Too afraid of failure: Why I want to back out before I’ve even started

Two very positive things happened for me this week:
  1. I was offered an interview for an internship that I’ve been eying for the last 7 months. It’s on international education in DC.
  2. I was accepted into elephant journal’s 4-month apprenticeship program for journalism, writing and editing.

At first, I felt really good upon submitting the applications. Like I was taking action rather than just talking about my interests. It was unlikely that I would be able to participate in either (and definitely not both) because of my upcoming plans, but I wouldn’t know if I didn’t try.

But then I receive positive responses from both and suddenly I’m…reluctant? Uneasy? Unenthused? These feelings loomed over my excitement.

WHAT IS THIS FEELING?!
Why do I feel shitty when the good things start coming?
Am I afraid of responsibility?
Do I feel it will consume me, and I won’t have time for myself or the people I love, and that will make me unhappy with the internships?
Or am I afraid I can’t follow through with what they assign me? That I won’t be able to give my 100% because I can’t organize my time well and I’m lacking flow? That I’m not as competent as I seem on paper? That I’ll make them regret their choice and it’ll just be uncomfortable for all of us?

Am I taking myself too seriously?

I remember when I got my SAT results and then again when I got into my top choice college, I couldn’t tell anyone at first. Even though it was exactly the news I wanted to hear, I felt strange. Trapped. As if the good news meant that I had to continue pushing myself for good results, but if I couldn’t make it, that would mean I didn’t deserve it in the first place. I suddenly felt weighed down with pressure, thinking wouldn’t it be easier if I chose something more aligned with what I expect from my mediocre self?

After some time to process these feelings, the concept of “imposter syndrome” floats to my mind. Maybe that’s it. Now I’m in the position to do something new professionally and I’m afraid I won’t succeed (now…or ever). I feel uneasy because I’m not looking forward to the shame of failing or underperforming (who is?). I’m tempted to delay until I feel more prepared…more perfect.
I decided to learn more about this unfortunate phenomenon. 

The imposter phenomenon is what happens when we compare our insides with other people’s outsides: Others appear confident and capable, but I think I’m insecure and under-qualified. I’ll fail eventually and then they’ll all know the truth about me.

According to the article “Why feeling like a fraud can be a good thing” in the BBC magazine this week, “though the phenomenon was first identified in the 1970s, psychologists say it seems to be ever more relevant in today’s hyper-competitive, economically insecure world.”

This is especially true for women, although it affects everyone. The article cites Dr. Valerie Young’s book The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women, “Despite often overwhelming evidence of their abilities, impostors dismiss them as merely a matter of luck, timing, outside help, charm – even computer error.”

How ridiculous that women often attribute their successes to luck, timing and other external factors, while at the same time they blame setbacks or failures on personal incompetencies

And unfortunately, imposterism doesn’t go away as someone accumulates successes. In fact, sometimes it magnifies because success can mean transitions, opportunities or risks that someone may have never experienced before. All the more reason to feel like a fraud.
The BBC also published a podcast on the subject. The following are some take-aways: 
  1. We often experience shame when we fail, forgetting that failure and short-comings are a part of life. Perfection as we define it doesn’t exist.
  2. We may have trouble disconnecting our work from ourselves because a lot of work today is “knowledge work” — work that relies on our minds and not on our hands — so when something happens, it feels like it’s us who are being judged and not our work.
  3. This personal and sensitive shame and preoccupation caused by feeling that others will discover you are an imposter “comes from putting too much value on other peoples opinions.”
  4. The root of this phenomenon possibly originated many years ago, with basis in Plato’s idea of the effect of liberalism; society began to replace God with other people, which turned us into slaves of public approval.
I’m feeling less alone but nowhere close to having conquered my imposter syndrome, so I created the following game plan. It includes reminders and perspective-shifting advice.
Game plan:
  • Accept and ignore the imposter thoughts. Welcome confident thoughts instead.
  • Don’t trust shame, especially the kind I feel before I’ve even started something.
  • Push on. If I see myself as a skilled writer and working my dream job in the future, that means taking risks right now. Otherwise my ideal future self will never become my present self. The best gift I can give myself is to take these daunting yet important steps.
  • I may fall flat on my face or I may succeed. But either way I’ll survive. I’ll keep breathing and I’ll learn something. One day I may laugh about it.
  • One of the best coping mechanisms I’ve learned is to step outside of myself and look at myself from someone else’s perspective. Or ask, how would I see someone in my situation? I find my feelings are a lot kinder and less extreme. This humanizes feelings that emerge from perfectionism.
  • Remember that I can’t see other people’s insides. We can misread external stimuli, and therefore mistake them for negative, judgmental feedback. It’s better to have a motive that’s higher than public approval. Ex: My higher purpose is to learn more about the career, so I can take advantage of my interviewer’s time and expertise (rather than their potential reaction taking advantage of my insecurities).
  • “You have to be self-competent to admit your weaknesses,” says neurosurgeon Henry Marsh. Don’t get hard — let others in on what you’re experiencing, and you’ll find that you’re not alone. Confiding will help you combat imposterism thoughts.

