My biggest dream is to be accepted to a prestigious graduate program in social, personality, positive, or educational psychology, to be successful as a doctoral student and to perform research that I’m passionate about, to discover my calling and do everything in my power to share and implement my insights and, in doing so, improve the lives of others. I want to find happiness and fulfillment through my work.
However, a huge obstacle lies right in the middle of my path. I’m continually overwhelmed by this paralyzing fear, a deep-seated insecurity about my ability to function successfully in the world. I hold the belief that from the safety of my own mind, I’ll be able to come to understand the functioning of everything that surrounds me, and eventually rejoin the real world with confidence in my understanding. Instead of propelling me forward, this skewed mindset causes me to shrink further and further from the people and opportunities that will actually help me get to where I’m headed. Rather than asking for help from the people who I know care, I tend to delve deeper into the dark corners of my own mind, searching for nonexistent answers.
Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun.
I spend inordinate amounts of time collecting and developing ideas and skills that I believe might make me feel more confident and self-assured. I proudly carry around knowledge in my head, but become so engrossed in my own thoughts that I regularly neglect social relationships, and all the things that I should care about. I don’t tend to my real needs, and when problems arise, I run away and hide from them, hoping that maybe they’ll disappear or be forgotten. In my mind, I’ve created a false reality in which it feel simpler and safer to sacrifice the way things were for a scenario in which I start from scratch in an area in which I could potentially feel more competent, than face and work through my own flaws and shortcomings. In writing, it sounds foolish and ridiculous, but our mental schemas can be so powerfully convincing, despite their blatant inaccuracy.
Although, I personally pride myself in being a kind and moral person, those traits aren’t appreciated by society at large, and are often seen as supplemental fluff. Thus, I’ve built my identity around being intelligent, having ideas, and sharing my synthesis of knowledge, preferably through writing. However, the irony of the situation is that no matter what level of mastery I achieve in any given field or how successful I perceive myself to be, my fear of inadequacy never seems to go away. I can keep reading, thinking, and sharing ideas, but it will never be enough.
I may be cerebral, perceptive, innovative, insightful, curious, alert, and countless other positive things; however, at the other end of the spectrum, I’m often intense, detached, secretive, isolated, high-strung, preoccupied, reclusive, and unstable. Perhaps one day I’ll overturn conventional ways of thinking and put forth some innovative idea, but I feel that at this rate and on my current path, I’m more likely to become eccentric and socially isolated.
I feel more at home in my mind than in social situations; I feel safer viewing the world from a detached vantage point than taking part in the action. I believe it extends beyond mere introversion because I knowingly shut out opportunities for growth and learning. My thoughts are so overwhelming that the world within my head becomes intensely and conspicuously engrossing, to the point that little of outside world seems significant or satisfying. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m profoundly out of touch with reality, that my thinking is grossly convoluted, and that my reactions and coping mechanisms are unhealthy.
When I become anxious and fearful, I’m reduced to an overwhelmed and severely immobilized being with little power to do anything. The comfortable environment I’ve created for myself suddenly transforms into an unpredictable and threatening beast; I cut back on social interactions in order to allay my fears, but that ultimately only feeds them. I’m sensitive to the world around me, acutely aware of my fragility and defenseless. In order to compensate for my environmental sensitivity, I put up a facade of apathy and intellectual arrogance, consciously, though unintentionally, creating distance between myself and others. I’m painfully uncomfortable with my social skills; though I feel as if when I do manage to make it past the initial hurdles, I more than capable of being a loyal and loving friend, the fear of failure often prevents me from putting forth even the smallest amount of effort.
I’ve recognized these traits in myself for years and have watched myself cycle in and out of the habit, growing more and more frustrated with my inability to overcome the tendency. As of late, a few brave souls have had the courage to call me out on my behavior. In paying attention to my reactions, I’ve noticed how I behave when I become overwhelmed. I shut off my social networks and my phone, and I pour all my time and energy into a singular, seemingly important and worthwhile project (which is currently graduate program research and applications). It’s a completely unhealthy and counterproductive way of coping, especially when there’s not even an obvious reason as to why I’m so anxious.
Death is not the biggest fear we have; our biggest fear is taking the risk to be alive.. the risk to be alive and express what we really are.
-Don Miguel Ruiz
Having developed my identity around knowledge and discovery, graduate school seems like the logical answer to overcoming my insecurities, sense of failure over having not secured a decent job a year after graduation, and my general lack of self-esteem lately; however, although I intend to continue the application process, that is not the solution. I think the key is to find a balance between acquiring knowledge and taking action, to let go of my pride and be willing to ask for help when I need it, to accept things as they are rather than worrying about and over-analyzing all those things which I can’t control. I need to start reminding myself that the best experiences come to those who aren’t afraid to get their feet wet, because I will never achieve a single one of my dreams if I’m too fearful to take the first step towards arriving there.