Challenge 4: Facing Fear Days 15-22

In this challenge I’ve gradually been pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone, so most of my activities have been pretty low on the fear-ometer.  A couple of times I’ve tried to do something a bit more scary and haven’t taken the opportunity presented quite as far as I would have liked to. I’m trying not to beat myself up over this. A small step is better than no step right?

So last week (week 3) I did a couple of little-bit scary things. I yelled out to someone I don’t know, other than their name because the bus driver says their name when they get on the bus, down the street that their bag had come open, risking the eyes of everyone around me staring to see why I was yelling. And wondering if this person would think I was some crazy stalker who knew her name when she didn’t know mine.

I finally made “the” phone call and spoke to the person I needed to speak to (and by the way, did you know that the little oar-shaped things on roadworks plans aren’t actually things to be constructed, they are indicators that there is a slope …).

I attended an appointment I’d been putting off for weeks.

I got the feedback I’d asked for on something I’d done at work. (It was scary to go in there, but I’m glad I did it.)

I gave a small presentation to a group of people, most of whom I know only casually.

I went into a bar by myself and had a drink. Maybe two. This was after the Book Week shopping incident. It was necessary therapy.

And this is where the story actually starts.

I was going to go to a pub, but the one I had in mind scared me a lot because (warning: judgmental) it had a lot of tradie blokes in it. So I picked a hotel bar instead.

I’m noticing that I’m feeling pretty comfortable with going into places that aren’t too far out of my norm – places where I’m confident I won’t stand out, even if it’s my first time there. I’ve been to restaurants and bars by myself when they’re places like ones that I’d normally go to with other people. It feels a bit weird at first, but I get over that pretty quickly and can settle in quite comfortably.

What I haven’t done is go to places where not-me hangs out. For example, I’m not a gamer so I’d feel very awkward going into a game shop. I’m not a tradie so I’d feel nervous going into a pub frequented mainly by tradies. I dress pretty casually, so I’d feel really uncomfortable going into an expensive jewellery store, or clothes shop or restaurant.

I’m sure I have to learn the lesson that the people in these places are people, just like me, and they aren’t going to care or judge me for going into their establishment (although Prue and Trude from Kath & Kim keep popping into my head). But let’s add pub and posh restaurant to the list of year of fear challenges to-do.

I think I have a completely unjustified fear of gamers/tradies/posh people/scientists/IT people/pagans/photographers/artists/anyone who is an expert in a field I know nothing about, because I feel like to go into their world, I need to be like them and know all about what they do, rather than being a newby. Of course this is stupid, because everyone is a newby at first, so as Kendra from Year of Fear puts it, they aren’t better than me, they are just further along than me in whatever it is they do.

As I was writing this it occurred to me that I’m a victim of the “reinforcing vs demystifying” phenomenon that Brené Brown describes in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t), which she refers to as the “Edamame Threat”. She describes how at a party she was offered a bowl of silver beans that she thought needed to be shucked for dinner, and offered to help. The hosts were highly amused by the fact that Dr Brown had never seen edamame before, and announced this hilarious (to them) fact to all the other guests at the party. Dr Brown says she was filled with shame and wanted to leave immediately. (I also have no idea what edamame are or how to eat them, in case you were wondering.)

Having developed a liking for edamame, a couple of weeks later, she says, she was in her office eating them and a student (who particularly irritated her) came to see her and asked what the beans were. Dr Brown says that to her great horror, that instead of explaining what they were to the student, she said “I can’t believe you haven’t tried them. They’re the superfood. They are fabulous!”

This is what she calls reinforcing – keeping answers a secret so that we can feel superior and secure. She suggests that we are most likely to do this when we feel shame around an issue – in this case she felt shame around “class” and elitism, noting that the people from the party were “food elitists”, which made her feel shame that she isn’t from the same background.

The opposite of reinforcing is demystifying – which is when, later still, she explained to a friend what the beans were and how to eat them.