 

What is my revolution?

Day 7 LYL Start a Blog Prompt: What revolution will you lead?

My revolution will be personal (for now) because as I change myself, the world I exist in will change as well. Then, I hope to align my passions with the changes I want to see in the world.

The revolutionary idea for my blog is to speak the thoughts I haven’t wanted to say aloud and ask the questions that I’ve been afraid to ask – despite insecurities, fear, feeling lost, and failure.

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What change do I want to create?

I haven’t posted something new in over 4 days. I’ve been fiddling with the theme and formatting, saying “I’m working on my blog”, but I’ve been avoiding some big questions. By doing this, I’ve gained nothing and I’ve only hurt myself. However, I am determined not to lose the momentum I began with. The Live Your Legend Creators Guild on Facebook has been encouraging even though I haven’t yet shared my blog.

Time to dive in deeper!

LYL Day 6 Prompt: What difference do you want to make?

Speaking into my brown paper bag of honesty, my first response is “I don’t know!”

But that’s not true. I am all about change. And change is difference.

So, I ask, what change do I want to make?

  • Personal: I want to practice slow self-care, choosing quality (positive, caring homemade skin care products) over convenience (plastic bottles, un-readable ingredients, $). I want to become more loving to myself so that I can give purer love out into the world. In other words, I want to learn to believe in myself (be my biggest fan and cheerleader) so that I feel I can make a difference in the things I believe in.

Key focuses: DIY skin care, morning routine, flexibility, being honest with myself  

  • Professional: I want to develop my strong and weak skills. I want to be experimental and grateful for success and failure, without qualifying them (ex: “they chose me because they couldn’t find anyone else”, or “it’s because I’m not meant to do this work”). An individual’s 20s and 30s should be about strengthening weaknesses and then when they’re older they can play on their strengths. I’ll think of it as shading in the lighter areas of my portrait: I’m becoming more whole – not floundering in an area I don’t belong.

Key focuses: writing, organization, facilitating

  • World: Keeping in mind that the things that move me the most are what’s right in front of me, I wish for a collective concern for the environment. I wish for stronger recycling efforts in Chile. I wish for peaceful connections between people of different backgrounds. I wish for the world to feel smaller. I wish for more care and love toward animals.

Key focuses: environment, intercultural understanding

Next: What revolution will you lead? i.e. How does this all fit together?

