Facing fears and letting go
A few months ago, I was strongly encouraged to take a good look at and examine my working habits. Although I have always been flexible and easygoing when it comes to work, I have always worked, in almost all cases, from a place of will and conviction. What I mean by that is I worked because I felt I had to, because it was the right thing to do. This work methodology worked well until I came face to face with a deeper truth about myself and the nature of reality; I don’t have to do anything, and there is no right way to pursue work. When my brain finished processing this slice of wisdom, its implication hit me like a ton of bricks and I temporarily collapsed on myself. In other words, I didn’t know what to do anymore, or why I should do anything at all.
I always considered myself a lucky person; unlike many professionals out there, I get to work as a freelancer in a field I love. One could also say I make my own luck as it was indeed a conscious career choice I made when I graduated from university a few years ago. I discovered, however, while exploring my motivations as well as the inner workings of my mind that although I love being an artist, I was also working from a place of struggle and resistance. And the more I became aware of this inner struggle, the more difficult it became to sustain this detrimental mental habit.
Fear of lack as main motivator
A few months ago, if someone had asked me why I went to work every morning, I would have replied simply that I had bills to pay. It seemed like the most obvious answer; why else would I work regular hours daily if not to earn money to ensure my survival within society? Furthermore, I had been subject all my childhood to the precarious financial situation of my parents who tried their best to make ends meet in spite of their low income which often bordered the poverty line. Although we thankfully never lacked food or shelter, we could not afford the luxuries most middle class families considered “normal”. And so when I found myself of working age, I did so carrying with me wisdom passed down from my parents; working, and preferably working hard, was an imperative to avoid slipping well below the poverty threshold.
For many years, I suffered from fear of lack. Whenever came the time to pay my monthly bills, my stomach clenched and my heart started racing. What if I did not have enough this time? The prospect of not having enough money haunted me. This fear became my main motivator. It was the force which propelled me forward in my work, motivated me to take on contracts I did not always enjoy, give in work on time and which ultimately gave birth to great anxiety whenever I could not meet a deadline. This fear, nurtured since childhood, existed for the most part in my subconscious where it had built its own dark little fortress. It caused me significant stress and did not allow me to see my situation clearly.
But then my life took a sharp turn last summer; I broke up with my partner of 9 years which also happened to be my business collaborator. This change, although scary at the time, was a great opportunity to start fresh; suddenly, I had no plans for the future and was starting on a new path. I also got to decide which beliefs and habits I would carry on with me and which I would leave behind. When fear of lack emerged again, I decided it did not benefit me any longer.
Facing the fear and letting go
Letting go sounds easy. We hear the advice all the time; “Just let go! Be free!”. Except it’s not easy, especially when it comes to habits built and refined over many years. We grow accustomed to ideas, even when they are ultimately detrimental to our well-being.
A few years before, I had tackled the same issue, concluding mistakenly the best course of action was to conquer the fear of lack by way of earning more money. I thought if I earned more money, I would not ever have to experience this painful emotion again. And it was this very fear I attempted to falsify which propelled me forward, pushing me to work harder. I disciplined myself and became more diligent with my working hours, reaching even a stable balance. From an external perspective, it might have seemed like everything was going rather well. In reality, I could not let go of the fear. The coping mechanism I found to deal with my issue was avoiding it. Towards the end, I was getting so good at denying its existence I almost forgot all about it… for a time.
Unresolved issues always resurface. No matter how deep we bury them, they will always find a way back into our lives. When I faced the inevitable dissolution of my partnership and company in 2013, my financial situation became unstable once again. I realized then the only way to heal the fear was to accept it and dive into it.
I allowed myself to fall; I let go of nearly all my willful working habits. As a result, my finances started slipping. The resistance to poverty which had previously served as momentum towards greater control of my person no longer served me. At that point, attempting to work with it alienated me and made me weary. I was no longer in self-denial, you see, and my mind was more than ready to shed the fear which had enslaved it for so long. I sought freedom and peace within myself and in my daily work.
In order to let go of my fear of poverty, I opened myself up to the possibility of failure; I imagined myself not being able to pay my bills, and I allowed myself to feel the intense stress and turmoil it caused me. I even imagined myself being evicted from my apartment and ending up on the street. Being homeless is generally the most uncomfortable position a financially incapacitated person faces. To be dispossessed from one’s home is a terrifying prospect, yet I knew deep down even that potentiality, as improbable as it might have been, had to be faced and accepted.
For some time, I worried, I cried, and when I had no more tears to shed, I realized the fear had gone. At last, I understood the worst thing that could ever happen to me if I did not pay my bills on time was the deterioration of my credit as well as expulsion from my current apartment. In the face of such an improbable yet terrible event, I know my friends and family would scoop me up and help relocate me in a matter of hours. A degradation of credit is not desirable in any capacity but even that can be rebuilt in time. Even if I lost all my possessions, I would still have myself, my amazing husband, my two lovely cats, my friends, my experience and all my acquired skills; I could build myself anew in a matter of months. The fear I had nurtured all my life was an attachment to an ideal lifestyle. I had been afraid to fall, afraid to be shamed for it and afraid to ask for help.
Falling, although not preferred, became perfectly acceptable. I gave myself the right to fail and stumble. I decided I would love myself unconditionally, rich or poor, successful or homeless.
Working from a place of acceptance
From this point on, I decided I would not work from a place of resistance any longer. I would work from a place of acceptance as much as possible; acceptance of myself, my work and all possibilities. Although committing to loving myself might have been a one-time choice, I still face fears and anxieties daily related to my work and my life. Now, however, whenever the thought “What if I cannot accomplish this on time?” comes up, I stop whatever I am doing and address it in the moment. What if, indeed, I cannot accomplish the task on time? I take a good look at the possibility, however grim, and ask myself: “Can I love myself even in such situation?”. Working and living from a place of compassion towards the self means accepting all possibilities and never giving up on oneself.
I feel better for it. I am much more at peace with myself and my life today than I was last year. I no longer work from a place of anxiety and fear; I work not because I feel have to, but because I want to, because I like to. I also get to know myself better in the process.
Sometimes, I take longer to accomplish some tasks, but the work feels better; it’s more fun. I choose to live in the present moment, I choose to be happy today. In other words, I choose not to sacrifice my time, my health and my sanity for the promise of future happiness and attainment which may or may not come. I am already whole.
I hope this article will inspire other professionals who may be facing a similar issue in their work or life. May you find yourself and your own path. Above all, may you find peace and happiness.