Dr Brown says that seeking to demystify issues both for herself and helping other people to do it is a key to building critical awareness. She believes that if we know how something works, and others don’t, we’re obliged to share what we know. “Knowledge is power, and power is never diminished by sharing it,” she writes.

Putting all this together, I started thinking about how nervous I get when approaching people who know something I don’t because they’re an expert and I feel less-than when approaching them. Hence my reluctance to ask questions, go into particular shops or even make relatively simple phone calls.

Then it occurred to me that I’m guilty of perpetuating the Edamame Threat too. I’ve noticed that sometimes I get irritated when people ask me something they couldn’t possibly be expected to know, and I don’t want to tell them, or I grudgingly tell them or I don’t tell them everything. Classic reinforcing: keeping answers a secret so that I can feel superior and secure.

The Edamame Threat is a double edged sword! I expect myself to know everything and won’t ask for help if I don’t know something, but I apply the same standard of expecting other people to know everything that I apply to myself, and if they don’t I almost punish them for not knowing.

This a huge realisation, all because I was too scared to go into a pub. It’s clearly unfair and irrational and it has to stop!

So I went to a board game shop and asked for something. And you know what? The guy wasn’t in the slightest bit scary. He was a person, just like me. He didn’t have what I was looking for but gave me a couple of ideas of where to try. He didn’t laugh at me for thinking his shop would stock something that it doesn’t. And if he went over to his colleague and laughed at me after I’d gone because I thought games shops stocked [item x], well what he thinks about me is none of my business. Right? Right.

Who would have thought that facing a fear, or more accurately avoiding facing a fear, would have led to this? I think I need to take the rest of the day off.

Challenge 4: Facing Fear – Days 8-14

I’m not going to write about everything I do this month, but I have done something outside my comfort zone every day this week. Some weren’t very far out, baby steps, so I think maybe i need to start ramping it up a bit in the second half of the challenge.

Activity 8: Introduce myself and talk to someone new at school

Following on from saying hello to new people at school last week, on Monday I had an opportunity to introduce myself to one of Kramstable’s classmate’s grandmother. We were waiting in the classroom to go with the class on a walk to an off-site program, so I went over to her and said hi, introduced myself, found out who she was and told her who I was before the teacher introduced us.

After my experiences of the last few days I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll always feel uncomfortable doing this, but that it’s a lot more uncomfortable to be in the same place as someone and not know who they are, than it is taking this step.

So far it’s been ok because it’s been one-on-one interactions. I’m not so sure about doing this in a more populated environment, such as a party, meeting, “networking” event or conference. I remember attending a work conference with a colleague some years ago and was amazed at how she simply walked over to people, held out her hand and introduced herself. I was tagging along like a terrified shadow, too scared to say anything.

I mentioned this to her at the time, and told her how impressed I was that she was doing this and how easily she was doing it. She told me that she was terrified, but had made a decision to meet people because that was the point of being at the conference in the first place, so she basically took a deep breath and just did it. I did not.

Perhaps I need a conference to go to so I can ramp this challenge up a bit.
Nooooo!

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 2/10

How I felt doing it: Nervous and a bit awkward.
How I felt after doing it: Glad I’d taken the initiative before the teacher introduced us.

Would I do this again: Yes.

Activity 9: Call someone about something I would normally email them about

We got a letter from the council a few days ago about some work they are planning in our street. It’s not exactly clear (at least to me, non-town planner with plan-reading skills of approximately zero) exactly what’s proposed and why it’s changed from what we understood the original plan to be. There was a contact name in the letter if we needed further information, who we could call or email. I was going to email, since that’s normally my easy way out of dealing with an issue, but decided to actually speak to the person instead just to challenge myself a bit.

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 4/10
How I felt doing it: Nervous, but I was asking for information, not asking for anything to happen or be changed, so I talked myself out of the nerves. Sort of.
How I felt after doing it: Annoyed because the contact person wasn’t the person that could answer my questions so I had to call the “expert” the next day.
Would I do this again: Well I have to don’t I?!

