I bumped into an old acquaintance at the store the other day. She seemed distressed, so I asked her how things were going. She spoke of all she had been doing for her husband who has not been well for nearly a year, as well as a lonely neighbor looking to feel part of the neighborhood since his wife passed away. As I listened, it dawned on me that this was not someone who felt good about what she had been doing, rather this was a person doing these things out of perceived necessity, and the fear of what others would think if she didn’t. She was afraid of how others would judge her and her efforts. Would her husband’s family think she was a bad wife – an uncaring spouse – if he didn’t get better quickly under her watch? And the kids – they expected her to keep up with all the activities in addition to everything else of course. She couldn’t tell them she was drained mentally and physically – it would make her less of a mom. The neighbors, she said, expect her be the glue that holds the block together because she doesn’t work full time like they do, so she tries to make sure she stops by at least three times a week and reminds others to invite him over on the weekends to watch the game.
She looked at me and voiced a big sigh. I gave her a hug and suggested that maybe she find an hour each day to do something for herself – yoga, or read a book, or just take a walk. She stared in disbelief. “I can’t do that,” she said, startled, “there’s no time and this is my responsibility.” It was as if my suggestion pushed her back into that zone of needing to perform.
She was totally drained and her only motivation each day was the fear of failing. She was running in circles for fear of what would happen if she stopped. All the while, her own health wasn’t what it used to be. In addition to some dinner items, she was picking up prescriptions for her husband and herself. She had been battling depression, and felt she was running at 100 mph – in the wrong direction.
I wanted desperately to put her in my arms and hold her for the next hour. I wanted to tell her that the expectations she placed on herself were exactly that – self-made. Her fear of failure was also self-made. Most likely her husband and neighbors saw things differently. But instead, she rushed off.
“You have to remember, fear is not real. It is a product of the thoughts you create. Don’t misunderstand me. Danger is very real. But fear is a choice. - Unknown
We all struggle at times with the fear of not being enough – in my own service business it’s all about “beating expectations” and “going above and beyond.” Only, we never really define what it is we have to beat, or the level of service we must go beyond. As a result, expectations are ever changing and based solely on how things went yesterday. The same happens at home too – we create our own definition of what a parent or spouse or friend is supposed to be. Our definition is based on what we think we are supposed to do. Expectations are like an expanding snowball, clinging more and more to itself as it rolls along; bigger and bigger; more and more. And when you succeed at something – it becomes the new expectation you have to “beat.” Next thing you know, it’s too much to manage. Someone has to finally put their foot down and yell STOP! And no one wants that job. To stop is admitting you can’t keep up.
You have failed.
Or have you?
Maybe you just reached that point where you need to take a breath.
Fear of failure is very real. In our minds, fear has no margin for error; you either get it or you don’t. The chances of failing seem so huge. Internalizing that fear, it impacts our actions, our decisions, our emotions, our sleep, our effectiveness and our overall health. We imagine disapproving eyes. We tense up when others approach us – anticipating something negative will be said. And if they actually pay us a compliment – we reject it, thinking they just feel sorry for us (or hope to convince us to do even more). I’ve actually heard my husband describe me “before yoga” and “after yoga” when telling others about how I would respond to certain situations. It was through yoga that I learned to let fears go.
If you’re struggling with the fact you are operating out of fear, consider these actions:
Repeat after me: “I am enough”
Know you are doing all you can with what you have
Take a breath
See the small successes in what you are doing – and accept them
Repeat after me: “I make good decisions.”
Take a deep breath
See the love in others – it is a reflection of your own love!
Repeat after me: “I am enough.”