It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! April’s theme is dealing with negativity. When you decide to go in a new direction you can encounter a lot of it, from yourself and others. In the past few weeks I spoke about that pesky voice inside my head and how I’m learning to understand it. I also discovered who I think I am, anyway and dabbled in some anxiety-reducing rituals. Today I’m going to talk about what I’m really afraid of.
In her fabulous book Escape From Cubicle Nation, Pamela Slim talks about the fear that keeps us in bad situations. She argues that the reason we stay in jobs we hate or terrible marriages is that we’re afraid of ending up like ‘motivational speaker’ Matt Foley, as portrayed by Chris Farley. That is – we will be 35 years old, divorced and living in a van down by the river. We’re afraid that if we leave our comfort zone, we could lose it all. This is the fate that little negative voice inside our heads is trying to save us from.
Here’s the scary thing about Matt Foley – I know people like him and you probably do, too. People who, try as they might, can’t pull it together. People who gambled it all and lost. It is sad and it scares me. But even if we play it safe, we aren’t necessarily protecting ourselves. Events happen that are outside of our control. Avoiding risks won’t keep you out of the proverbial van down by the river.
If there is no guaranteed way to avoid ending up in a van down by the river, what is one to do? First of all, I think it’s helpful to remember that our fear lacks rationality and likes extremes. When I set out on a task the only two outcomes my fear sees are raging success and utter failure. But that’s now how life works. Most of the time, things fall somewhere in the middle. Career choices, businesses, neighbourhoods you live in, they all have upsides and downsides. Maybe the van down by the river does, too. Every path offers setbacks and advancements, joys and sorrows. Fear presents a false dichotomy, a world with black and white and no shades of gray.
It’s also helpful to recognize when your fear is causing you doubts, and when something else is. Your fear (or mine, anyway) has a one-track mind. It’s going to rain on your parade no matter how well-organized that parade may be. You want to better yourself? Your fear will tell you not to bother, because nothing will come of it anyway. And everyone will laugh at you, too. But your rational mind’s doubts are a little more fully-formed. They can dwell in the gray area. They might be based on lofty concepts like ethics and morals, ensuring that you have enough time for yourself and your children, or your financial future. If you can get to the bottom of your doubts and figure out what’s rational and what’s not, you can address them more effectively.
Knowing where your doubts are coming from and recognizing the false dichotomy of fear are not magic bullets. They can help, for sure. But sometimes our fears are valid. And sometimes, even if they’re not, we can’t overcome them. I think we can be gentle with ourselves as we work to make progress. Growing, learning and taking risks is a process, and it’s fine if it takes you longer than you hoped. It’s fine if it doesn’t always follow a straight line. The important bit is that you’re working on it, piece by piece, at your own pace.
Take heart. While a few people do end up in a van down by the river, most of us do not. It’s not a very likely outcome, no matter how we live our lives. Matt Foley didn’t end up in the van because he followed his dreams. And you won’t end up in a van down by the river if you follow yours. In spite of what that negative voice in our heads believes, dreaming isn’t dangerous. Building and learning and trying aren’t dangerous, and our worries rarely represent reality. So feel free to tell Matt Foley off, the next time he comes knocking. Or just laugh, because he is really funny, when we’re not afraid of what he has to say.
Now itâ€™s your turn. Have you written a post about dealing with negativity? If so, enter the details below. And whether you have or not, go check out these other blogs for some inspiration or helpful advice.
Disclosure – the book links to my Amazon associates account, so if you buy it I earn a small commission.