Activity 10: Request at work

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 7/10
How I felt doing it: Nervous because I couldn’t slot the point I really wanted to make into the conversation.
How I felt after doing it: Annoyed because I didn’t say what I wanted to say. So I didn’t complete the challenge.
Would I do this again: I will try again.

Activity 11 Make an appointment I’ve wanted to make for ages

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 2/10
How I felt doing it: A bit nervous about making the call, but the lady I spoke to was very nice.
How I felt after doing it: Relieved at having made the phone call but still anxious about the actual appointment.
Would I do this again: Yes.

Activity 12: Go on a school excursion with 100+ kids

I’ve been on heaps of school excursions and they’re always fun, but I always get a little bit terrified of going because I become responsible for other people’s children, who I don’t often know very well. It’s scary trying to keep a group of 25-30 kids together while you’re walking to the venue and crossing busy roads and, while the teacher is ultimately in charge, you’re there to help them and make sure nothing goes horribly wrong.

This time was particularly scary as it was a reasonably long walk to the venue and it was a huge day with hundreds of kids from schools all over the place there. It gets easier to manage days out as the kids get older, but this was the biggest thing I’d ever been involved with.
I really needn’t have worried so much. I had a group of eight kids to watch over, I had another parent with me and the teacher floating between groups. So it was pretty chill in the end. All I had to do was gently guide the kids back on track if they looked like they were drifting away and make sure they didn’t wander off. It all went smoothly and I’m not sure what I was worried about.

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Maybe it’s just a little stage fright that comes with being made Responsible (and charged with reporting back to the teacher if any kids misbehave). Maybe it’s the same excitement/nerves I get before I do anything a bit unusual and isn’t really fear at all.

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 3/10
How I felt doing it: I had a great time. I didn’t lose any kids. I learned stuff.
How I felt after doing it: Glad I did it.
Would I do this again: Yes.

Activity 13: Write a post about a difficult subject on my blogT

his was one of my standard posts about a book I’d read as part of my 24 books in a year goal. It was Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive, and I focused on the subject of death and how she wrote about how no one speaks about it.I wondered if I should post it because it’s not a comfortable subject. But it’s my blog and it’s about what I’m learning – so if what I write doesn’t connect with anyone, that’s fine.

Fear-ometer rating pre-challenge: 4/10
How I felt doing it: Worried I might be writing about a touchy subject that might be upsetting.
How I felt after doing it: Wondering if anyone had actually read it.
Would I do this again: Yes.

 

Activity 14

Completed

Book 2/24 – I Thought It Was Just Me

A catch-up post for the four books I have read so far in 2016.

The full title of this book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” gives an indication about what it’s about, but its primary focus is on Brené Brown‘s seven years of research into shame, in particular the effects of shame on women.

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Shame isn’t something I ever thought people conducted research into. It didn’t strike me as something that anyone would give much thought to. I got interested when I was reading another of Brené’s books, The Gifts of Imperfection, last year, and she talks about her shame research in that book. I was intrigued and wanted to know more, so I read this book, which was published in 2007.

In the introduction, Brené says that shame is an emotion that everyone experiences but no one wants to talk about. The book begins with a discussion of what shame is, and makes a distinction between feelings of shame – feeling flawed and unworthy (I am bad) – and guilt, the feeling you get when you’ve done something you feel bad about (I did something bad).

One of the key points raised in the book is that people are biologically wired for connection, and so “when we are experiencing shame, we are steeped in the fear of being ridiculed, diminished or seen as flawed”, and are therefore not worthy of acceptance. Brené says that “as long as connection is critical, the threat of disconnection that leads to shame will also be part of our lives”.

The book goes on to discuss shame resilience, an ability to recognise when we are feeling shame and to move through shame in a constructive way.

Chapters 3, 4, 5 and 6 describe the four elements of shame resilience, beginning with recognising shame and understanding our triggers, practising critical awareness, reaching out, and finally speaking out about shame. There are some written exercises that readers can complete to help them understand how to apply these elements to their own circumstances.