My elevator poem

The Day 5 prompt: What’s your elevator pitch?
 ­
I’m somewhere between home and away.
I say few words but I search for big meaning.
My problems are solved by getting close to the shore, stretching on mountains, and leaping.
I sweat out what’s not in my control and I refine what is.
Sometimes I recharge by staying in my room with the window open looking up remedies to the toxins in my life,
but other times that drains me.
Sometimes it ignites me to be around other humans,
other times it picks me apart.
 ­
I may not see the lines of should and shouldn’t,
my street smarts come and go between
being too honest and not being real enough.
 ­
I am both home and away.
Because there is a world in me and I am in this world.
I feel in English and think in a foreign tongue.
I’m not even sure what language my heart speaks.
 ­
Slowly I learn I can’t validate myself to myself solely through actions,
nor can I meditate on things that have never made me happy or whole hoping suddenly it will just click.
Things don’t click,
they churn.
 ­
I think too much about what’s wrong with me and too little about what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it.
That is something I’d like to change.
 ­
I am kind and I’ll support you in the most silent of ways.
I want to get to know you by sharing intimate space with you.
Let’s share a kitchen or a walk in the hills or
that look across the table.
 ­
Most importantly, though,
is that I’m always starting and starting again and looking,
even though I’m afraid.
I’m always getting out when my comfort zone is in.
I cut loose the devils in my head so their soil grows a garden of positivity, again and again at each step between home and away.
My steps are big steps, I just don’t know it yet.
 ­
p.s. This post is part of the Start a Blog Challenge with Live Your Legend. Check it out!

I am trying to feel proud

Prompt: What’s one thing you’re proud of?

What am I flucking proud of? I shrink back in horror at this question. If I were asked this at a dinner party, I would play it off with an awkward comment about how I hitchhiked 1000 miles alone without being kidnapped and wait until someone else started talking over me…

Not surprisingly, I originally made this post private because this is an extremely vulnerable topic. I feel like there are few things I’ve accomplished well on my own. The rest has been mediocre or handed to me, or I didn’t even try.

But, between me and myself,

  • I am proud of how I learn in yoga classes – how I can challenge and be kind to myself in the same place, how I advance quickly when I practice consistently.
  • I am proud of hiking almost 200 km over 2.5 weeks and sleeping in a tent 21/30 days on my last backpacking trip.
  • I am proud of myself for being able to be alone and not feel lonely, most of the time.
  • I am proud of leaving my degree-related job to move to Chile and dedicate my time to something completely new.
  • I am proud of getting back up after being fired and then losing my house in my first year living in a foreign country.
  • I am proud of my Spanish-speaking abilities (not proud of cuanto me cuesta hablar cuando I switch back into English).
  • I am proud of using my squash skills – 12+ years of intense training and competition – as a way to make a living, even after a few years of not playing much.
  • I am proud of keeping my cool when I get absolutely lost in a foreign city.
  • I am proud of having made some close friends in college.
  • I am proud of publishing a photo narrative of my experiences in Guatemala during my senior year in high school, and later earning an award for my work.
  • I am proud of creating moments of progress for my English and squash students, seeing the change and excitement they feel from their progress.
  • I am proud of investing in myself this fall (southern hemisphere), of trying my best to make space for myself to just be.

Considering this prompt naturally gives rise to thoughts of a bunch of things I’m not proud of (losing my job last year, wasting my degree, feeling timid and undeserving all the time, losing contact with someone important from my past). But I have to live with these outcomes as they are incorporated into my life path of discovery. They’ve taught me other lessons.

The point of this blog is to be completely and rawly honest. To step away from asking myself if something is right or wrong, and to just let it be. This may be simple for other people, but it feels vulnerable and slimy for me.

So here’s to just letting it be. It’s ok. It’s ok. It. is.

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Thank you for not doing your job

Day 3 Prompt: What do people thank me for?

This is hard one for me. Luckily, today I had some big “thank yous.” They were from a single person, but it really brightened up the long day I had in front of me. She thanked me for being helpful and persistent – for going beyond my role as an English teacher and informally coaching her. This particular student is a woman in her late 40s who works at a study abroad office in Valparaiso, Chile. Last year her office went through a major turnover and she was the only employee that emerged on the other side. But suddenly her job description included a level of English she lacked. This is where I came in.

