I remember my first steps into the halls of my high school — I was hesitant, unsure. I remember scanning the sea of people looking for a friendly face and not finding one. I remember what I wore when I took the ACT (I also remember not knowing–at all–what the ACT actually was). I remember standing outside taking pictures with friends after our high school Swing Out assembly. I remember standing outside the door of my first college class, trying to screw up the courage to walk inside. Honestly, I didn’t. I went on day two.
My first year of college? I also remember skipping class. A lot. I dropped classes and changed majors more often than I took tests and I certainly had no business wasting my parent’s money on being completely aimless and avoiding anything difficult.
Don’t get me wrong, I had three jobs and I usually worked hard at them. Until I got tired, and then I called in sick (which I was – no one should work from 5am until 3am and try to go to class in between nearly every day). I let people down — I let myself down — all while working as hard as I could.
I was a procrastinator, or at least that’s what I thought what people said. The words lazy, flaky, directionless, lost were all used to describe me.
I was avoiding. Avoiding what scared me. Avoiding what made me anxious. Avoiding what would cause me any kind of emotional upset. I was regulating my emotions, stabilizing my life by keeping everything at an even keel. Avoiding what would capsize my little boat.
My childhood hadn’t been easy. And even if it was, it doesn’t mean I would have been anymore prepared at 18 than I was to handle my own shit. I just wasn’t ready. And all that avoiding? It was me screaming, “I can’t do this yet!”
I still avoid — when my emotional cup is too full and things are hard I will skip meetings, cancel dates for coffee, and ignore requests to go have a drink. Now though, I do it with intention, I do it with honesty and I do it with the knowledge that sometimes, avoiding isn’t the worst thing to do. “I just can’t right now,” I respond. “I will when I can.” Most people honor that.
Do you know what else I do before I avoid something–anything from paying my taxes (which are sitting here on my desk to be signed and sent) to answering a text or scheduling my book signing I ask myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Sometimes, the cost is too high and I do avoid it until I can handle it. Most the time, I realize the imagined fear in my head is louder and larger than the truth of the matter.
Nobody likes to pay taxes. The worst that can happen? I’m late and have to pay more. Pay the taxes.
Why am I not scheduling my book signing? Because I don’t want to exhaust people with my work. Because I am afraid no one will come and I’m afraid it’s self serving. It’s suppose to be self serving. It’s supposed to get my work out there. Schedule the damn signing.
I never asked myself “What’s the worst that can happen?” when I was young. Instead, I just blindly avoided everything in my path that wasn’t easy. I was a river, carving my path of least resistance. I was not prepared and not strong enough–or so I thought–to take on the challenge of creating a tide in my river that would make it go where I wanted to. I was only along for the ride, with no say, no direction and no control.
Funny thing. I never learned to ask myself the question until I watched my boys avoiding things they needed to do to push forward into a life and a future. And so now I ask them, “Bubby, what’s the worst that can happen if you do … what’s the worst that can happen if you don’t?” What looks like being lazy, what looks like indecision, what looks like no plan and no action and what looks like flat out defiance–I have found–is often my boys following my foot steps and avoiding things that are frightening, challenging, difficult or unpleasant. That doesn’t mean they avoid everything hard — quite the opposite. Asking that one question usually breaks the wall down allowing them to make a decision, instead of continuing to avoid.
Once again, I am reminded that I have been blessed with the children and the life that I needed to learn to be my best self. I have learned so much about them, so much about myself and so much about mastering my own mind.
Not that I don’t still avoid. Or even that I don’t procrastinate even when I identify what I am afraid of. But by simply looking at why, learning myself, I have gained more courage to seek out the challenges I never thought I could do.
Look for information on my next book signing coming soon … I’m done avoiding that, too 😉