The next three chapters cover the practices of  courage, compassion and connection, and look at issues such as how society’s expectations, perfectionism, stereotyping and addiction contribute to shame. In these chapters Brené discusses how to use the strategies from chapters 3-6 in these practices.

The book uses examples from people Brené spoke to during the course of her reasearch, including four women whose stories unfold over the course of the book. Brené also uses examples from her own life to help explain the concepts.

I was drawn into this book from the first page. I wouldn’t have described the way I felt about myself as “shame”, but reading this book I realised the feelings I have of inadequacy, unworthiness, inauthenticity and imperfection are exactly the things Brené is talking about in this book. It’s kind of a relief to know that what I feel is real, and if what she’s saying is correct, it’s normal, but because people don’t speak about it, people feel like they’re the only one that feels like this.

The book is specifically about women and shame, but Brené touches on the issue of male shame. She notes that, while there are differences between why men and women experience shame, we’re all the same in needing to feel accepted and to believe that we belong and are accepted. For men it’s about the masculine “norms” of not being “weak, soft, fearful, inadequate, powerless and incapable”, whether this is stated explicitly to someone’s face or implied more subtly on a societal level.

I think it will take more than one reading of this book, and a lot of thought, for me to take it all in, but this is one of those books I am extremely grateful to have stumbled on. There’s a lot I can get out of it, and need to explore further.

Recommended.

P365 – Day 296 – find your passion

Go directly to the garden. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

I’m one of those people who never knew what they wanted to do after they finished school. I was the career guidance teacher’s number one nightmare, and my parents despaired that I was never going make up my mind.

As a result, I changed my mind about what university course I was going to do basically on the strength of a throwaway line from a friend, dropped out of the course after one year and four weeks, and did a degree I would never in a million years have seen myself doing two years previously.

Then, having absolutely no idea what I was going to do next, I somehow landed a job in the public service in Canberra. While the prospect of moving to Canberra was less than appealing, the prospect of earning more money than I’d ever had in my life was somewhat attractive.

So I took the plunge, packed up and moved, with the intention of staying for a couple of years and then coming home and doing what I really wanted to do, whatever that was.

History will show that the ‘couple of years’ lasted a bit longer than that. It will also show that I have no more idea about what I want to do now than I did then. But all the time, I was convinced that all I had to do was find what I was passionate about, and then I’d find a way to make that a part of my working life, then I’d be doing work that I loved so much that it didn’t even seem like work*.

Only what was my passion?

I dabbled in many things. I wanted to like things. I bought stuff. I started reading books. I did career inventories. I shelved stuff. I bought more stuff. I stuffed books onto bookshelves. I assessed my Myers Briggs Type for clues. I tried to remember what I loved doing as a child. I tried to imagine my perfect job. I made plans. I ditched plans.

None of it worked. There was too much out there. How could I possibly find the one thing or the couple of things that I was truly passionate about when there was so much stuff to do? Was my gut instinct telling me what I really wanted to do, or what I thought I wanted to do, or even what I thought I wanted to want to do?

How was I ever going to know what I REALLY wanted to do?

What am I passionate about? Am I passionate about anything?

I remember reading some time about in one of the zillions of “Find out what you really want to do and go out and do it” books that I started reading (and mostly never finished) that a good clue is to find the activity that puts you into what I think they called “the zone” – that is the place where you so immerse yourself in what you’re doing that you lose track of time, forget to eat, forget to go to bed . . . and no, I don’t think they were thinking of chatting online all night.

It occurred to me today – as it has at other times – that the only time I really get that completely lost is when I’m in the garden. When these authors described this zone, they were describing what happens to me when I’m gardening.

When I’m gardening I’m in my own world. I tell myself stories, I dream, I replay incidents that didn’t work out so that I get the result I want, I have conversations with people in my head. The real world ceases to exist.

