There’s an irony in writing a blog about fear when you are a very fearful person. Any blog is, or at least can be, a stressful endeavor. Blogging creates the expectation within yourself that you are an expert on the subject you write about.
I am an expert.
On experiencing fear.
On understanding fear? On mastering fear?
Not so much.
I got well over 50,000 hits last month, thanks to the popularity of my post on communicating without fear. Fifty thousand. Wow. That’s nearly twenty times the amount of hits my blog had received in the rest of its existence combined.
Those hits were very concentrated though. I got over 10,000 hits several days in a row, and then traffic to my blog started waning. I did the natural thing. I started obsessing about maintaining that level of traffic.
Shit. That was an excellent post! I actually had concrete information for people to use to deal with their communication problems. Now all of these people are subscribing to my blog thinking they’ll be able to get that kind of post twice a week! I’m not an expert on facing fear! I can’t deliver that!
Finally, I sat down last night with my copy of Fearless Living by Rhonda Britten, which I’d picked up at a local used bookstore as research for this very blog. In the very first chapter I came across two quotes that completely summed up what I was feeling.
It’s hard to follow your own act and keep topping yourself. There’s always the nagging fear that you’ve peaked and won’t be able to keep this up.
You become convinced that this success was an accident.
You may have noticed that I missed my scheduled postings these past two Thursdays. Even the posts that I have managed to get up have been absolute shit. I’ve been managing the fear that, on the one hand, if I don’t maintain the schedule I’ve promised to uphold, then I will disappoint my readers, and on the other hand, if I do manage to post something but it isn’t as good as or better than my communication post, then I’ll be a disappointment anyway. And ya know, it’s really hard to get inspired with that kind of pressure, so you end up with a frothy mix of crap posts and missed deadlines. The Santorum of blogging.
You really shouldn’t Google that.
It was accidental that I came up with such a great post. No it wasn’t. I studied eastern philosophy and communication, and had been specifically trained in non-violent communication. I knew exactly what I was talking about, even if the impetus for writing it was a failure to practice what I wrote about in that post.
There’s no way I can write something that great again. Certainly. If I have that attitude, and I let it keep me from writing at all, then I will not be able to top that post. And then there’s the question of whether I should be trying to top that post. Whether I should be chasing numbers. Are numbers, in this age of LOLcats and autotune, any indication of quality?
Gold and jade fill up the room
No one is able to protect them
This quote from the Tao Te Ching reminds us, like much of the other language therein, that the one who has the most has the most to lose. If you are a writer, then accumulating a large number of readers is just a larger number of readers to lose. Buying more stuff is just more stuff you have to worry about maintaining, that you have to worry about getting broken or stolen. Having is the possibility of not-having. We can always lose everything. And we either have to strive to not-have, or we have to find comfort in the ebb and flow which occurs without and within us.
Nothing in the world is softer or weaker than water
Yet nothing is better at overcoming the hard and strong
The lesson for me, then, is to find comfort in the ebb and flow of traffic. Write what needs to be written. If it gets traffic, it gets traffic. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. No biggie.
And these is what we all need to do with our fears. Accept the ebb and flow in our lives, or else be consumed by it. Try or try not, there is no do.
But for me, there is also that twinge of guilt. “Sorry I took a turn for the douche in that ‘conversation’ we had, but it made me internet famous, so it actually turned out great for me.”
I understand, of course, that it was my drive to improve myself, my drive to ensure I didn’t repeat those same mistakes, that lead me to write that post. I wasn’t going out of my way to create drama just so I’d have something to write about. But, the popularity of that post makes it hard to see it that way.
This is one of the fundamental problems of human existence. We can’t think about raw experience. It’s not possible. By the very act of thinking about something, we are filtering it through our history of experience, our biases, our culture. Only in retrospect can I invent a guilt over that post doing well, and that guilt must therefore have no basis in fact.
Rhonda Britten does talk about how our fears filter our experiences. Others see our successes, but we see our failures. If someone tells us that we did a good job, we’re more likely to not believe them, and we’re more likely to come up with evidence for why they’re lying to us. Don’t they remember when I accidentally sent that email to the client? Don’t they remember when I accidentally scheduled two important meetings for the same time? I got lucky this time. I’m not as good as they say. They’ll eventually find out that I’m a fraud.
I do feel like a fraud. I’ve set myself up to be a source of inspiration for others. Every email I get where someone tells me how much I inspire them feeds the pressure to be someone who does inspirational things.
But, I am a chicken shit. That was the entire premise of the blog.
Going into this project, I had so many ideas about what I’d be doing as cool examples of facing fear, which would inspire people through my writing. I was going to travel. I was going to learn languages. I was going to go skydiving. Puff up your chest and just do it. Show these people what they’re capable of. Instead, I’ve become paranoid about spending money on doing all of these things, not knowing where my next paycheck is coming from, or how long my savings will last.
It feels like a kick in the teeth.
Which, I suppose, is appropriate. As much as I feel like I should be an expert if I’m going to address the topic of fear, none of this would have a basis if I were not a fearful person.
Losing my job was a great catalyst for trying new things, but now that I’ve settled into unemployment, it’s become easy to feel comfortable with doing as little as possible. Only what I need to do to get by.
This blog would be useless to you if I was innately fearless. My project is about learning courage, not having it innately. This is about you right along with me.
Fearless Living is starting to look like a good read, and it promises plenty of “Fearbuster Exercises,” so hopefully I’ll learn something in reading the book that will benefit you as well as me. Together we’ll learn the techniques necessary for facing our fears.
Do you ever feel like you’re a fraud? Do you tell yourself that you can’t top some previous effort? That you’re not as good as other people think you are? Do you feel guilty about your success? Share it in the comments.
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