I fall down a lot. As much as I’ve always tried to gracefully flow through life, I tend to stumble along running into things, stubbing my toe, skinning my knees and eating a lot of humble pie. This is because I’ve always been a planner. A bit of planning is good. But I was an obsessive planner, overly attached to the results. It’s really a painful way to live, but a necessity for someone like me who has always been a perfectionist and Type A overachiever. I used to think each new achievement would bring me happiness and approval from others. But really, overachievement doesn’t bring any of those things. It brings pain. That’s because overachievement involves planning out every step of life to ensure success. When that planned success isn’t achieved, it feels like a failure of colossal proportions. Overachievement is all about the destination, with very little attention given to the richness of the journey taken to get there.
The planning that goes along with being an over-achiever is a hard habit to kick. For the past 11 months I’ve been consulting with a company out of Los Angeles. I’ve had more fun in business than I’ve ever had. The problem is, the more fun I had, the more attached I became to this gig…and the more I began to plan my future with this company. I envisioned helping build this company to become a powerhouse and still be left standing tall with them years from now. The problem is, I’m just a consultant. And I live in Austin, not in LA. Those are two very big reasons why this company didn’t share the same plan I had made about growing old and gray together. A couple weeks ago they flew me to LA to tell me they were ending my contract. My initial reaction was panic. I have no Plan B, and being a contractor doesn’t give me the luxury of drawing on unemployment when a contract ends. However I took a deep breath and realized that if I engage in panic and worry, I’ll still be in the same place that I will be if I don’t panic and worry. This hiccup is part of the new life I’m trying to build for myself – living life with the spirit of a cowgirl. This means I want a life where I am not chained to a desk job. I want a life where I’m breaking out of the mold, living outside of the box, and living my life in an authentic way. I’ve been trying to cure myself of being an overachiever, and how I handle the ending of my contract is a right of passage to my new way of life. Overachievement is a chronic disease, but I think I’ve discovered a cure. The cure is what I imagine a cowgirl would prescribe as her daily fix: it’s called facing fears.
I’ve been taking a dose of facing fears as often as possible since October, 2010. That was when Yoda and I climbed into Princess the Prius and spent the next 5 months driving around the country with no set itinerary. This was the first time in my life that I focused entirely on the journey and not on the destination. As a result of this dose of facing fears, I started to find shama, or inner-peace. I continued to down a couple shots of facing fears when I moved across country to Houston for a man I hardly knew and had met on the road. When I quickly realized that wasn’t going to work, I moved to Austin on a whim – without a job, without knowing a soul, and having only visited this town once. As a result, I started to feel more alive than I have ever felt. I wasn’t planning my life, rather, I was finally living it.
One of my first doses of facing fears in Austin was much smaller than these drastic life changes, but it some ways it was every bit as powerful. It came about the first time I met my friend Cindy. Over a pint of Pear Cider I told her that I was planning to take sculling lessons and would love a new friend to do it with me. She tells the story differently, and it involves something along the lines of me bullying her into it. But whatever the case, 6 months later, we are still rowing on the Colorado River together. Sculling is rowing long skinny boats with really long oars. It looks easy. It’s not. Our first time on the water was harrowing. Neither of us capsized, but we both came close. We rowed slowly, afraid to move our boats too fast for fear that our balance would be off, we’d catch a gust of wind, and we’d be thrown into the water. By the time we got back to the dock, we both swore up and down that we would never ever ever ever row again. But a week later, we did. Each time it got easier. Until one day we realized that we were no longer holding our breath in concentration, but instead were looking around and enjoying the turtles, swans, herons and cormorants that were in the water with us. We faced our fears, we conquered them, and now rowing makes us feel alive.
So now I’m faced with my latest fear – unemployment. But I’m determined to keep my new year’s resolution and keep living life with the spirit of a cowgirl. Instead of letting myself become paralyzed by fear, I’m going to take a cowgirl’s prescription for life and face my fears head on. I’m trying not to worry, and instead I’m doing my absolute best to stay calm and believe that this, like everything, happened for a reason. Quite possibly this gig is ending so something better can come along and take its place.
I’ve found that facing fears may be as simple as taking a level one boat out for a row on the water, or it may be as complex as leaving one’s life behind and taking a long road trip in search of a better tomorrow. Whatever it is, real growth cannot begin until we look fear in the eye and tell it we are not going to let it control our life.
Read me on The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/christine-buckley/