The Fear that Lurks Deep in the Hearts of Multipotentialites

This post was originally published on Puttylike.

There’s a fear that I see all over— But it’s never more pernicious than in multipotentialites. The fear of easing up, of coasting, “wussing out.” We think we lack discipline and drive if we don’t always push, always drive, and if we ever give ourselves any slack, we’ll ultimately fail.

I think this affects PuttyPeeps more than most because we’re always quitting things. There’s the sense that if the last thing we tried wasn’t right for us, the next one had better be, or else. It’s a slippery slope to failure, isn’t it?

Actually, it isn’t.

the-fear-that-lurks-deep-in-the-hearts-of-multipotentialites

This is all the result of a faulty logic system.

  • Black and White Thinking
  • All or Nothing Mentality
  • False Dichotomies.

It doesn’t matter what you call it. It’s flawed. But it’s pretty much the backbone of our modern culture. If you’re not a success, you’re a failure. If you’re not working your butt off, you’re unmotivated and undisciplined. If you change careers once too often, you’re a flip-flopper who lacks follow-through.

However, multipods aren’t exactly prone to an all-or-nothing lifestyle— Any scanner you know have exactly one project on the go because he wants to “give 110% to it”? The very idea is absurd.

And yet the innate rejection of that kind of faulty cultural imperative is what makes us most vulnerable to the doubts it causes.

I know it was that way for me. I had always been a smart, talented kid. I was kicking ass in university; they let me invent my major, and my professors loved me. I was made for academia. But then I got bored. And you know how that goes, right? I wanted to move on, and I developed this insidious doubt– what if the only reason I was successful was because I wasn’t doing anything I could possibly fail at?

[Tweet “What if I was only successful because I wasn’t doing anything I could fail at?”]

The fear ate at me. So I chose the thing I was weakest at – driving– and got my trucker’s license.

After seven tries. It was humiliating to fail, but I just couldn’t let that fear be true. If that were the reality of things, my entire self-image would be in shambles.

But then I found it wasn’t enough to be a trucker… oh no. Highway driving? Way too easy. All you had to do was keep it between the ditches. What a cop-out. No way would I wuss out.

So what was the toughest kind of trucking there was? Working in the oil-patch. It was dirty, highly physical labour, and the first time I looked into it, I was flatly told that women weren’t strong enough for that type of work. SOLD.

I fought tooth and nail to be hired, and then again to get out of being an errand girl and onto an oil rig. I was consumed by the idea of proving my toughness, not only to myself, but to everyone who told me it could be done. It took over my whole life— nothing was more important to me than not failing at this challenge.

That sounds good, right? It sounds like I’m committed to my goals. It sounds like I have guts, doesn’t it? Single-minded discipline and focus are universally good things, aren’t they?

Nothing could be further from the truth.

I mean, nothing.

It sounds good. It’s pretty powerful ego-validation when you can say, “I ran that marathon with a hairline fracture in my shin.” “I moved to Nashville and slept in my car while I waited for my big break.” “I knew it was true love, so we drove up to Vegas and got married.” “I’ve never missed a workout in ten years, and never cheated on my diet once.”

And so it was with me. My first summer in the oil patch, I got on a rig that worked 24 hours a day. It should have had two guys working it, but there was only me. I knew my sexist boss was putting pressure on me, daring me to complain. So I worked. 94 straight days that summer, averaging three hours of sleep a night.

I had a system, see. Every load of mud I hauled to the pit I drank a bottle of water and ate a granola bar, to keep my calories and fluids up. I ate entire boxed lasagnas for supper, and in spite of my carb-loading I lost two jeans sizes and gained 20 lbs of muscle. I once went 40 hours without sleep– or was it 60? I was driving machinery so heavy it wasn’t allowed on the highway, and I was hauling hoses that were double my weight. But the payoff was amazing:

There was nothing I couldn’t do.

I kept my eyes on September, because I’d promised my dad I’d go back to school. The weekend before Labor Day, my boss pulled me. He said the consultant had asked for me to be replaced– he was worried I was seducing the riggers. I knew it was bullshit– the consultant loved me. I’d earned the respect of every guy on that rig. Only my boss had an axe to grind. So I told him where to stick it, and I walked out. I’d earned my stripes.

Back at school, my body began to fall apart on me. I could no longer sleep much… but I wasn’t staying awake properly, either. I began to be afraid to be behind the wheel– laughable, when you consider how I spent my summer. I had no strength. I fainted carrying a load of laundry up the stairs and my roommates took me to the ER.

My doctors began a battery of tests, and finally settled on the controversial diagnosis: adrenal fatigue. I had burnt out my adrenal glands the way a junkie burns out their hypothalamus.

Oh, but I was hardcore. I was tougher than tough. I proved that I could push myself all the way to self-destruction.

Yay, me.

Now, mine may be a very extreme case, but it’s still the sort of thinking that people engage in all the time. They don’t trust themselves to make good decisions when things are hard.

A person under pressure isn’t operating at their rational peak, I’ll admit. But here’s where the fear comes in:

We default to the most punishing option to avoid seeming weak.

That fear is everywhere. It’s like the air we breathe. I have examples beyond counting, not only in my own life, but the lives of clients, friends, and family. We operate from this place of fear and it cudgels us mercilessly.

It doesn’t have to be this way. You can recognize the fear-based reaction, recognize how it dehumanizes you, robs you of your sovereignty. You can choose to respond from a place of discipline and self-knowledge.

I know we all can do it, we putty-peeps, because we’ve already done it by choosing to be who we are. Every time we choose to change tracks, switch jobs, dive into another challenge, we’re winning over the fear and doubt.

Keep up the good work.

[ssbp]