Crazy Talk is an advice column powered by your donations on Patreon, written by Sam Dylan Finch (that’s me!), and hosted by your fave queer blog, Let’s Queer Things Up! While I’m not medical doctor, I am a card-carrying member of Club Crazy, living the good life with a mood disorder, anxiety, and complex PTSD (gotta catch ’em all!). We’re talking all things mental health — trauma, happy pills, mood episodes, and whatever else you tweet me about. I’m kicking the stigma where it hurts, one question at a time. Check out last week’s column here.
For my whole life, I’ve been the kind of person that, if I’m anxious that I’m not good at something, I give up almost immediately. When I was a kid, I quit piano lessons after just two weeks because I got frustrated that I wasn’t good at it. As an adult, I find it difficult to do my work because I get discouraged very quickly, which leads me to procrastinate, blow deadlines, and flake out. I’m tired of being so hard on myself. What do I do?
I’m going to kick off this column the way that I often do: with a story.
Recently, I had the opportunity of a lifetime come up. A job opportunity, in fact, that I wanted so badly I couldn’t see straight. My first interview went better than I could’ve hoped for. And then I was asked to complete a written test, to show off different skills that would prove I could do the job.
When that test appeared in my email inbox, I froze. It was lengthy, involved, intense. And I only had a few hours to do it.
Immediately, I thought to myself, “I can’t do this. I better find a way to email back and graciously decline.” I started drafting that email in my brain, despairing about how such a perfect opportunity was slipping out of my grasp.
And then I stopped. “Old Sam would’ve given up on this because he was afraid to fail,” I told myself. “But what is New Sam going to do?”
I’ll tell you what “New Sam” did. He opened up that test and took it a tiny step at a time. He accepted that it might not be perfect, but that this was an opportunity worth fighting for. He used all of the productivity apps and strategies that he knew of, reminding himself that “New Sam” came prepared for this. He held his nose and worked through it. He turned in that test.
Not even twenty minutes later, he– well, I, had a second interview lined up.
A few days later? I got the job.
I keep thinking about what might have happened if I’d listened to my gut and backed out before I’d even tried. And I have to wonder how many amazing opportunities I’ve let slip away because I was too afraid of being imperfect.
But lately? I’ve been more scared of not reaching my true potential than I am of making mistakes. Yes, I still hear that voice trying to steer me off-course, but I’ve crafted an alter ego to talk back to it. Whenever I hear that self-doubt echoing in my brain, I repeat to myself, “Yeah? That’s what I used to think. But that’s not what I believe now. I believe that this is something worth doing.”
Beyond finding concrete tools to help me deal with procrastination (which, I can’t emphasize enough, is really important), I needed to shift my perspective. Doing something imperfectly has way more opportunities for self-insight and happiness than just throwing in the towel. Embracing that has really helped me push through a lot of my doubts.
I’ve found a new kind of joy in the process, even if things get messy, because I know these are experiences that have real value and potential.
And building on each success — Doing The Thing, whatever it is — has helped my confidence grow. Because now, when I encounter moments in which I want to give up, I remember landing that job, or that cool thing I published, or that project I was so proud of, and I’m reminded that life is so much more exciting when you give yourself permission to participate, however imperfectly.
As the incomparable Jenni Berrett pointed out in this article, this isn’t about you being lazy or incapable — you, my dear reader, are just scared. And knowing that this is about fear, you can approach this like any monster under the bed. You can grab your flashlight (i.e., get whatever tools you need), take a deep breath (short inhale, long exhale), and look under the bed (or at least, take some small step in the right direction). You have to realize that there’s nothing to be scared of.
(And yes, sometimes we need to call a friend and ask them to remind us.)
Prove to yourself that this Horrible Scary Thing that will happen if you’re not perfect isn’t actually real. Prove to yourself that there are risks worth taking, even if it’s scary at first. Prove to yourself that you can do this so that, the next time you feel doubtful, you can remember the truth: There are no monsters under that damn bed.
You’ve got this.
Essential readings to pair with this advice: