Tuesday, September 13, 2011

There Be Dragons

Today I went trolling for topics among my facebook friends. There were many wonderful suggestions, and rest assured, a lot of them will be covered here in the next couple of weeks. However, today I'm picking the topic my mate's daughter, Alicia suggested. Anxiety.

I chose that one partly because it's something that we all mostly needlessly suffer from, and because I know much of the basis of her anxiety and I'd like to help her nudge it out of existence. Nah, strike that. I'd like to see her kick the fucker off the bus and run it over.

We're an anxious bunch, we humans. We huddle in fear even while hating that fear. We talk about facing fear, but we're hesitant to step out and confront it. The thing is, so often those fears are our own invention. Those fears are unreasonable reasons we birth, feed and nurture as excuses for not achieving what we want from our lives.

Because success is scary, that's why. Success changes everything, and change is scary, that's why. Success means responsibility to and for that success, and that's scary too. If I achieve what I'm after, what then? How do I maintain it? Where do I go from there? We see success as a good thing, yes, but the more timorous part of us also sees it as a looming thing, a thing that will make our lives different from what they are now. And that can be frightening.

Success demands effort on our part, not just in achieving it, but in keeping it alive. Competitive runners try to best their best time writers crank out books in hopes of breaking their previous records; the scientific and medical communities can't rest on one answer, but use that answer to launch other questions. Think they don't have anxiety issues? Think again.

Anxiety says, "Look at that huge mountain you have to climb! Even if you make it, you could get hurt. Your friends won't believe you can do it." And worst of all, "Just how many mountains do you have to climb before you feel like you've accomplished something?" So we stay in the muck of the river valley and stare at the mountain. Sure, the view is pretty, but it doesn't give us any real perspective.

I know what I'm talking about, folks. I have been there, done that, shattered it, rebuilt it... it's an endless thing. The first time I tried any art, I was shaking the entire time. Inside my head, my voice was screaming as if I was standing on a cliff about to jump, "What the hell are you doing?! Are you nuts?! Back away from there!!!!" The first time I decided to show anyone my art, same thing all over again. The first time someone asked to buy a piece of my art... my knees might as well have been made of jello, my heart beat at the rate of a hummingbird. And that damned voice just kept screaming. It took all my resolve to ignore it and take the step anyway. I still get anxious with every piece of art, with every card order. There's a litany inside my head, "They won't like it. They'll laugh. They won't get it. Who would want to pay for that?!"

The same thing happens every time I hit the "publish post" button on this blog. Every time.

How do I get past it? I don't. I go through it. I walk up to it, look it in the eye, and then I do it. Shaking or not, I do it. Because there's this other voice in my head. It's quieter, but it's steady. It says, "What have you got to lose?" I'm about to enter a writing contest hosted by NPR. I'm scared shitless. Not because I might lose, but because I might just win. But I'm doing it anyway. I'm doing it because I'm dedicated to writing, and that dedication is really good at flipping the bird at anxiety.

If you dedicate yourself to a goal, the little steps along the way are just steps. And it's all one baby step at a time. Even a journey of 1000 miles is just walking. One step at a time.

Hundreds of years ago it was thought that the earth was flat. Maps ended at the reach of sea that had yet to be explored, with the warning, "Beyond here, there be dragons." Go no further, you'll be eaten alive. Thankfully, a handful of intrepid souls said, "Well. Let's just see about that." They rowed out to the end of the world. Then they rowed a little more. And a little more. Until the thing they feared became an adventure. Until the thing they were anxious about became a shining reward. It was either that, or stay home and make huts out of mud and peat.

I was thinking all this anyway, and then my friend Emily posted the following quote:

The reinvention of daily life means marching off the edge of our maps.
~ Bob Black (no relation to me so far as I know)

Indeed! Sometimes we have to start in the middle of the map, facing that big ol' Dragon of Unknown. So it is, as it ever shall be. But, oh, the things you'll discover along the way. And, oh, the reward. Because there is tremendous success in being able to say, "I tried."


  1. LOVE the quote and shamelessly stealing it. Great post, Barb!

  2. I totally agree with you. It's not the fear itself but what you decide to do about it that makes the difference!

  3. Great thoughts....and so true...

  4. Great points--I enjoyed reading this! I've thought a lot about a fear of success too...I even blogged about it once. ;)

  5. Cherish your curiosity! Often times it is the best weapon used against dragons!


  6. Totally loved this post. Been there, doing that. Staring at the mountain, shaking at the thought of confronting something that I fear. Have had to act like a mountain goat and slowly climb treacherous steps. My fight is not over but I am still fighting.

    The way you laid this down was inspiring and too damn cool. Nothing teaches like experience and nothing's like the arrow of your words striking an unseen or anticipated target.

    I admire your courage, fortitude and sense of humor! Thanks fir sharing.o


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