Why would someone who grew up with an intense fear of being confronted choose to become a lawyer? The obvious answer is that I had something to prove, but that presupposes that I was conscious of this fear and that I took active steps to engage with it. If I was conscious of the fear, it was only so that I could ‘manage’ it. When it came to that fear, the only thing I actively engaged in was finding something big enough to mask it.
Here’s how it went in my head: if I don’t do anything wrong, nobody will ever be upset with me; if someone asks me for help, I have to say yes; if I do a lot of things right, people will be impressed with me. Perfection. Being an agreeable ‘team player’. Achievement. These are admirable goals that lead to success, and what’s not to love about that? I was primed for a career as a lawyer.
Here’s how it went in real life: I didn’t get everything right, and people got upset with me; I said yes to everyone but couldn’t always get it all done, at least not well; when I got things right, the positive reaction was quickly replaced by the expectation to get the next thing right. I had a plan and it brought me quite far in terms of achievements, but the unintended consequence was burn out, a lack of purpose, a lack of fulfillment and a growing sense of despair.
The best possible thing happened next. Everything fell apart. The people, places and things that I used to centre and guide my life and to infuse it with meaning were slowly falling away. It was just as well, though, because none of them were real. They were all a product of the complex drama being played out by a variety of characters that I had written for myself to avoid acknowledging the fear that underpinned my sense of self. When we play that many roles and put that much energy into animating false versions of ourselves, wouldn’t the only possible outcome be burn out? Can we really be that shocked at that result?
The experience brought me to a place of self-redefinition. I am not the perfectionist or the over-achiever, but nor am I the non-conformist or under-achiever. I am the being who is capable of observing where I land on the spectrum between any two extremes at any given time. I am the being capable of recognizing whether I am being motivated by fear or by love, and I am the being who can choose one over the other.
Everything that I would eventually come to know – and love – about who I am was hiding behind the fear that I am not enough. It isn’t that surprising, though, it is? What we’re seeking always seems to be waiting patiently for us in the last place we think to look.