I am not much of a risk taker. I would go as far as to classify myself as risk averse. I am anxious by nature, always worrying about what might go wrong. I fear (and dodge) disappointment to the point where one might think I was avoiding the Black Plague. I don’t put myself out there much, because avoiding risk means less possibility of getting hurt. Of course, it also means less possibility, period.
This aversion to risk colors nearly every area of my life. I don’t like to make big plans because I’ve had them fall through (or fall apart) too often. I was thinking about this today because my husband made the mistake of asking me what I wanted to do for my birthday, and I just stared at him. It’s not getting older that I fear (although I admit I am not eagerly anticipating turning 45), it’s the notion of making PLANS. Much like New Year’s Eve, my birthday has been one of those days where expectation has been met with above-average levels of disappointment. In fact, I sometimes suspect that my birthday is cursed. Sounds irrational, right? Some examples: I once had a friend get into a car accident on the way to my birthday (she lived, but failed to make it to the party). A different year, I had another friend get a babysitter in order to attend. (She was aware of my curse theory and tried to convince me I was crazy.) She received a phone call in the middle of the party. The sitter suddenly wasn’t feeling well and needed to have a relative take her to the hospital. Seriously. More often than not, the failures have been less dramatic… more along the lines of, “What if you threw a party and no one came?” Lots of scheduling conflicts, or last-minute cancellations. It’s happened so often I’ve lost track, and also the desire to try.
What is it about the word “no” that holds such power? For me, it smacks of judgment. Along with no I automatically hear things like, “You aren’t good enough,” “You aren’t worth it” and “Are you kidding me?” The problem with “no” is that if you lack consistent self-esteem or self-belief, it has the power to wreak havoc. I say “consistent” because my problem isn’t a complete lack of self-esteem. I have some, and sometimes I seem to be able to access it, eventually. I can remember being in toxic relationships too long (sadly, more than once), paralyzed with the fear that he might break up with me, then simply waking up one morning and thinking, “I’m done” and never looking back. So it’s in there. It’s the voice that says, “Not bad” when I look in the mirror, on alternate Tuesdays, anyway. The trouble is that inconsistent access I’ve described. Sometimes I feel like locating my inner reserve of self-esteem is like playing with one of those handheld mazes with the little ball bearings, you know the ones? You have to have steady hands and tilt everything just so to make the ball head where you need it to. Sometimes you pick up the game and no matter what, the ball just will not head in the right direction. Others the ball drops into that little hole like magic, as if it were remote controlled instead of up to your own fickle hands. So it is with my self-esteem. It’s in there, I swear, but I never know when I can get the ball to drop.
Unfortunately, this fear of failure (which is what we are really talking about here, I suppose) gets in the way of my writing as well. I tend not to finish what I start, because if it’s not done, no one can see it and tell me it sucks. I have no trouble writing in informal blog form, but I think I only managed to post a poem once, and that nearly gave me a heart attack. I’ve had another saved as a draft for months, but I can’t bring myself to post it. I’ve convinced myself it’s still too raw. I’ve been working (or not working) on a children’s story for literally years, but it’s going nowhere. And send something out into the world – attempt to get published? God, no. I can’t cope. Just the idea of it has me fighting sickening waves of panic.
John Ridley’s acceptance speech (he won Best Adapted Screenplay for “12 Years a Slave”) really struck a nerve. Every word he said applied to me, except of course that he was standing on that stage to receive an Academy Award for his writing, so clearly he’d bypassed his fear. I don’t know how people do it; I wish I did. Debilitating fear is never fun to live with. (Note: I just looked it up, and he’s apparently published seven novels. Talk about overcoming your fear?)
When we decided to try to have another baby – in spite of our dubious financial situation – it was a gargantuan risk. We’d put it off for years because it wasn’t logical, and that was probably a good call. The smart call, certainly. But when I hit 40, I started to worry. Then I started to freak out. It had taken us nearly a year and a half to get pregnant the first time, and I’d been considerably younger. The sound of my biological clock ratcheted up to a dull roar. In the end, we realized if we had a baby and still lacked money we’d make it work, somehow. If we waited until we had money but I was no longer able to get pregnant… there was no solve for that. We had one of the soundtracks from “Glee” on regular rotation at the time, and “Defying Gravity” became an anthem of sorts. For once in my life, I was motivated enough to take a serious risk.
The reward – my daughter, Avery – has been phenomenal. Of course there are problems that are the inescapable result of our decision. The cost of daycare is so insurmountable that even should two full-time jobs manifest, we couldn’t both work (unless one of the jobs was extremely high-paying, which seems unlikely). This is what we live with, and it will impact our lives for several years to come. Am I sorry? Absolutely not. I’m sorry we’re going through this, I’m sorry the economy sucks and I’m sorry there is no reasonably-priced daycare in my area. I’m sorry about all of that, all the time. But sorry we decided to take that leap and get pregnant without a safety net? No. I believe in my heart it was our last chance to get pregnant, and we both very much wanted another child. Avery brings us so much joy. There isn’t a single moment I’ve regretted our choice, that risk. The reward is infinite.
You might think that would make me more open to taking other risks, right? Not so much. I remain a coward in most areas. Should I be trying to take baby steps, smaller risks that might help me become braver? Probably. Starting places are elusive things, though. One more thing to work on….