Over the years, I have become very good at dodging work-related questions. The subject is a painful reminder that I am a big fat failure. I have struggled with work for the last 25 years. With my fear of failure even longer. Before exams or job interviews, I would get acute and extremely painful cramps. During exams, assessment tests and job interviews I would go blank. Afterwards, I would be gutted, but the shame that followed the stress would lead to dissociation, which in turn always helped me find a logical explanation, which already anticipated dealing with not being good enough or getting turned down. Fear of failure still is a big part of my life. I didn’t realize how much until a few weeks ago.
After I got my degree in the ‘wrong subject’ I had no clue who I was or what I wanted. So I set out to find a job that made me happy. I tried a lot of things. Most things I didn’t like, at all. And the things I did like, usually stopped being fun after a short time. I did not understand what was going on, so I figured I didn’t like it that much after all. There are two fields I kept returning to, writing and painting or drawing. Recently, I realized that I love both intrinsically, I love the act of stringing together thoughts and words and I love holding a brush, mixing colors and putting them on canvas, or holding a pen, dipping it in ink and creating lines. They make me happy. However, it stops being fun when I start entertaining the thought of writing and selling a(n e-)book or selling my art. Then within seconds all fun is pushed aside by fear and shame.
This week, after my resolution to get over with this fear of failure, I have been feeling sick with shame. Shame that this fear has ruled my life for so long. Shame for it paralyzing me. Shame for how I seem to keep struggling. Shame that I am 40 years old and have not been able to create a career with the talents I have been given, for not making money. Shame for not having been an ‘equal’ partner, whatever that may mean. Shame for wanting to write and paint. Shame for it being too frivolous. Shame for it not being real work. Shame for dreaming of a happy life. I’ve been sick with myself, fed-up with myself. I’ve been angry and sad. And I have very hard tried to remain centered through this all. It didn’t go too well. I know it is non-sensical, it is irrational and not true, but telling myself that doesn’t change how it feels or how I feel.
A younger version of myself, a little girl, has been trying to protect me from being hurt. She has been hurt so much that she never wants me to experience that level of pain again. Every time, I place myself in a situation where she feels threatened she creates havoc. She subconsciously reminds me of the time I wasn’t good enough, creating shame, and then she subconsciously asks me if I would like to go through that again, infusing fear. I would like to think that I have learned to be vulnerable, but at the moment I cannot come up with many examples, because the two things that are most real are still heavily guarded. I still have big troubles saying what I think and feel, even with good friends, out of fear of saying the ‘wrong’ thing resulting in being bashed or ignored. Same with expressing my talents. Apparently, a part of me still believes that I am not worth being taken seriously, that people don’t value my opinions and my talents. It knows without a shadow of a doubt that I am not good enough.
I am not buying it anymore. After almost a week of feeling nauseous and on the verge of kicking and screaming and crying, I can see that this little girl, who has tried to protect me is now trying to protect herself. Somehow this fragmented piece of myself has been feeding on my shame and fear and in order not to die with the fear of failure, she is bullying me with a continuous stream of shame inducers. I know from research and my own experience that young children have a very real sense of dying when they are withheld what they need most. So I guess that in order for her to stop terrorizing me, I need her to feel safe, I need her to feel valued, I need her to see that shame won’t kill me and she will be free without fear of failure.
I don’t know quite yet how to do that, but I guess publishing this article is a good start. Every Wednesday morning, with exceptions, I publish an article. Every Wednesday after I publish an article, I am a nervous wreck, no exceptions. Will people read it? Will they see me? Will they like it? Will they value me? Will they comment? Won’t they ignore me? People comment (mostly via social media) saying it resonated with them, they loved it. Yet the anticipation of rejection, the anticipation of shame, the fear of being ignored, of not being valued remain as intense as ever. Today, I am ready to throw up. Publishing this article feels like suicide. It feels like jumping off a cliff. I am going to do it anyway, hoping I have grown strong enough wings, hoping I will end up soaring instead of falling to pieces.