*Friendly and sarcastic disclaimer: This article starts with a Ben Franklin quote. Not to be “that guy” who quotes Franklin. I'm not that guy. it just happens to fit the theme of this article. I just thought I’d prepare you for the opening line. Preparing, coincidentally, also fits the theme of this article.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail" (there’s the Franklin reference; moving right along). There are many sayings people have about making plans and being prepared, but as far as preparation goes, this one resonates pretty loudly within me. As I mentioned in the first part of this mini-series, I fear the unknown. On top of that, not only do I fear the unknown, but I hate failing.
To be fair, does anybody really like to fail? My best guess is probably no, but still. I absolutely hate failing.
When it comes to the known versus the unknown, here are some things that I definitively do know:
I want to be a loving husband and father.
I want to achieve my career and academic goals.
I want to create a comfortable life for myself, my wife and my family.
With each of these things, I put a lot of pressure on myself to “succeed,” because in my mind, “failure” is not really an option. I also know that in the grand scheme of things, “failure” is a necessary part of life. Without failure, we wouldn’t learn from mistakes and become better for it.
I get that failure has its place in our lives, I really do. What I fear most in these cases, is ultimate failure. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of the smaller failures along the way. I’m afraid that I’ll never reach the ending points that I had envisioned reaching.
Of course, life isn’t a movie or a book. There is no fast-forward button, no flipping through pages to get to the final chapter. There is no crystal ball that will show us our future. For someone who likes to plan for the important things, this is a tough pill to swallow, but the fact of the matter is, I’m going to have to.
The question has always been, how?
Enter My “Anxiety Plan.” As I’ve been working on this aspect of myself, I’ve come to a few realizations that have helped me navigate through some of the worry and anxiety that comes with these fears. It’s not an exact science, and frankly I don’t think there is any “exact” science for things like this. Still, I do believe that if you’re able to internalize these and find meaning in them for yourself, these realizations can hold great value:
Realization #1- Accept What’s Realistic
We can’t plan for every single thing in life. We just simply can’t. Would it be nice? Sure. Would it save us a lot of anxiety from fearing the unknown? Absolutely. But as much as we might want to be able to do this, it’s just not realistic.
I’m not saying that accepting this fact is the easiest thing to do. Believe me, I’m as stubborn as they come sometimes, and I hate being told what I can and can’t do. But trust me, you’re not any less of a person for being unable to foresee your entire future.
You’ll never walk into an interview, be asked to predict the future, and then not get hired because you couldn’t do it. And I’ve got news for you, unlike a real job interview, no one else is ever going to walk through that door behind you who’s more qualified to predict the future. We’re all equally unqualified to do this. It’s not a job anyone can ever fairly and realistically expect of you to perform, and if they do expect that of you, they’re being unfair and unrealistic.
What helps take the sting out of this part, at least a little bit, is that this isn’t a personal flaw or shortcoming on your part. We’re human beings, and as human beings, seeing the entire picture of our future down to every last event is not something that any of us are capable of doing. If you’re not able to convince yourself of this on your own, let me help by saying one thing: It’s not your fault, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Realization #2- Let Things Go
This goes kind of hand-in-hand with being realistic, and I’m very much aware that this isn’t necessarily going to be easy either. I’m with you there, too. But in making this realization, I’ve been making a conscious effort to find ways to let certain things go. Let me clarify what I mean by this, because I’m also fully aware that the term “let it go” has been used in so many contexts that it’s become a cliche, not to mention a mega-hit Disney song.
When I say “let it go,” I don’t mean to lessen the importance of the things you want to happen for you in life. Last week, fellow WIMH writer Austin Kapetanakis wrote about the significance of having a vision for ourselves, and I couldn’t agree with him more. But as much as we may want something to happen and try to orchestrate things in a way that “makes” them happen, there are still so many external factors outside of our control that can influence what actually happens to us.
When I say “let it go,” the “it” is the idea that you can control everything that feeds into the big picture. Life is too big for us to be able to do that. If you’re going on a date, you can’t control how the other person will perceive you or how they feel about you. What you can control is the way you present yourself, from the way you dress to the things you say, to smiling, being polite, and making a thoughtful gesture. Outside of that, the rest isn’t entirely up to you and again, it’s not your fault.
Realization #3- Find Strength
“Finding strength” (or more commonly, “be strong”) is another one of those terms that has become a bit ambiguous through its frequent use. We tell people to “be strong” in the face of adversity, but what does that really mean? Hit the gym and pump iron? Technically that’s a fair interpretation, but probably not what people mean in terms of emotional challenges.
The first two realizations of accepting and letting go can be extremely difficult to do. Even if you are able to accept and let go, doing so may take up a lot of your energy and leave you feeling drained. That being said, what I mean by finding strength in this context is rather simple.
We all have things that make us feel better, that turn negative feelings into more positive ones. This can be a lot of things- a personal mantra, a hobby or outlet for our thoughts, or a support system in the form of friends, family, or significant others. Whatever these things are for you, find them. Don’t forget them. Utilize them. Let them give you the confidence that may be hard to find on your own in any given moment, and use that confidence to move forward.
If I could have scripted my life 5, 10, 15 years ago, I don’t think it would have dawned on me to plan out the path that life actually wound up taking me to up to this point. I would have scripted less heartbreak, less rejection, and less procrastination. I would have scripted more accomplishments, more positivity, and the realization of happiness in a more timely fashion.
I’m about to turn 31 years old, and I’ve have lived with my anxiety and OCD since the third grade. I’ve doubted myself, feared taking risks, and tried incredibly hard to “make” things happen within the confines my comfort zones. Sometimes things have worked out the way I hoped. Many, many other times, they didn’t quite go according to my “plan.”
But as I was writing my vows to my wife before our wedding last month I reflected on my past. I thought about what I’ve learned from it, and what it means for me going forward. One thing that came to the surface was that for all the times things didn’t go according to plan, somehow, some way, things worked out.
Realistically, I never could have predicted then the script for the future that is now my current reality. Accepting that let me to me realize that the script I would’ve written wouldn’t have brought me to where I am right now.
I never had control over the many external factors that have played into the events in my life; letting go of the idea that I could have, or ever could going forward has helped me focus on what I can control within myself.
Lastly, I’ve found things and people that help make me feel positive, confident and strong. They’ve helped me to reset my mind to a more positive wavelength, and to keep working towards what’s most important to me.
If fearing the unknown future is what gets to you the most, I’ll leave you with one more quote:
“We have no way of knowing
what lays ahead for us in the future.
All we can do is use the information at hand
to make the best decision possible.
You’re gonna be fine.”
Yes, it’s from Wedding Crashers, and no, I didn’t choose it because it was spoken by Christopher Walken, (who is fantastic if you ask me). I chose it because it’s one something I use to help me calm my anxious mind. Whatever it is that causes your anxiety, I hope that you’ll find a way to internalize these 3 things in a way that has meaning to you, too. I encourage you to take what you need from this, to look inside yourself, and to come up with an anxiety plan that works for you.
What mantra, activity, or person helps you calm your anxiety?
Share your comments at the bottom of the page.
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