how i let fear erase me.

I have never made a good decision when fear is involved. Be it fear of upsetting someone, fear of facing a consequence, or fear of change.

Every time I have wanted to make progress in my life, a small voice pipes up to remind me “not to get too confident”, “what will happen if you fail”, “what’s plan B because we sure know plan A won’t work”, “who will criticize you for failing”, “You don’t deserve the good things in life/success/to be happy”. I know I am not alone in having this little voice chiming up at every opportune moment. I’ve made some terrible decisions as a result of listening to that voice, some of which I have paid a heavy price for.

I am afraid to show you who I really am, because if I show you who I really am, you might not like it…and that’s all I got – Sabrina Ward Harrison

When I was 17, I was involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities at school…I was a Student Ambassador for Amnesty International, before I left my home country I had been selected as Vice President for the Student Rotaract Club. All endeavors that displayed my passion for helping people and wanting to be a voice for the voiceless, something that deep in my soul, I knew was my true purpose in life.

When it came to applying to universities, I had already picked up Psychology as an A Level and felt even more convinced that I had to work to free people who felt enslaved be it physically, mentally or emotionally. I applied to 5 universities to study Humanitarian Law. I was very specific about this and did not want to waste time studying general law, only to specialize later. I was committed to hit the ground running. I knew what I wanted. I didn’t discuss my application with anyone. I knew what I wanted. I knew I was being true to myself.

Once I had been given 5 conditional offers to the universities, I finally told my parents what I had planned to study. To give some context here, I have always been a straight A student and studied all the sciences for A Level. My parents had brushed off the addition of Psychology to my list of subjects, but I didn’t realise how little they thought of the subject until they realized I would be dropping the sciences all together to put my effort into humanitarian work. And law for that matter! God forbid! My mother asked me why I wanted to be a liar (apparently that is what all lawyers do)…my father spoke to me about the importance of math in life and that I should never drop it in whatever work I do. While I entertained their conversations, I didn’t budge. The walls of my resolve trembled slightly but I was determined not to give in to their pressure. I knew what I wanted.

My mother involved my external family who sat me down and grilled me about my life choices and encouraged me to study a different topic more aligned to “what I was naturally good at”. According to them, that was Math and Physics. I was young at 17, but my biggest mistake is listening to external influences, allowing the fear to creep in and entertaining it’s presence.

Being scared may cause people to experience anticipatory fear of what may lie ahead rather than planning and evaluating for the same. For example, “continuation of scholarly education” is perceived by many educators as a risk that may cause them fear and stress, and they would rather teach things they’ve been taught than go and do research. That can lead to habits such as laziness and procrastination. The ambiguity of situations that tend to be uncertain and unpredictable can cause anxiety in addition to other psychological and physical problems in some populations

I spent several sleepless nights debating this decision. I thought about how proud I wanted my parents to be, and how ashamed they would be if I continued down the path to study Law. I convinced myself that everyone was right, I was good at the Sciences and as I had only picked up Psychology 2 years ago, I had more chances to fail if I pursued a degree that required a lot of critical analysis of extensive written material. I was afraid of failure, failing myself and more so, failing my parents.

A week or so later, I changed my degree to study Engineering. It had an amazing ring to it that made my parents and their friends gasp with pride and envy respectively. I trudged through those 4 years of studying an engineering degree convincing myself that this is what I wanted to do. I was good at it, I passed with an Honours degree, I learned many things…but none that made my soul catch fire and feel like I was fulfilling my life’s purpose.

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I let fear rule that one decision and 13 years later, I don’t enjoy my career, I’ve tried out 3 career fields already and I am always trying to find ways to go back in time to change that moment. I started this blog as a way to get some of that passion back but it is a far cry from where my heart wanted to be. Fear fought. Fear won. I ended up in a space where I no longer know what I truly desire in my career or what I enjoy. I have “gone with the wind” for too long. I allowed fear to lead me to a place where eventually, I erased myself.

But, does the story end there? Of course not. The pessimistic view is believing that I will stay unfulfilled forever, that I have wasted 13 years. A more balanced view is seeing the bigger picture of how I have learned and progressed over the years. The advantages my “career mistake” has afforded me. The power that lies in the types of roles I have worked in, and how that opens many doors for me now. Perhaps I wasn’t erased, but enhanced. I made a decision based on fear to please others and out of fear of failing. Instead I have gained valuable lessons and a journey that has seen me develop a stronger character. I know the dangers of fear-based thinking, and how dwelling in those thoughts can lead you to make some bad decisions.

Would I have liked to have studied humanitarian law, yes. Now, I am somewhat glad I didn’t because I have developed a stronger mind, character and more solid emotions to dive into my purpose from a different angle. Perhaps where I have ended up is my true destiny after all.

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Listening to that voice of fear can drive you to make terrible decisions that leave you lost. I could have avoided a lot of years of stress by:

  1. Not listening to other people who think they know what is best for me, regardless of their authoritative position in my life. No-one will know you like you do. You have the most knowledge on your purpose and your true desires.
  2. Not allowing the fear to set in. The anxiety may be there, simmering away in the background, but don’t allow it to take a foothold in your mind or body. Tips for overcoming unhelpful thoughts here.
  3. Not entertaining the thoughts to make behavioural changes in response to the fear. Sometimes sitting in the fear and repeating reality to yourself is best i.e. what you truly want to do, what is truly happening rather than the imaginative creations in your mind due to fear.
  4. Making the decision when you are in a calm and confident frame of mind, only influenced by your own desires and values.

If you do regret any decisions made, past or present, that is OK! Once you become self-aware enough to recognise and accept where you went wrong, you have opened up the door to growth and the utmost certainty that you will never make that kind of mistake again. Life is about learning, growing and being a better version of yourself on a day-to-day basis. After all, Rome was not built in a day!

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