loved every moment. And Berkeley, the school where my uncle graduated with his degree in engineering, Berkeley, was it, my dream.

So, when time came to apply for college, I didn’t apply to Berkeley.

I don’t remember how I excused it then. Maybe money, I don’t know. But what I do know now, what’s impossible not to recognize, is that I didn’t apply because I was afraid I wouldn’t get in.

We could go through decision after decision–-down to why I’m at my current job–-and I can point to fear being part of the equation.

Fear of failure, fear of bankruptcy, fear of being too far from family, fear of earthquakes. Fill in the blanks. Fear of jumping--fear that the net will not, after all, appear.

What I didn't know then, while I was pregnant, and feeling the changes that were about to happen but completely oblivious as to what was about to hit me, was that motherhood would force me to make different choices, but not in the way I might have expected.

I'm not at my old job. I'm in a new city. A city I'm already wanting to leave. I'm making big plans. Plans I never would have made at any time in my life before now.

Part of what I'm learning is that I can be confident, and I can make decisions not based in fear--while being completely terrified at the same time.

What I'm learning is that I don't have to feel confident to act confident. And the process of acting confident has a funny way of building--yes--confidence.

And--and this is the part that strikes me the most--I've got so much more grace and forgiveness and gentleness for my previous selves, the ones too afraid to apply to Berkeley, too nervous to study abroad, too timid, too quiet... Every decision I made out of fear is part of my story, a step on the path that led me where I'm at. How can I regret any of them? How can I fault myself for choices I made or didn't make, when that was the best I could do at the time? And what good does it do to feel ashamed of where I was at before, just because I'm no longer there?

More than two years ago, I sat in a cold restaurant, drinking chai, and I wrote,

The other day, Jesse and I ate hamburgers and talked about our baby, our baby girl, and we talked about the article. I took the online “quiz” posted by the authors of the article (link hereif you want to try it for yourself) and when the results came back You have lower than average confidence, I nearly cried.

I’m going to have a baby girl. I don’t want this for her. I don’t want to teach her to doubt herself. I don’t want to teach her to avoid risk. (I do want to teach her to look both ways before crossing the street. But if she doesn’t feel 100 percent qualified for a promotion, I want her to apply anyway–-because men will apply when they’re 50 percent qualified, not 100.)

I don’t know where this leads. I don’t know what’s ahead. But while I am scared about the implications of starting to think this way (avoiding risk is comfortable! and I rather like it!) I’m also excited. Because I don’t believe my confidence is a static thing. I believe that I can change those quiz results. And I’m ready. I’m ready to see what’s next. I’m ready to see what happens when I start really trying. When I start asking, what if I can do it? 

Even that version of myself feels far away sometimes. Impossibly naive. And afraid. And I want to reach out my hand to her and say, Come on, you're on the right path. Just keep going.

But truthfully, I'm finding more and more that the path is going to be a long one. Case in point: we've found a new church, and we're starting to get involved and make new friends. There are several women I find absolutely wonderful--interesting, compelling, funny. So as soon as they start to reach out to me, what do I do? I immediately become a huge flake and fail to text them back, or fail to make plans, or fail to show up. Because I'm afraid. I've got a lot of friendship baggage. So a lot of the time, it's easier to retreat and hide than it is to reach out, to be vulnerable, to risk being that girl again, that awkward girl who doesn't know what to say, who isn't naturally outgoing. The weird one. Or, just the forgotten one--the one whose friends are just too busy.

Ah, so. Here I am again, on the edge of a decision. And I'm trying to make a different one. So, I'll try--I'll try to make friends, knowing that failure is absolutely part of the potential outcome. This probably sounds silly to many of you. Making friends isn't a major life decision. But it's a small step on my path, and I'm trying to celebrate the small victories, the little markers of progress. 

In a way, that's what this whole blog is. An experiment in putting myself out there. 

When I posted the political post the other day on Instagram and Facebook, I felt physically sick for a whole day after. Because I knew my mother would see it, I knew that many people who are important to me and who disagree with me would see it. I knew they wouldn't like it. And it brought up so many feelings--fear of rejection, fear of not being enough, fear of not being accepted for who I really am. Fear of being known for who I really am. And not being loved. 

But I posted it anyway. And I didn't delete it. And I breathed through the stomach aches and headaches that followed. And I was okay. I was okay. I will be okay. 

Erin BondComment