30-day Writing Challenge – Day 8

Share something you struggle with.

Fear.

I could leave that there and let it just be a thing, but I’ll take a minute and define some of the fears that have been allowed to fester in my life, and talk a little about how I’ve worked over the last few years to overcome these fears.

My fears tend to focus mainly on sense of self and sense of community, and sometimes the two of them are tied together. On the sense of self side, and it’s taken me decades to be able to define this, I’m a quiet, shy, introverted person. My work character and persona would say otherwise, but right from when I got into grade school, I either labeled myself or had someone else label me as different. Growing up in the 80s, this wasn’t the same kind of inclusive, permissive environment that exists today (and with the rear-view mirror well-installed, I can see just how many fucks were expensed on acceptance). I was the kid who had natural talent in class. I had the answers already, and things came easy. I was absolutely terrified of making mistakes. If I opened my mouth, got something wrong, and the kids laughed, that sound echoed with me for years to come. So I stopped opening my mouth. I withdrew in fear, and consequently denied myself a great number of growth opportunities for the future.

This also applies to the physical sense of self. I was always concerned with how I was seen by others, and more than anything, I just wanted to be *seen*. I was the kid who always got picked last or second-to-last, I only started to like my body in the last five years. I lived in fear of what others would think about how I dressed, how I talked, how I acted.

As an adult, I’ve been able to allay a lot of these fears, but a lot of them have come at what could be seen as a cost. I ended up joining the military as a means to get myself off to college and away from my hometown and my past and to establish myself as my own person, not as someone’s son or “that kid from school”. The military has proven to be an interesting place for me as I have risen through the ranks, often terrified of either the task at hand or for blundering (and trust me, I’ve seen some classic, epic blunders, and can only imagine what the psychological toll is on the person leading that particular piece of the puzzle). Again, timing is everything – as a young private in the mid-90s, especially post-Somalia, I fit in just nicely with a group of folks who were struggling to be considered professionals in matching suits, working hard to legitimize their work after dealing with a major corporate scandal. The army taught me to overcome fears about skill – I had the training, and later, the experience, that I needed to get by, and that was everything. Fake it till you make it. Confidence grew along with knowledge, to the point where I could feel that line where I was making decisions based on fact and judgement, and things were going well. I still make mistakes – the difference now is in the ownership. I own my mistakes, and I use my own mistakes to help people around me to learn how to make better decisions.

Now that I have kids, I also have fears related to them. Especially challenging right now is my eldest, who is suffering with depression, anxiety, ADHD, and a deep want to experiment with drugs. He, too, is a smart cookie, but he’s running out of time to get foundational experience through school that will allow him to go out and be an adult in the world. I was on a backpacking trip in the Olympic Mountains earlier this year in an area without cell service and with the way things were headed, I had this sinking feeling that I’d be turning my phone on and getting word that he was dead. That’s the level of fear that I’m getting out of the experience with him.

He’s a strong kid. He knows the differences between right and wrong. He just ignores them and hasn’t been caught in a meaningful way yet. My other fear is that this youthful rebellion will catch up with him and completely tank his plans to go explore the world.

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