So we've established the fact that I am unhappy - but what does that mean? For me, it means I am nowhere near as "accomplished" as I thought I would be at this point in my life. I don't know what I thought my life would look like at 43, but I can assure you, I never imagined it would look like it does today. But it's not the "lack" of accomplishment that upsets me as much as the why I have not achieved what I wanted to achieve.
For all intents and purposes, I have a successful career as an Executive Assistant. I have gained more responsibility with each role; worked for increasingly higher-level executives, and am currently supporting one of the top executives at a large corporation. I am well paid and well respected. I am contacted weekly by recruiters who say they are impressed with my credentials and would like to speak to me about opportunities. I am good at what I do, and am recognized for it. Can't get much better than that, can it?
The problem is I never wanted to be a successful high-level Executive Assistant. Never ever. Not even a little. I had hopes and dreams of "changing the world.” I was a Feminist who was going to "make the world a better place than I had found it."
Turns out, I had no idea how to do that when I was starting out. I didn't know about "career paths" and "goal setting" and "mentors." But aside from my general lack of career navigation skills, there was a larger, darker force keeping me from my dreams.
And that force was fear.
Say it again with me: fear.
Now let's all say it out loud together: FEAR!!!!!
I have let fear control my life for the past twenty years. If I'm being completely honest, it goes back way further than that. I was afraid of everything as a kid: spiders; dogs (most animals, really); certain stuffed animals; hair balls (yes, hair balls); the dark; my house catching fire (never happened, but was a huge fear for me as a kid); my parents dying. You name it; I was afraid of it. My childhood fears evolved into an overwhelming fear of my mother (more on that another time.) As I got older, I became less afraid of tangible things and more afraid of the “what ifs.” I think this is pretty natural. Unless you want to become an arachnologist, fear of spiders probably isn’t going to stop you from pursuing your dreams.
But fear of the “unknown” or fear of other “intangible” things like “success” or “failure” can be real career (and life) killers. The fear that has had a strongest hold over me has been the fear of failure. It seems absurdly simple to overcome, but it has had a paralyzing effect on my growth. When you give in to fear, over and over, it’s like an abusive cycle to your own self-worth. Here’s how my fear spiral has worked to keep me treading water within my comfort zone for twenty years:
So I’m committing now to ending this cycle of fear-fueled self-sabotage. I may not be able to transition to a new career and a new life over night, but damn it! At least I’m not going to continue to give in to the same feelings of fear and self-loathing that have held me back thus far.
I’ve already begun to break the cycle by writing here and sharing with you all what I feel; where I have come from and what I will continue to struggle with. The positive response I received from my first post gave me the courage to join the Toastmasters group at work, so I am forced out of my comfort zone via public speaking every two weeks. I’ve begun to talk with colleagues and peers about my career struggles, and I have inspired some of them to take new chances themselves.
I am committing to a new cycle: one of positivity and success. I know there will be great struggles ahead – if life has taught me nothing; it has taught me that just when you think things can’t get worse; they do. But I am going to build up small successes that will give me the strength I will need to get me through the challenges that lie ahead. I am still terrified of the abyss of the unknown that lies ahead. I am still afraid I will fail. Only now, I am fighting the voices and thoughts that feed my fear, and I am hearing new voices: “You CAN do this! You HAVE been successful! You WILL find success and joy. Just keep going!!!”
Sharing my thoughts in hopes of defining myself and connecting with you.