“There is freedom waiting for you
on the breezes of the sky.
And you ask, “What if I fall?”
Oh, but my darling, “What if you fly?”
This quote was penned by Erin Hanson, a young Australian poet, and is one that I’ve seen and heard countless times. This theme is one that came up in my personal life a few months ago when I made the switch from a job at a company where I had worked for over seven years. I felt excited and I knew—intellectually—that this switch would bring forth growth and adventure and also a schedule that would allow for further self-care—and would propel me toward my passions. And still, I was scared. Of the unknown and of the possibilities.
Within my fear I reached out to one of my lifelong best friends, Shira, and sent her a voice note —she is in Israel, and therefore speaking directly on the phone within our schedules and responsibilities can be difficult—describing this nervousness and stating aloud the fear of failure.
She responded, with her usual wisdom—one that does not surprise me but one that also always reminds me how grateful I am for our friendship—by simply asking: “And if you do fail...?” She then went on to ask: “And don’t you need to give it time and opportunity before you know or decide how this goes?”
This, reader, is exactly what I needed at the moment. Not someone simply telling me that everything would be fantastic and not to worry. Not someone dismissing my feelings. Rather, I needed someone to tell me that I would be seen and supported even if this change felt hard and to challenge myself not to assume one way or another. To give this unknown an opportunity rather than writing the story before it had happened.
I needed to be reminded that I was making this choice for a reason, and that it is also OK to have mixed feelings and to express that there is always a possibility of my future not being as planned. And that with all of these thoughts swirling, I was being seen, supported, challenged and validated.
I regularly discuss fear of the next steps and of the unknown with clients in my work, and my own fears with my support system. I wrote recently about the common fear that people have of getting better. This can be due to a comfort in the suffering because it is known, or because there is a system to this, and the system will be disrupted if change occurs—among other reasons. There is also, and perhaps more obviously, a fear of change due to the fear of the unknown and the fear of failure.
Typically people associate the fear of change as being equal to that of failure, danger, or anything that can be categorized as “bad.” And yet, if we use the metaphor of a cave, we can recognize how failure and the unknown can also be different. The thought of entering a dark cave for fear of a dangerous beast can be terrifying. The thought of entering a dark cave simply because it is dark is, in and of itself, fear-producing. Yes, this fear may be because of what can lurk in the dark, but this can yield a separate fear of the dark itself, before the brain registers what it is afraid of.
We may be afraid of failure and we may be afraid of the step before then; the unknown and these fears can manifest and present differently. They can lead to our defense mechanisms attempting to protect us, even without our knowing, causing us to avoid the fear or displace the emotions. It may take strong introspection to recognize how a fear of failure—or fear of success—may be interrupting our goals. These goals may stem from hope, necessity, responsibility, want or interest. Regardless, we attempt to move toward them and oftentimes pause, based on fear.
This fear is you, standing at the opening to the cave, nervous about the dark, dangers, or even wonders that lie within. This fear may mean that you sit and wait, pondering your next move. This fear may lead you to yell at all those who enter, to distract yourself from the journey with maladaptive means, to distract yourself from the task at hand. Remember to let yourself feel this fear. Grab a flashlight, grab a friend, hold your own hand. You may walk carefully, pausing at every step or you may run in, cutting yourself off from your emotions. There is no right way. But there is room for you to ask yourself, “And what if…” and to note that you can give yourself an opportunity to try.
I took the step. It included a fair amount of emotions, and I continue to grow because this is my role as a human. And I’m glad I did it. Not every story has a fairy-tale ending, but not every story ends where you think it does. When you are ready to enter that cave, know that I—and others—will be inside, cheering you on.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW, works virtually in private practice with those in New York and New Jersey struggling with mental health concerns and those attempting to heal their relationships between their souls and bodies. Temimah speaks nationally on the subject of eating disorders and body image awareness, and has a passion for working in the Jewish community. Temimah is also an adjunct professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, please visit www.temimah.com.