Is there something you want to say or do or change, but you have set some condition, maybe a condition you know is unlikely or impossible, that would have to be fulfilled before you act?
I don’t mean a necessary condition, like someone else’s consent for something that involves them, or an absence of gravity because your desire is to float around like you are in space. I mean something that maybe isn’t so much a condition of attempting or possibly accomplishing your goal, but something you pretty much made up because there is some degree of uncertainty that the result you want is the result you will get, or some degree of certainty (whether accurate or just rooted in your own self-doubt or self-loathing) that the result you want is impossible for you to get. Made-up conditions are lies we tell ourselves rather than owning some truths about ourselves that we don’t like – that we are afraid, that feeling in control is actually our primary motivation, not love or integrity or happiness or success or whatever the avoided action would serve.
Something like “I will only say how I feel if I already know for sure what response I will get in return and that it is the one I want.” Which, barring clairvoyance, or doing something really shitty like invading someone’s privacy, is not really possible (and invading someone’s privacy is the sort of wrong action that seems likely to be revealed at some point, which is pretty likely to turn whatever positive response you are hoping for into a negative one). Or something even more far-fetched, like “I would only try if things that I already did that affect this didn’t affect this.” Which means we have limited ourselves to finding a time machine or someone, maybe even ourselves, getting selective enough amnesia to forget only the very specific things we did that we fear rule out the outcome we want.
I think we all do this sometimes, usually where we want something that somehow ties in to mistakes or bad actions we have already done, and we don’t want anyone to know, or we want something, from those who do know, that is unlikely in light of their knowledge; or where we have bad feelings about ourselves, about our worthiness, about our abilities, about our chances of experiencing success, and fear that the vulnerability of acting will affirm those fears.
I don’t know that there is some universal answer for how to overcome such blocks. I do think that a good place to start is being honest with ourselves. To allow ourselves to ask and answer truthfully what motivates them, whether it is an unwillingness to own our own past mistakes, or not wanting to look too closely at ourselves and find some unflattering qualities, or whether maybe the thing we are avoiding is something we have identified with but in truth is just something we like to imagine, not something important enough to us to try to have it, or maybe the avoided thing is just a mask for something else we feel less comfortable with feeling or wanting.
Maybe the truth won’t motivate us to act – maybe the truth is even that we don’t want to act. But I think we get healthier when we don’t engage in the abusiveness of deception, especially within ourselves. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, we are unlikely to be honest with anyone else, which sets us up for a lot of anxiety about keeping track of our lies and fearing revelation, and for a lot of loneliness, since no one will really know what we think or feel, and we will be aware of that, even if no one else is.
And getting honest with ourselves might move us closer to taking chances on things that really are important to us, and make our lives better, even if we don’t get exactly what we want. There is real satisfaction to be had in having the courage to act in spite of our fears, and in treating ourselves as worthy of taking chances and attempting difficult things. We might even get what we seek – and if not, we will still likely feel better about ourselves than when we were frozen in fear. Trying and failing (or trying and succeeding, for that matter) also tends to bring some new understanding – sometimes that negative things we believed about ourselves aren’t true, sometimes about how much or little an outcome really means to us, and those new understandings can move us to carry on or change directions.
It might not be something any of us like to think about a lot of the time (or maybe at all, depending on the person), but none of us lives forever. None of us even knows how long we get. However uncomfortable thinking about death might make us, that is an unavoidable truth; and we all deserve to live lives made up of more than fears and regrets. Failure isn’t something to be ashamed of, it is evidence that we have been courageous enough to try, knowing our outcomes aren’t guaranteed. It is an inextricable part of learning and of growing and improving.
We should all allow that we are worth the effort. I believe we would all be better off if we did. Allow ourselves to take a chance. Do it incrementally, if that feels less scary. Commit that we are going to try, and make one tiny step today. And commit to make another after, maybe one per day, maybe more, if we find our fear decreases when we begin to act instead of agonize. Better to make thirty little bits of progress, and in a month find yourself however far that has taken you, than to still be in the exact same place we were a month ago, feeling just as scared or powerless – or more scared and powerless. It would be nice if more good things just happened to us or happened all at once, but that they don’t is no reason to deny ourselves a chance at greater happiness.
Hell, maybe what we are holding back is the pleasant surprise someone else is waiting for, and by acting, we will be doing more than adding to our own happiness, we will be adding to someone else’s. For all of the people who are waiting to say something important or do something important, there are a fair number of people waiting to hear something important or experience something life-changing. Maybe our apology or confession or profession of love or gift or assistance or effort is exactly what someone is waiting for. Maybe in acting, we will both get what we want. And sure, maybe might be scarier than “definitely” – but it is a lot more likely that we definitely won’t get what we want by doing nothing.
Not the most earth-shattering final thought, but I need to wrap this up and get out to vote. For those of you who are over eighteen and living in the States, I also wish you the motivation to get out there and do the same. Your voice matters, just like your dreams matter enough to try to achieve them, just like you matter. I probably have never met you, so how can I be sure it is true?
Because it is true of everyone.