This past year, I was on a silent journey with myself. I think we are all constantly on a journey, but I am more aware of mine than ever before. In the past, when the end of the year rolled around, I felt like I had to search for some accomplishment or lesson that I gained from my experiences over twelve months. I am realizing so many lessons and aspects of growth as they are happening instead of solely in hindsight.
Here are some of the fears that I faced this year and what they mean to me:
- Sitting with, staring at, and sharing my feelings
I used to have a very avoidant and closed-off personality in terms of emotions. Even though I have changed in this context, I always feel like that’s part of my “true” self that people who meet me now would never be aware of.I believe in change so much more now, and how it’s impossible to avoid. I’m a lot more sensitive now, which is a part of myself that I had hidden for years. Pretending that you don’t have feelings swinging up and down is not fun. Although, yeah, experiencing a range of emotions can feel questionable and upsetting when it seems like everyone else is “normal” and you can keep nothing in. But I am learning to appreciate the depth of my feelings and all that my heart has to offer to the right places and people.
- Public speaking
Ever since I was little, I was extremely afraid of talking in front of anyone, or even talking to new people directly. I think that when people say “public speaking,” we often envision a crowded room with just one person at the front, and it feels like a “normal” thing to be afraid of when there are so many eyes on you. I’m using the term here because, at many periods in my life, it didn’t matter the setting or the people I was with—I did not want to talk. I dreaded the possibility of being known. If I raised my hand in class or (God forbid) had to do a presentation, I was shaking and overthinking about it far in advance.
I think that a lot of people who meet me now would be surprised to learn this about my past self. Regardless, I see the difference in myself very strongly, and I reflect on it often. Yes, I still get nervous when I talk in front of people. But I am purposely participating and speaking more because I want to, and because I know that doing so is the only thing that will truly help address my fear. This year, I have participated in my classes more than ever before (some of them, okay?). I have read my own writing at a few events, and made it past my body shaking.
What wows me about myself is that I am forgetting that I had a fear of public speaking in the first place. What once felt like “forcing” myself to talk became “allowing” myself to share.
- Simply put, messing up academically
I can confirm that this is a very ongoing “fear” for me because I am so tempted to delete this section of my list and pretend it didn’t happen. I’m a perfectionist in so many ways. One of the main manifestations of this (honestly damaging) perfectionism is my grades. This goes all the way back to when I was younger, when I did not know how to define or characterize myself, and I settled on “smart.” For one, I have always enjoyed academics and done very well in school, and two, I thought that being smart would lend to a good appearance. I’m not sure when I decided that having perfect grades was the only way to keep up this image, but I did. This semester, I took a course that was very difficult for me, and seriously challenged my brain as well as my perfectionist tendencies. I often struggle with black and white thinking, and I am still learning that my academic growth is valid even if it doesn’t always end in an “A.”
- Driving on the parkway
I have struggled with driving anxiety here and there, especially when I first learned how to drive. I refused to drive on the parkway because I did not have enough confidence, and the speed genuinely scared me. Even though I had seen my family and friends merge onto the parkway while in the car with them, I could not imagine doing so myself. It seemed so unnecessarily risky and I focused on everything that could possibly go wrong. Although driving anywhere has its dangers, I felt so much safer driving on local roads and highways. But this year, at age twenty-one, I finally started driving on the parkway. Crazy, I know. Sometimes I still stick to side streets depending on my mood or the weather. Sometimes I also get nervous while on the parkway if I start thinking about how fast all the cars are going. But overall, I have gotten a lot more comfortable with it, and now I can get to different destinations faster.
- The present is a gift, and so is change
I have always struggled with moving on from different periods of my life and facing the passage of time. I was never really sure of how to deal with this because it feels like you cannot do anything about how life changes so quickly. But holding onto the “same old, same old” the way that I do is painful. This year, I have realized that I am often hurting myself by ruminating on the past. I am trying very hard to truly live in the present. Of course, we are all literally living in the present, but I mean that I am learning to enjoy the way my life is right now instead of focusing too much on the past or future. Living in the moment does not change its brevity. But facing the brevity is what allows me to experience every moment to the fullest while I can. College graduation, I’m looking at you.
- Everything is a process
Possibly the biggest lesson I am learning this year, that relates to all of the above, is that everything is a process. Healing and change are not linear. I used to try to convince myself that once I “changed,” whether in a big or small way, I could never slip up or temporarily go back to my old ways. Now I know that this is not true. Reminders of the past tell me that I have grown a lot, even if every day does not completely illustrate that. I wrote each of these points knowing that I am learning, not that I learned something and will never be afraid anymore. I’m still scared sometimes, but I trust myself because of all the ways that I have watched myself change for the better.
Whatever “process” you are going through right now is a worthy accomplishment. If you feel like you are going backwards, you can take it as a reminder that you know that you are better off now. When the year ends, I hope your lessons are ongoing, not thoughts to leave behind. And I hope you give yourself grace through it all.