Asking Not Asking #9: Frozen by Fear
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
I may not be the typical person you receive these letters from. I have a Bachelors in Engineering, Master of Applied Finance, and have been working in financial consulting for 5 years. I originally went into finance with the aim to work for the World Bank or other organisations such as the Acumen Fund or Bill and Melinda Gates foundation because I wanted to feel as though I was making a difference. I have found myself wondering off that path, though.
What I have always loved and known to light me up are those one-on-one moments with people; that human to human connection; that sitting in the darkness next to someone as they battle through something. Through journaling, I have thought that clinical psychology may be an option for me, but as a 31-year-old who just got out of an 8-year relationship and lives in a foreign country, I feel this deep sense of fear to pursue this.
I am challenged by low self-esteem, questioning my knowledge, not knowing what sacrifices to make (financially, time etc), not knowing how to get from point A to point B when point B seems so far away, and currently being in a job that can demand 80 hour weeks resulting in the big feat for the day being putting on pants in the morning rather than researching courses. I understand that these can be interpreted as excuses but they are incredibly real and crippling to me at the moment. I feel as though I currently bring a small and frozen person to the table to solve the problem rather than an open and creative one.
The opportunities that exist for me right now are that in the next year I have the ability to become more financially stable, my work can be flexible (i.e. I can do 80%), it’s free to study in Finland, and I am passionate.
In the last year I have learned I am resilient. I am enjoying the woman I am becoming and I have a beautiful support network both locally and internationally.
Thanks, I would love your insight here.
Frozen by Fear
Dear Frozen by Fear,
Run to the roar. This is a mantra that has guided me for over 15 years. I haven’t always abided by it, but it has been present in my mind, rolling around in my head when I make decisions that feel daunting and scary. The phrase was given to me by a mentor many years ago as we conversed over dinner at a Cracker Barrel in my small Midwest hometown. I will never forget that moment. I had been taking fine art courses at my community college, and I wanted to pursue a creative career, but I had no idea how to do that.
Meanwhile, I had started to work at a local shelter for runaway and homeless youth, and I, too, loved the “human to human connection; that sitting in the darkness next to someone as they battle through something,” as you described it. I felt torn. I wanted to create, but I also wanted to serve people in a meaningful way and have a direct impact through my work. I was unsure how to combine all of my desires, and I felt pressure to choose. So I did. I decided to switch my major to social work, even though I was terrified. As I sat there in front of my mentor, I described my fear of abandoning a path I was already on—even though it wasn’t a clear path—to pursue something entirely new.
“Run to the roar,” she told me. She said I was imagining a huge, terrifying lion waiting for me on the other side of my decision, but she was sure that when I arrived on the other side, I would find a docile kitten and the roar would actually be a tiny meow. I laughed. Maybe she was right. Maybe not. But I was going to find out. I changed my major, completed the social work program, and entered the field. It was a season of incredible growth for me. After a number of years, I circled back to creative work, eventually combining all of my interests and experience in what I do now—but that’s a story for another time.
The point is that we don’t get to where we’re going without letting go of where we are and that requires a level of discomfort. There is a beautiful quote by dancer and choreographer Agnes de Mille that summarizes this process: "Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark." Taking a leap in the dark is scary. There is much ambiguity. As hard as it is to do what you are doing now, it is known to you. You don’t have to guess how it will turn out.
But your future will come for you either way. This is your chance to shape your future. You certainly are resilient. You are now on your own living in a foreign country after the end of an 8-year relationship. That is an achievement. It is brave. You’ve already earned two degrees. That takes diligence and hard work. And you mentioned you have wonderful support systems. It sounds like you have everything you need to run toward that roaring lion.
I’d like you to try an exercise. Take out a piece of paper. On one side, write at the top: My Worst Fears/Unwanted Outcomes. Now set a timer for 3 minutes and write down all of the things you are scared of about pursuing a new path, like going back to school to study clinical psychology. Are you afraid it will take too long, cost too much, that you won’t be good at it? Write down all of the things that creep up in your mind to deter you from this path.
Now flip the paper over and write at the top: My Best-Case Scenario/Wanted Outcomes. Set your timer for 3 minutes again and write down all of the positive outcomes that are possible about this path. Are you great at the job? Do you help people transform their lives? Do you go on to research and write books, do you find more meaning in your career? Write down all of the potential desired outcomes.
Anything could happen. You can’t control the outcomes, but you can make a decision about what’s next for your future and then make space to take action to support your goals. I don’t think you’re making excuses. You have a demanding job. And considering a new path and the steps you will take to pursue it does require time and mental bandwidth. But if you continue going through your weeks in the same way, you will continue with the same results. That said, you can make small changes to move forward.
It sounds like the priority is to decide what you will pursue next. If you decide to go into psychology, what are the practical steps you’ll take to do that? Research schools, apply to programs, save money, pay off debt, etcetera? Set aside time to think about how can you use your current job and income as a launching pad into what’s next. I’d challenge you to look at your calendar and determine where you can carve out a minimum of 30 minutes per week to begin planning. It may also be helpful to consider goals by quarter and ask yourself what you can do in the next 1-3 months to support your goal. Little by little, your plan will come together, I have no doubt.
As you are reflecting, planning, and taking action, remember this: Don’t make this decision out of fear. Make it out of conviction. Make it because it is your life and you are shaping it into a future you are excited about. That doesn’t mean that fear won’t be present—it will. But run toward that loud, roaring sound and as you reach your destination you might find that what you imagined was much more scary than the reality.
Run to the roar,
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Asking Not Asking is a bi-monthly column written by Tina Essmaker, a New York City-based coach, speaker, and writer who helps others live into their possibility. To be considered for the column, send and email to email@example.com with a short note about where you're at and where you want to be, and make sure to include the following:
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