Feel the Fear, and Do it Anyway

Franklin D Roosevelt once famously said ‘The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.’ – but maybe he’d never been faced with climbing to the top of the O2. Okay, so I’m being a bit glib, but the fact is that sometimes I feel like a walking talking ball of anxiety. Especially when it comes to my bete noir – heights.

I can’t remember when I first started being afraid of tall buildings and mountains. Probably when I learned what happened if you fell off them. And that’s what my fear really is — it’s not a fear of heights, it’s a fear of falling to the depths. A fear of mortal injury!

A wise fear, you might say.

It’s not that dissimilar to some of the fears I face as a writer. What if people hate my book? What if they find out I’m a fraud? (One of my big ones — see this post on Imposter Syndrome for more details). What if I fail?

And sometimes even more scary, what if I succeed?

At the end of the day, the only failures we have are those when we don’t try. When we hang up our hats and hide away and decide not to challenge ourselves. So I try to ignore those inner voices that tell me to stop writing, the same way I try to ignore the inner voice that tells me I’m sure to die if I scale the dizzy heights of a skyscraper.

So I write and I publish, and I try to face my fears. That’s also why I decided to climb the O2 – that giant white tent-like structure in London, home to many a concert and exhibition. It looks like this:

As you can see, the sloping nature of the roof makes it hard to climb, which means you have to wear special equipment, including a harness, strong shoes, and a carabiner that ties you to the roof. You know, just in case you fall. So by the time I was fully dressed and ready to go, I was shaking. I was that afraid.

The route to the top is on a bouncy walkway, along with a hand rail that you have to cling to, otherwise the steepness is too much. All the way your carabiner is locked on to a wire, keeping you safe, but it’s hard work. And a bit like being an author, I found the best way to keep my anxiety under control was to keep my focus ahead of me, not look to the side, and keep breathing. That last tip is good for anything in life — breathing is important. Anyway, after around half an hour our group made it to the top, Want proof? Here’s a picture of me smiling, yes smiling. Because I did it. And the view from the top was amazing.

The route down was actually steeper than the route up (something to do with no platform going down), but I found that walking backward while clinging to the handrail helped. And when I finally made it to the bottom, I got a welcome rush of adrenaline, along with a sense of accomplishment. Because I did it – I felt the fear (oh boy did I feel the fear) and I did it anyway.

Would I do it again? I’m not sure, but I’m definitely glad I did it the first time. With every new thing I try, my fear of failing (or falling) becomes less. And I’m determined never to let my life be limited by fear again. Whether that be in my writing or anything else.

On Imposter Syndrome

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Recently I’ve been trying to improve my health. Simple steps like drinking less wine, and trying to walk 10,000 steps a day. It’s amazing how having a sedentary job can help pile on the pounds, and I’m hoping that a few tweaks here and there will counter the sitting around all day! Anyway, as part of my plan, I’ve started to listen to writing podcasts as I walk. Most of them last for around an hour, which is enough time for me to get in around 8,000 steps (I do the final 2000 steps at night).

This week I listened to Joanna Penn’s latest podcast about creating a successful author mindset. She gives a lot of great tips, which I won’t repeat here, but if you’re a writer and suffer from doubt, prevarication, or any of the other things that actually stop us from getting the words on the page, I urge you to give her podcast a listen.

Anyway, one thing that really struck me in her podcast was when she mentioned Imposter Syndrome. Her brief allusion to the way that success can make you feel like a failure really struck a chord with me, and made me want to learn more.

According to Wikipedia (and I don’t have to repeat that Wiki isn’t always the best source for information, but I will anyway!) the term Imposter Syndrome was was coined in 1978 by psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. In essence it refers to a state of mind where you’ve achieved something, but have failed to internalise the achievement. Instead, you tend to think you’re a fraud and that you didn’t deserve the success.

Looking back, I can see a number of times I’ve suffered from something similar to this, and it explains a lot about my mindset. Not just in writing, but also in other aspects of my life. And though I’m no doctor, it may well explain some of these experiences I’ve had.

The first time I can really remember feeling this way was back when I was ten years old. I was learning to play the clarinet (though I was never very good) and I had to go through an audition to attend a music school on a Saturday morning. Long story short, I passed, but one of my friends who was better than me didn’t. My first thought — they’ve got us mixed up, and as soon as I arrive at school they’ll tell me there’s a problem and send me home.

Of course they didn’t tell me that. And quite honestly, I wasn’t much of a success at the clarinet either. Suffice to say I left a couple of years later and never played the clarinet again!

In more recent times, being a published author has brought some of these feelings to the surface once more. When people ask me how I managed to get where I am, I tend to tell them I was in the right place at the right time. Not that I wrote a good book, or that it was worthy of getting published, but that I was lucky.

The problem is, if you think you’ve been lucky, what happens when your luck runs out? In the mind of somebody suffering from Imposter Syndrome, that’s when they get ‘found out’. People will suddenly realise the Emperor is wearing no clothes and laugh at them. And even though I have an agent, a book published in six different languages, and another four contracted for publication from 2017, I still feel that way.

According to Wiki, Imposter Syndrome is particularly found among high achievers, and though it’s prevalent in both genders, women are more willing to own up to it than men. I know from speaking with many of my writer friends that I’m not alone in feeling this way, as I wonder if the next book is the one where people will realise I’m a fraud. The saddest part is that it stops us from enjoying our successes, because they’re always tempered with a fear that they cannot continue.

So what do we do if we suffer from Imposter Syndrome? This article from Psychology Today suggests we go public about it (hence this post). It also suggests that a certain level of impostership is healthy, as it helps us remain humble. This article from the Shriver Report suggests 10 ways to battle these feelings, including internalising the external validation, talking to like-minded people, and taking stock of your success. In all the articles I’ve read, what comes through is that by talking about it, we lessen the effect of what we’re going through. As with so many mind-based issues, suffering in silence is the worst thing we can do.

So today I’m going to go and look at my books and hold them in my hand and tell myself that I made these. They have some wonderful reviews (as well as a few one stars) but each time somebody contacts me to tell me they loved them, I need to realise they’re talking about my words making a difference in their lives.

How about you — does any of this ring true for you? What do you plan to do today to make yourself realise that, in the words of Aibileen in The Help (Kathryn Stockett) “You is kind, you is smart, you is important”?

 

Carrie Pink