“Just do it” ought to be the motto, not of a shoe company, but of our culture.We’re supposed to get over it, push ourselves outside our comfort zone, challenge ourselves, take no prisoners. We’re supposed to listen to our guts, be brave, take chances.
At the same time, we’re supposed to get in touch with our feelings, honor our boundaries, be true to ourselves.
It’s enough to make a girl crazy.
But what if…
This particular back and forth always led me into a back and forth.
When was I supposed to believe my gut and my feelings, and when was I supposed to recognize that I was holding myself back out of anxiety? When was I supposed to push and when was I supposed to accede?
Was I conflict averse, or was this not important to me? Did I really not want to do this or was I just afraid of possibly failing?
Invariably, I’d end up pushing myself because the “what ifs” were so much more regretful on the “not pushing” side. What if it turned out I was just scared and I didn’t pursue my dream?
Often enough, I found myself on the other side of something I really wish I hadn’t done, something that, in retrospect, was so obviously wrong for me. The journey was still worth it, but oh, what I could have saved myself.
Back to you, dear reader
I bring this up because it’s something I see all the time in my clients. They’re procrastinating writing that job application, or they’re not sure whether to try the academic job search one more time or bag it altogether, or they can’t decide if this possible career they’re considering is a good idea or a very, very bad one.
This is totally normal. Whenever we’re faced with a decision, especially a big decision, these brains we’ve trained to look at all sides … look at all sides and find them all valid.
That’s great in academic research, and not so great when you’re trying to decide where to leap next on your grand life adventure.
How to get out of the paralysis
When you’re in that kind of back-and-forth, pay attention to the difference between fear and aversion.
In a situation that isn’t actually life-threatening, fear is a sign of beliefs we’re believing — and that might not be true. (If the situation is actually dangerous to your existence, you won’t be thinking. You’ll be acting.)
What if I don’t prepare well enough and I embarrass myself? What if I’m so unqualified that they laugh at my application? What if I decide to leave academia and the job market turns around and I could have stayed if I had just waited a little longer?
Each of those anxieties is based on some deeper belief. Embarrassing myself is the end of the world. Not doing it perfectly will cause shame. I should be able to predict the future.
Given our cultural and academic backgrounds, it makes total sense that we’d have these beliefs and the attendant anxieties. It’s just that they aren’t based in reality. And if they aren’t based in reality, then they’re things we’d do well to work with and untangle and trace back to their origins and disprove.
I still don’t think “just do it” is all that effective, because what we do straightjacketed by fear is unlikely to be our best work. But it makes sense to gently work on dislodging the fear so you can move forward.
Aversion, on the other hand, needs to be respected.
Have you ever had really bad food poisoning or a really bad case of the flu, and suddenly you can’t eat whatever it was you ate right before your guts turned inside out? When you encounter that food again, you probably have a bodily sense of near-nausea, a complete lack of desire for it, even though your rational mind knows that this food is perfectly fine this time.
That’s aversion. When you experience that about a choice you’re considering, it’s your being’s way of saying NO. It’s your essential you-ness trying to say this is a bad idea, no matter how good it looks on paper.
We often override the no with those logical brains, because we don’t trust our bodies, because we can’t figure out how to explain WHY we don’t want to do whatever it is, because we’re afraid of getting judged for it. (Notice all of those are fears that can be untangled.)
But we generally regret it when we push on through aversion.
You have to get quiet to tell the difference
In the moment, it can be hard to tell fear from aversion. Our minds are a tangle of thoughts, our bodies are tense with anxiety, and we don’t really know up from down.
When you’re in that situation, you’ve got to stop. Just stop trying to make the decision. Get in touch with your insides however you best do that. Meditate and quiet your mind, go for a run, write in your journal — whatever will get you connected to yourself.
Then notice what’s coming up. Is it a whole set of stories about you and this decision? Is it a feeling you can’t shake but can’t explain? If it’s the former, start untangling them. If it’s the latter, pay attention.
When we’re surrounded by other people’s judgments and expectations, it’s even more important to get quiet, because they make an added layer of fear and anxiety. But they don’t tell you what you should do, only what someone else thinks you should do.
You know, better than anyone else ever could, what the right answer is in this moment. You know, better than anyone else, whether what you’re feeling is fear or aversion.
Trust yourself. I do.