There is so much I want to do with my life, but every time I start toward some possibility, I freeze. I get so knotted up with my worries about failing or succeeding that I do nothing. I’m 29 years old, and I have been frittering away my life. I stay underemployed because it’s safe. I date men I know are not long-term-capable, because then I don’t have to make a commitment. I am tired of living this way, but I don’t know what to do. I take my anger out on everyone around me, which makes my life hell. I’ve written lots of letters to you in my head. I am finally contacting you. Any advice?
Consider this warning from bestselling author and Jungian analyst James Hollis: “Each morning two grinning dragons sit at the foot of our bed. One is named Lethargy and one is named Fear. Either or both will gladly eat us alive.” You have the power of choice. You can tame the dragons or challenge them to a swordfight or ignore them and hop out of bed. Or, you can let yourself be as big, or bigger, than the beasts. The moment you do, they will shrink to a manageable size.
One way to accomplish this magic trick is to acknowledge that you cannot know what will happen if you succeed or fail. No matter how agile your mind, the ability to consistently and accurately predict the results of your actions is beyond you (and the rest of us, too). Attempts at prediction block the movement of spirit so you’re always closing the door to possibilities that are greater than you could have imagined.
Of course, fear is edifying. When we channel its energy into a reaction, we learn where we are on our spiritual path. In the article “Taking Fear Apart” from the winter 2003 issue of Tricycle magazine, a practitioner of Buddhism wrote, “Fear is a reactive mechanism that operates when our identity (including the identity of being a physical entity) is threatened. It works to erode or dissipate attention. We move into one of six realms and react: 1. Destroy the threat or seek revenge. 2. Grasp at safety and security. 3. Focus on survival. 4. Pursue pleasure as compensation. 5. Vie for superiority. 6. Protect status and position.”
Rigidity results from these reactions. As the article summarizes, “Because we are less present to what is actually taking place, our actions (1-6) are correspondingly less appropriate and less effective.”
Fear of success or failure is just the fear of being yourself and expressing whatever piece of the divine you were personally imbued with. Meet with a therapist to determine whether depression is at play in your mind. Then, see a career counselor who can help you set goals and stay accountable to them.
I have just completed two months of travel and reading outside of the United States. Everywhere I went on my travels, people seemed so deeply connected with each other and so honest and open in conversation with each other. It’s so hard to be back here among the purveyors of superficial conversation and living. I am depressed and feel lonely everywhere I go.
It’s easy to stand outside of a culture and imagine they have what you desire. But if these others truly possess depth, you cannot be lonely, because you know that your grail exists. It’s true that American culture and conversation celebrates the superficial, but there are antidotes. Good poetry (not slam poetry and not the kind that sounds like rap and not the kind that reads like a greeting card) is a guide into our depths. Take a class and immerse yourself in it. Dive deeper into your own depths, and you’ll attract others doing the same.