This is part five of my project, the Ingredients of Fear, where I peel back the onion and reveal everything that’s been beating me down and holding me back inside. Click here to learn more about The Ingredients of Fear.
Listen to this story:
A couple months ago I spent a weekend disconnecting from my otherwise turbulent life at Mavericks, California. I was at the beach by Pillar Point on a late afternoon just after it stopped raining. The clouds were clearing away, the sky was opening up, and the view to the Pacific Ocean was simply breathtaking. There were some people walking out and climbing up toward a vantage point so I followed them.
Curiosity soon turned into self-doubt when I noticed how slippery the rocks were, and that I was only wearing this cheap pair of slip-ons from Old Navy. I clumsily worked my way up, eventually to this spot where I would have to climb my way down and across a 4-foot wide pocket in order to get to where the vantage point was.
There were about five other people where I was. Some held the same initial hesitation as me, but all of them tried their way and eventually made it across. Meanwhile I just stood there for the longest time, because I was scared and more importantly frustrated at how useless I felt, unable to do something literally everyone else around me managed to do.
Then this guy showed up. He couldn’t have been much older than 25. He was wearing this preppy navy sweater and a nice pair of shorts, not unlike a model you’d find in a J.Crew catalog. He looked down toward the pocket for a second and just jumped from my side to the other. He just… did it.
So there I was watching him, green with envy, wondering how he could just hop to the other side like it’s no big deal. He didn’t look at the slippery rocks and stall, and he didn’t wonder what if he couldn’t jump that far. There wasn’t any hesitation or worry, he just jumped to the other side and for a moment he was everything I’m not. The word “can’t” simply wasn’t in his dictionary, meanwhile I’m fairly certain that word was in most of mine.
* * *
Growing up my parents always taught me to be humble and to stay grounded, and over the years I somehow managed to ruminate that valuable lesson into a kidney stone of insecurity. They taught me not to boast about my achievements, so instead I learned to focus only on my failures.
And over time these failures would harden into this twisted logic of “Of course not”. “Of course I didn’t get that job. Of course I couldn’t finish my workout set. Of course I’m not as good as other people. Just look at this never-ending list of things where I fucked up in life!”
Because all I see are things I’m not doing right, I also genuinely can’t take a compliment without some sort of self-deprecating response or eye-roll. There’s no good reason to believe in them, not when my twisted logic is shouting so much louder.
But if there’s one thing I learned from the past four weeks of Ingredients of Fear, it’s that “self-doubt is one thing, proof is another.” Week after week, I’ve been afraid to publish these entries, terrified of what people would say and think about me.
And the truth is that people did say things about me, all good things in fact. I heard more from my friends since the launch of this project than in the years I’ve been active on Facebook. People who aren’t that close to me started sharing my work on social media, around the same time a couple of my coworkers started swinging by my desk just to tell me how much they liked my writing.
A day or two after posting my previous chapter on being gay, another wave of questions came crashing into my mind, this time about the legitimacy of my doubts.
I began counting the questions I’m imagining in my head against the actual feedback I’ve received, and noticed just how outnumbered my doubts and questions were by the sheer number of nice things people have told me since the project started.
Now this is the part where you have to bear with me as we go down the rabbit hole together. So let’s just say this fear that I’m inferior to other people isn’t an opinion but a fact, then shouldn’t my doubts also be inferior to other people’s as well? Yet why are they shouting so much louder inside my head than all of the feedback I’ve gotten from everyone else?
“They’re just being nice because it’s all about networking at the end of the day,” my mind retorts. Sure, but honestly what do these people gain by being nice to me, by sharing my project on their social media page, and by giving me tips on how to make it better? They all have their own lives, not to mention some of them have a hundred times my Twitter following along with a million better things to do.
And If I’m truly inferior to other people, they have even less of a reason to go out of their way to entertain me, so the fact that they choose to help me is something I shouldn’t dismiss but instead learn to recognize and be thankful for.
I know this entire conversation with myself sounds ridiculous. But let’s call a spade a spade in that I’m fighting crazy with crazy. I’m slowly learning to turn my own twisted logic on its head in order to win this ridiculous mind war against myself.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
* * *
I’m fully aware that the feeling of inferiority isn’t just going to go away, nor with any of these other fears I’m writing about for this project. But now that I’ve found a way to combat my doubts, part of me is beginning to wonder maybe the reason why I feel inferior to others is simply because it’s an easier way out. Doubting and lowering myself for others is something I’ve grown so used to all my life, as opposed to actually standing tall and speaking up for myself. So maybe it’s not a fear as much as it’s an excuse out of laziness.
And turns out the vantage point wasn’t at the top of that cliff, but at the exact spot where I just stood there and froze in fear. I could see not only the Pacific Ocean, but also the distance between who I was and the person I truly want to be. And in comparison, I don’t think the gap was really that big between where I was standing and where the preppy-looking guy leapt to, because the question weighing on my mind months later isn’t so much “What if I couldn’t make it on the other side?” but rather “Why didn’t I even try?”.