The Crippling Fear

You have screwed it all up. You do not do anything useful and you are too old to try now. All of the decisions you have made up until this point have led to naught. You are an abject failure. Frequent thoughts like these send my head spinning and put me into an inescapable death spiral of pessimism that will ruin my day and maybe my week.

Unfortunately, I have such a strong fear of failure that it ends up paralyzing me. I do not fear failure in all things. I can be adventurous and bold. For example, I have done enough outdoors to have had a couple of legitimate near death experiences and yet I still go back. My fear of failure primarily concerns any thing I have ever done to establish a “career.”

I also fear failing as a father, a husband, or a Christian. However, I can control how I act in those pursuits. When you apply for a job or a school, you are explicitly not in control. You are waiting for someone to approve of you. You often need connections and I stink at professional networking. I basically start out with the viewpoint that this will never work and so I never get off the ground. As a result, I have utterly failed in the “career” aspect of my life.

Most people would probably look at my life and think that I have it pretty good. They would be right. I grew up in a happy and functional family. I have a wonderful wife and a great kid. I have travelled more than most (at least within the US). I spent my 20s pretty much beholden to no one. All of these things are true and all of these things make me happy. Plus, I have never thought that it was wise to define oneself by something that is ultimately meaningless like a career or a job. If a job gets in the way of me being a good father or husband, then it is not worth it. However, I have been utterly unsuccessful in the career aspect of my life. Because of my complete failure in terms of a career, it has begun to sour the successful aspects of my life.

I am unsure of why it bothers me so much. I believe that money is far from the most important thing you provide for your family. It is way down the list. In fact, I believe that the most important thing you provide to your family is time, and I have plenty of that. However, I would like to be responsible for making some of the money. Perhaps what bothers me is that financial matters are tangible. You can see it in your bank account. I am having difficulty seeing the positive tangible effects I have on the wellbeing of the family.

The problem is that this difficulty and the depression it brings is still not enough to overcome the fear of presenting myself for jobs when I might get rejected. One would think that I would get over it, but the depression and anxiety form a negative feedback cycle that is difficult to break.

With that background, imagine the scene Sunday when I was playing with my son at a playground on a beautiful afternoon. At this playground there is a pretty substantial slide. My three year old is capable of going down the slide, but it is probably scary and a little hard to control your landing at that age. He went down it once and I caught him. He went back to the top and I suggested that he could try it on his own. He responded that he might fall. I quickly retorting without thinking, “you might not.” My response suddenly hit me like a bolt out of the sky. Yes, I might completely fail at the career aspect of my life. I might never get hired for a job I actually want. However, that is the only possibility I seem willing to consider. I never contemplate the idea that I might succeed. Pessimism has completely taken over my life.

I am not going to pretend that this playground epiphany is going to completely eradicate decades of built up anxieties and foibles. In fact, my son did not go down the slide a second time by himself. He gave in to his fear this time. That does not make for the perfect Hallmark movie ending, but it makes a perfect real-life ending. My fear of failure is not going to go away completely. But this little thought has put a tiny crack in the calcified layers that extended pessimism has built up.

“I might fall, I might not.” It has become a mantra for me this week and I have been happier. This post is both an internet confessional and provides some accountability. I am vowing to be more positive and take more chances. We will see what happens if my station in life does not improve. If you suffer from the same tired pessimism that I do, then you should give being positive a try. We should always consider that the possibility of not failing is a live option.

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