On Personal Dreams and Roadblocks

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.

-Clifford Geertz

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.

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Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life

Between my background in psychology and my personal experience with shyness, I have a keen interest in the common, yet socially shunned personality trait. In her book, Painfully Shy: How to Overcome Social Anxiety and Reclaim Your Life, Barbara Markway examines and dissects the issue of social anxiety, defined as the experience of apprehension or worry that arises from the possibility, either real or imagined, that one will be evaluated or judged in some manner by others.

The book answers common questions regarding the meaning and causes of social anxiety, and contains self-assessment tests and activities, as well as several helpful methods for overcoming social anxiety. In addition, there is a section on how to recognize and help your child overcome social anxiety. Finally, it concludes with an appendix of helpful terms and resources.

I found this book to be a fascinating look into a personality trait that is often seen as undesirable, and a hindrance to success. Combining scientific research and her own clinical experience, Markway offers an informed and understanding perspective on social anxiety and those who suffer from its overwhelming symptoms.

Some examples of practical exercises to overcome instances of social anxiety include paying attention to what the other person is saying, rather than focusing on how you look; and relaxing your mind and reminding yourself that you don’t have to be perfect, instead of worrying about what others are thinking about you. The section on methods for managing social anxiety is full of countless similar suggestions and tips.

As anyone who has dealt with shyness or social anxiety knows, it can be a real struggle. Throughout life, each of us is driven to consider the four existential concerns – death, freedom, isolation, and meaning. Although grappling with these complex issues does not guarantee answers, the questioning process in and of itself can help one transcend their small, everyday struggles, adding more fulfillment and joy into their life. By focusing on the big picture rather than each individual interaction, one can lessen the effects of social anxiety.

Whether you’re studying psychology, interested in the topic of personality, or suffer from painful levels of shyness and social anxiety or know someone who does, this book is a wonderful resource, presented in a helpful and easy to follow format.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion. 

Bored

My brother was destructive.

My sister repeatedly ran off to talk to strangers.

However, when I ask my parents what the most challenging aspect of raising me was, they’ll hesitate for a moment, and then reply “You were a really easy kid, and a lot of fun, but…you were continually proclaiming ‘I’m bored. What can I do?’ and it drove us up the wall.”

I was a good kid, but it took a lot to engage and entertain me. Amusement was always short-lived, and I wasn’t satisfied unless I was learning, creating, or communicating. I would work on jigsaw puzzles, read, watch nature documentaries, do homework, build furniture forts, climb trees with friends, and play on the computer for hours at a time, and then suddenly report my overwhelming and unquenchable boredom.

Nothing held my interest for long, and there was always something more to discover and achieve. I had an expansive imagination and unrealistic plans and dreams. Life was this huge adventure, just waiting to awaken…and it would, just as soon as I grew up. I feel like not much has changed.

On my tenth birthday, I wrote in a little journal, “Only six more years until I can drive!” As much as I enjoyed the freedom of being a kid, I could not wait to grow up because of all the endless possibilities I imagined. One day, I’ll be able to have as many dogs as I want, I’ll have an awesome job, and maybe even a loving husband. I’ll eat Pop-Tarts and hamburgers for breakfast, I’ll live next door to my best friends and build secret tunnels between our houses, I’ll go on vacation whenever I feel like it, I’ll write a best-selling book under a pen name, and change the world. I feel like I’m still waiting. And not just for sugary breakfast foods. I often feel like I’m waiting for my life to begin.

My hopes and goals in life have shifted significantly over the years, but I still have that restless, gnawing drive to do more with my life. I still long to learn, create, and communicate. I want to go to graduate school, I want to take fun classes, I want to work for myself, I want to read incessantly, I want to hear professionals speak on all different topics, I want to travel the world, I want to write, I want to hear people’s stories and share my own, I want to feel connected and a part of something bigger, I want to discover my purpose and feel as if I’m actively working to improve myself and make a difference in the lives of others.

Yet, just like ten and fifteen years ago, there seems to be a bit of a disconnect. I look at my current situation and recognize that I want to do more, to achieve more, to become more; I recognize where there’s room for improvement and compile lists of things I would love to do; and then I sit back, sigh, and say “I’m bored.” I don’t take action, I don’t follow though. There are, of course, exceptions, but in general I let a ridiculous, yet insidious little fear of change get in the way. It’s frustrating recognizing my own inability to take that initiative when I so desperately long to.

Lately, I’ve really missed being in school, and I think that stems from the fact that without structure and guidance, I tend to wander aimlessly and question my own aptitude. I no longer have a tangible ultimate goal. I’m inherently and passionately curious, with exceedingly high expectations and hopes for my future. But even with all the right tools and ammunition, I feel stagnant and under-stimulated. I’m not sure if it’s my timidness, or the curse of recent graduates who are all hoping to find that “perfect job” in an economy that has little to offer, but either way, I’m admittedly bored. I think it’s about time I just do something, anything.

Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening the Power of Essence Love

Contrary to popular belief, emptiness does not refer to lack. Rather, the basic meaning of emptiness is openness or potential. In Open Heart, Open Mind: Awakening the Power of Essence Love, Tsoknyi Rinpoche explains how individuals can actualize their full potential through mindfulness, clearing out old fears and ways of thinking, and acting with kindness towards others.

Each of us is equipped with a limitless capacity for openness, compassion, and wisdom; however the journey toward this end is not a passive one. Through simply examining your experience, you can begin to transform it. Beyond that, there are several steps towards awakening the power of essence love; however, it is basically broken down into the following two steps: discover the spark within yourself, and then pass your insights on to others.

Firstly, it’s important to find a balance within your own life – between your thoughts, feelings, and physical experiences; to let go of your attachment to old habits and mindsets, as well as the identification with who you “think” you are. The author prescribes several exercises through which the reader can learn to communicate with their body, obtain clarity, and ultimately make progress towards spiritual awakening and the discovery of essence love.

In addition to working to achieve your own personal potential, it’s important to be selfless and compassionate, and to offer all of the wisdom and love that you have to others. You lose nothing by sharing, and have much to gain from opening up to others.

“You don’t have to say anything. You don’t have to teach anything. You just have to be who you are: a bright flame shining in the darkness of despair, a shining example of a person able to cross bridges by opening your heart and mind.”

Tsoknyi Rinpoche writes in a warm and engaging style, meshing practical information and inspiration through straightforward language, helpful analogies, and relatable personal anecdotes. He also presents and illuminates Buddhist concepts and terminology, ideas which are explained in a widely accessible and easy-to-understand manner.

Only through an open heart can you gain an open mind. This book is a wonderful resource, regardless of whether you’re well on your way to spiritual awakening and enlightenment, or simply looking for the path on which to begin.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.