Over the past week, I've been thinking a lot about fear. Not only is it not becoming on me, but it is also my worst enemy. It causes me to make bad decisions. It makes me think things about myself, others, and the world in general that are not true. And in it's strongest grip, it takes ahold of my every move to the point of paralysis. I shrink away from the world and, perhaps even worse, from myself due to fear. I become skittish, more neurotic than normal, and sometimes very hardened. I become the person that I do not want to be. Yes, fear is definitely my worst enemy.
I have found myself in a few situations over the past few weeks that have taken me completely out of my comfort zone, both in my personal and professional life. My initial response is always to get control: "stick to the plan, Deanna, get a grip, get ahold of your daily tasks, and forge ahead as always." When that doesn't work, my second step is usually FREAK the heck OUT. For this week in particular, I very randomly hit the peak of this stage while I was at a voice lesson (sorry, Chris, you deserve a medal for dealing with that). The anxiety and stress had been building for days and was like a pressure cooker waiting to explode. I literally found myself panting and sweating with overwhelming exhaustion and anxiety during lip trills...all because I had let days of stress pile up and then beat me down.
After I've been beaten to the ground, the third stage is unfortunately by far the most tragic: retreat. We've all heard of the two ways humans deal with stress: fight or flight. Let's just say, I don't have many fighting bones in my body. But I sure as heck can flee. Studies have also discerned a third option: freeze. Yes, I like that option as well. In fact, I've used the freeze method so often that I can freeze every emotion, muscle, and organ in my body yet to the world appear "absolutely fine." And it is in this flight/freeze stage that I find myself succumbing to my fears and allowing myself to be changed into a person that I am not proud of.
Looking at my past, I can see how fear has become integral to who I am. It determines far too many of my life choices. I have avoided learning certain skills because I feared being inferior to my own standards. I have closed off my heart to people because it felt safer to be unknown than to be loved and to lose. I have gotten an entire college degree because I was afraid I didn't have enough tenacity to be a performing artist.
Granted, I'm not fearful ALL the time. I don't get nervous before a show. My favorite parts of flying are the take off and the landing. And the only thought I had before skydiving was, sitting on the edge about to jump and looking at my feet dangling over the plane, worrying that I might lose one of my favorite running shoes because I hadn't double knotted my laces tight enough. And while I can say that the majority of the time I am actually able to fend off my fears and bravely trudge forward toward my goals and toward being the woman I am meant to be, there are times that fear causes me to veer off course. And no matter how few these times are, one change in course is far more drastic and life-changing than three steps forward on the original path.
Sometimes fear comes in the form of merely resisting change. Once I set my sites, adjust my gears, and even plan ahead for every possible bump in the road, I am flabbergasted when I actually come to a bump in the road. It is then that I sit on the curb with my chin in my hands and mouth wide open in a state of shock...for days...just staring at the bump. (By the way, literally as I started this last sentence, I am on a plane in Jackson, Mississippi trying to get home to NY and the pilot just announced that we will all miss our connecting flights tonight in Charlotte...which, of course are the last flights of the night...Thank you, US Airways, for proving my point and causing tonight's bump...good timing).
Anyway, now that I have even more time to write...
Fear also comes in the form of resisting preconceived conceptions of who we are or, another way of putting it, being close-minded. One of this past week's fears was caused by dealing with the fact that the box that I have put myself in professionally is much smaller than the circle I am finding others putting me in. On several occasions this last week, I turned down opportunities because "that's not really what I do best." And while it seemed like the best decision at the time, it has now made me question if I am just being wise or if I am in actuality stifling myself. After all, if someone sees something in me that I do not, does that mean that it isn't there? Or does that mean that I just don't see the possibility of it being there? Am I being stubborn? Or just...scared, perhaps? After all, being asked to do something that is not relatively easy to do is, for me, terrifying. As an artist, of course, we hate to be pigeon-holed--to be told who we are and where we belong. That is frustrating. But, to me at least, fear is far more debilitating than frustration. I can fight frustration with a simple pirouette. Or a jog. But when I find myself face to face with fear, I definitely do not win the staring contest. I can't do a pirouette when I am frozen.
This weekend I had the opportunity to teach children at a dance convention. Being around children always opens my eyes to who I am. It's hard to look in the eyes of a nine-year-old who is absolutely uninhibited and fearless and not wonder, "why can't I be more like that?" These children, ages six to seventeen, were being asked to do things they had never done before...in front of their peers. And, yes, while some of them were more reticent and reluctant than others, they all chose, whether willingly or instinctively, to live outside of their box. And they were EXCITED to be stepping outside their box. As I sit and think about the courage these children have compared to the, well, sheer FEAR that it seems I sometimes have, I am mortified.
When I think about all of the things I have accomplished in my life, I realize that I was able to do things not BECAUSE of myself, but DESPITE myself. And, even more importantly, I was able to accomplish things because of SOMEONE ELSE urging me and convincing me. It took my ballet teacher Kathy who showered me with encouraging, "Yes, D!!!!!"s to make me believe that I should continue to try harder and not give up on myself in disappointment. It took my calculus teacher Mr. Runyan's excited red pen's exclamation points to change my thinking that maybe girls can excel at math just as much as at English. It took an angel of a woman Krystyna to approach me while I was in college studying psychology to say, "You shouldn't be here. You should be dancing." And oftentimes it takes people in my life telling me that I am kind to help me see that I shouldn't be too disappointed with myself if I feel like I haven't lived up to everyone's expectations as much as I'd like to.
(Update...headed to the Ramada in Charlotte.)
I hate to think where I would be without these people in my life who made me see something that I just couldn't see myself. I hate to think of how many things I've said no to. Or how many people's opinions I've disregarded whether out of stubbornness or just plain fear. I hate to think of how many days I wasted staring at that bump in the road when it could have been a gift from God telling me that where I was headed was not the best destination or perhaps it just wasn't the best route.
During the convention this weekend, we had a Q&A session, where I was asked, "What do you know now that you wish you'd known then?" My answer was that I wish I would have been even more of a critical thinker. I wish I would have questioned others' doubts in me more. Or perhaps NOT questioned others' beliefs in me. And acknowledged that everyone's path is completely different. I wish I would not have made such definitive statements about myself to myself.
As I continue to age, I like to think that I have a much more open mind. But maybe I should take my own advice and be sure that I am thinking critically about myself. Especially when I start saying things like, "Well, that's not really me" or "That's not really what I do best." Or maybe what I should really do is buckle down, look fear in the face, and start learning how to BE this person that someone sees in me.
After all, the saying is true...we ARE our own worst critics. Maybe, just maybe, that bump in the road is...ME. (And I have no idea what a pigeon-hole really is, but I'll bet I am my own worst pigeon, as well.)