Back in the days BJ (Before Juniordwarf), I’d think nothing of spending the whole weekend in the garden. If I didn’t have to eat I wouldn’t have.

But even so, it’s not something that I jump out of the door to do first thing on a Saturday morning. It is a huge effort for me to get to the point where I’m actually working in the garden and, from there, to that state where I get lost in it. It’s very easy to find something else to do, see something that has to be done, get distracted by something, and then it’s too close to lunch time or we have to go up the street, or we have to go out, or Juniordwarf wants me to do something with him, and then it’s too hot, or it’s raining or I don’t have the seeds I need or . . . .

So despite the fact that I love it, I find it incredibly hard to get motivated to do it.

It seems like a complete paradox. If I love it so much and it gets me into this other world, why then am I reluctant to get out there and do it?

The other factor that comes into the equation now, that I didn’t have before, is Juniordwarf! I want him to get more involved with the garden, but I don’t want to force him, so I just let him do pretty much what he wants outside, show him things that might interest him, let him plant seeds, do some digging and whatever else he is interested in, but most of the time he’s more interested in hanging out with Sleepydog. And the good thing about that it is it keeps her out of my way – she’s a very ‘in your face’ dog.

But getting into the “zone” is harder when I have to spend time with Juniordwarf. Not that I don’t enjoy doing stuff with him in the garden – I do, I love it – but it’s not the same.

And then if he wants to go back inside and do something else, my well-honed sense of Mother Guilt kicks in, and I feel guilty that I’m outside doing my own thing and leaving him to his own devices – despite the fact that he’s probably having a great time inside with his Dad! 

This is a combination of (a) guilt that I’m relying on Slabs to spend more than his fair share of time with Juniordwarf, (b) guilt that if Slabs is also doing his own thing, Juniordwarf has to entertain himself and leaving him to his own devices for too long isn’t fair, (c) guilt that I don’t have as much time as I used to with him and that I should be spending more of the weekend with him and that spending time in the garden isn’t as important as spending time with him . . .

However . . .

If I hung out with Juniordwarf all day and did no gardening, then the jungle would continue to multiply at a crazy rate, we’d have no home-grown vegetables and every time I looked out the back window I’d feel guilty about not being out there and getting stuck into it.

Really?

For goodness sake!

I wonder if other parents struggle with this sense of guilt no matter what they do? Is this one of those things that no-one ever talks about before you have kids, and even if they did, you as a child-free adult would scoff and tell them to get over it?

Now that I’ve actually written it down, I can see how ridiculous it all seems. 

Where the hell does all this guilt come from? And that’s only scratching the surface. What purpose does any of it serve, except to make me anxious and feel bad – and for no good reason? Surely there must be better things I can put my mind to than making myself feel rotten.

It’s that nasty inner critic at it again, this time attacking me with its little arsenal of “shoulds”.
And I “should” ignore it.

Well, for a post that was just going to talk about how much I got done in the garden today, this has turned into something completely unexpected.

What can I take from this?
  • I need a big push to get me started on anything, even if it’s something I love doing. This can only come from me. There are no excuses. I can either take the easy way and procrastinate, do nothing and continue to feel bad about that, or I can push through the pain of the resistance barrier, do something and end up feeling good about what I’ve achieved.

  • I want to be able to get out in the garden for periods of time that will let me get a reasonable amount of work done without feeling like I’m abandoning my family. I need to talk to my family about how we can make this work – what’s reasonable, what I need and what they need. How they can help.

  • I still don’t know “what I want to do”, but that’s OK for now, because at least I know what I am passionate about.

And today I had a great morning ripping out weeds, cutting branches off a tree and giving myself some hope that I might still get the vege patches under control in time to grow a few veges this year. I even found some veges growing in amongst the weeds. Yay!


* Before you tell me that this is complete piffle, and that very few people are ever able to find that work-passion balance, and that actually working with your passion can end up killing your passion, remember that I was in my early 20s when all this happened, and I really didn’t have much of a clue about anything! (Some would say I still don’t, but I choose to ignore them.)