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02. fear and its other name

My parents and I stay connected through messaging, and inevitably the subject of work will come up.

“How was work? Are you all done?” says the voice memo from my mom.

Yes, I reply and to myself I include, I am very done with work for a while.

I have yet to tell my parents that I was let go and that I did not have a job anymore (so let’s just omit that topic for the time being okay?). I planned to tell them on Monday; I knew I wanted a weekend to myself, and for myself to adjust to this new fact. I wanted to use the time to develop a response and not a reaction. This was productive pause number two.

“Use the time to develop a response, not a reaction.”

Fear has many names, sometimes we call it anxiety, worry, or nervousness. Fear takes up our time and energy, because fear manifests itself regardless of whether there is good reason.

I was let go on Friday, but I was already crippled by anxiety for months at the thought of the company failing and the possibility of not having a job. I had a meltdown on Wednesday when I realized I had made a mistake on a data analysis, and I was fitfully crying (you can do this when you work from home, alone) and trying to fix the mistakes. I realized that the company didn’t have to fail for me to be let go! I was anxious that I wasn’t doing a good enough job at work, that I wasn’t making myself a valuable enough employee – I was insecure about my employment. Not just at this job, but at every job. You can have this feeling even in good economic times, sans pandemic.

“Fear takes up our time and energy, because fear manifests itself regardless of whether there is good reason.”

Fear happens during three specific times (yes just three):

  1. Before something happens – such as contemplating an event and the possible outcomes. Do I have enough food? Will I do well on that exam? Will my lover leave me? There will always be enough topics to worry about and because the past is finite and the present is fleeting, there is infinite runway to worry about the future! We arguably spend most of our time here, concerned before something happens.
  2. While something is happening – This is generally the shortest fear period, because the present moment is fleeting and the event will usually move to being in the past. Being let go was a 6 minute ordeal, the message was delivered and the conference call ended; then 15 minutes more, all of my company access was revoked. Twenty one minutes total – I worried the least during this time!
  3. After something happens – This is probably the most rational time to worry because it is in reaction to a real scenario. Here I was, worried about something that might happen (and did happen) and that worry already existed for YEARS. But after the event happened, I found that the real worry didn’t even equal HALF of the fake worry I felt when I had my job (any job)!

Fear has many names, but I realized that the root of my fear was the unknown. I was fearful for months because I didn’t know what might happen, though I had many ideas and my imagination brought them all to life. I was afraid of losing my job because I didn’t know what that would mean. I thought losing my job meant I would be a failure, I would be embarrassed, I would be [fill in the blank]. Immediately we think of going broke, being unable to pay the bills, not having food to eat. I was afraid to tell my parents, because I didn’t know what they might say and how that might make me feel (worse?). We spiral into negative thought after negative thought, and with each negative thought, a negative emotion – until you’re just sitting in your own tornado of bad feelings, living out an imaginary doomsday scenario.

So what helps?

I read somewhere that fear and excitement can feel the same. They both feel super intense in anticipation of something that might be realized. We categorize one as good and one as bad; we give them judgements because we want to be able to understand and control the world we live in.

What happens if we call fear by its other name instead – excitement.

How would that change how you felt about your situation? More importantly, how would that change how you thought about your situation?

For me, I was afraid of losing my job. And after I lost my job, I could be afraid of being unable to pay my bills, unable to find another job, unable to get health insurance… and the list goes on.

But instead of calling it fear, when I started to call this feeling excitement, I realized my mind started drumming up other scenarios as well: what if I can pay my bills, what if I don’t find another job right away? What if I gave myself time to enjoy this new freedom of time?, what if I just signed up for medicaid and rescheduled my appointments for later in the year? Think about all the possibilities and things I could do with this time! (And let’s be perfectly honest, there were many times during my years of full-time employment that I wished, exhausted by the work, stress, and routine, that I might get to take a break. I wish they would just fire me! were real words I may or may not have said…)

Suddenly, I wasn’t so fearful… I became hopeful. I also had to laugh because I kind of wished for this scenario is some small ways.

“Fear and excitement can live together.”

This doesn’t mean the fear isn’t still there, the fear did not go away. But fear and excitement can live together, and they often do. We are afraid of failing, but we are excited to succeed. The fear of failure and the excitement to succeed are tied together loosely by this thing called perspective.

How you feel is largely based on your perceptions about a scenario. Did I just get fired? Yes. Do I now not have to go to work anymore? Also, yes. Notice how different these two perceptions feel.

Let’s call fear by its other name.

What are you excited about?

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