Anyway, I come to class everyday with a lesson plan, and this student comes to class everyday with a new story about her phobia of speaking English in the presence of her “superiors”. And slowly the classes have turned into coaching sessions in English. What’s the point of teaching grammar, vocabulary, and conversation skills if she can’t get the words out when it counts? I really enjoy these classes compared to my other English lessons. I feel there is a direct and applicable goal that we can work towards. There is a tangible purpose to our classes and somehow I am able to provide relevant coping and strategic methods. She has been very grateful (increasing my pay!) and I feel grateful to help. I feel completely engaged and present during these classes, plus she always brings in treats like carrot muffins and seedy bread!

p.s. Another day I’ll discuss what I would do even if I didn’t get paid, what I thank others for, and what I am grateful for.
p.p.s. This is part of the Start a Blog Challenge with Live Your Legend!

The unfortunate truth, as told by Cowspiracy

I’m just going to leave these here…

  1. One of the many loud and clear messages from the documentary Cowspiracy: There is no way to sustainably consume livestock and animal products. 
  2. The following quotation by Dr. Richard Oppenlander, environmental researcher and author of “Comfortably Unaware.” The title of his book just gets me fidgety in my seat, and I think it’s because I am a little uncomfortably aware.

Without using any gas, or oil or fuel, ever again from this day forward, we would still exceed our maximum carbon equivalent in green house gas emissions (the 565 gigatons) by the year 2030 without the electricity or energy sector even factoring into the equation, all simply by raising and eating livestock. 

Screenshot from Cowspiracy
Screenshot from Cowspiracy

Perhaps in a future post I can delve into what sustainable means and why it’s important to (and extremely downplayed by) the human race.

What angers me about the world

Day 2 of the Live your Legend Writing Habits and Start a Blog Challenge.

Prompt: What really makes you angry about the world?

Systemic oppression, violence, disregard for the environment, greedy politicians, making jokes at the expense of others, making judgements for the benefit of oneself, the pharmaceutical industry, mistreating the elderly.
From the Challenge email: “Dale Carnegie used to say that anyone could become a great public speaker if they were angry enough.” This weekend this was true for me. I rarely post my own thoughts on Facebook but a recent experience made me very angry and I needed to share…you’ll recognize one of the topics from the list above.

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I finally got tired of avoiding the trash in the camera frame before I snap my next Instagram picture.

This string of photos show the disappointing turn-around point on my bike ride along the coast. This “dump” sits on cliffs over the ocean. Immediately behind and below me is an incomprehensible expanse of sea blue waters. Not even the city is in sight. And here the ground shivers in the wind, waiting for the perfect gust to lift off and float in a beautiful dance into the helpless sea.

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This strip of land and the water behind me is shared with the Patagonia, a place of untouched spectacular abundance. Upon discovering this trash heap, I felt like my efforts to turn down plastic bags at the supermarket and recycle at home were futile, as places like this slowly seep into the beautiful places I love. While knowing that this place was once beautiful too.

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I wish Chileito (and all places everywhere) would stop drinking water from the river and then peeing downstream and stop throwing trash into the street and then playing in the woods in the backyard. It’s all connected!! Even if it doesn’t all fit into one camera frame. It is all connected. And we all participate – some are just better at covering it up than others.

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First of many

When speaking to a good friend recently over Skype, I finally said aloud why I am not ready to leave Chile yet (although I’m feeling that I want to). It was raw and honest, so obviously it came out jumbled and I’m not sure she understood. Here is my second attempt:

  1. I want to have produced something. Something solid. Not just slow internal changes and Chilean slang. But a blog, a collection of poems, or a commentary on my experience. Something tangible.
  2. I want to know what the heck I’ll be doing, or at least working towards when I do return to the USA. I’m afraid that without a focus I’ll feel like I’m right back where I was when I left. Uncertain and uncomfortable. And that will be depressing.
  3. Connection. Intercultural adaptation has many layers. For me, when I finally think I’ve peeled off the last layer, something new happens and my whole concept of life here is shaken up. But I recognize that that can be a life-long process. So I would like to at least have built some meaningful (what does that even mean?) connections with Chileans here. I feel rooted to the place but still distant from the people.
So this is my attempt with 1, through which I will hopefully be inspired to take on 2 and document my progress with three.

Important side note: I am participating in the Start-a-Blog Challenge through Live your Legend. Here it goes!