Most of us have a “they” in the audience, even though nobody’s really watching, at least not how we think they are. The people who are watching us—the people who really see us—don’t care about the false self, about the show we’re putting on.Lori Gottlieb, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Actually, fear and embarrassment. And success. And failure. And anonymity. And death. And definitely internet trolls. — Me
Fear is a real pain in the ass.
Mine rears its ugly head in different ways: self-doubt, perfectionism, procrastination. These surface-level symptoms are easy to recognize. I can spot them the exact moment they’re happening–like right this second as I’m trying to write the perfect sentence on my first attempt because if I have to go back and edit anything then I suck at writing and HOLY SHIT NOW THIS IS A RUN-ON SENTENCE.
Evolutionary psychologists think fear is a primitive chemical response and emotion that was critical for our survival as a species. And that makes sense. It was probably helpful for early humans to be scared when they heard a roar coming from behind a bush. Because no one wants to be eaten by saber-tooth tigers or whatever-the-hell-else used to hide behind bushes and roar. (FYI: Prehistoric predators were courteous enough to let out a warning roar before they attacked.)
The prehistoric humans whose fight-or-flight responses were effective survived and bred; the others were eaten. And now here we are with fear firmly stamped in our DNA.
We don’t need fear to protect us from wild animals in the Big City, but it’s still useful. It makes us safer drivers (me especially). It helps prevent diseases (use your imagination). These are rational, beneficial uses for fear.
But we also let fear affect us in tons of irrational ways. At least I do:
- SELF-DOUBT: I worry that I’m not “qualified.” That I don’t have the credentials or my idea is stupid or I might feel embarrassed. What if someone calls me a fraud?
- PROCRASTINATION: Do I even really know what I’m talking about? Or what if it doesn’t work? Maybe I should read one or two more books. Maybe I should take a few classes. Maybe I should wait until I’m an “expert.”
- PERFECTIONISM: And I’m scared my work isn’t quite good enough–that it isn’t perfect enough. Will people think it’s just mediocre? Is there anything worse than “average?”
Why are all these fears irrational? Because they all focus on what other people think, as if we have any control over that. We care if “they” will like us, as if there’s an audience of anonymous critics out there just waiting to pounce.
But there isn’t. There’s just a bunch of people trying to navigate their own lives. They have limited time and energy. They pay attention to the things they care about and ignore the rest. And they couldn’t care less if we have our own shit together.
They certainly don’t care if “we” quit our job and try eight different things over the course of two years but none of them really work out so we get a new job and pretend nothing’s changed…right?
There’s no need to run and hide. To cover up our missteps or gloss over our truths. To put on a mask and pretend we’re something we’re not because we think “they” will judge us.
Because they won’t. The only ones who really pay attention–our real audience–are the ones who care.
No one else is watching.