Taking risks raises your anxiety level. It should and has to. No one wants to be rejected.
Whether you are expressing your romantic longings to the person you have pined over for months or you have put your soul and spirit into an audition for the role of your dreams, you are exposed. You face the possibility of rejection. And yes, that is terrifying.
This fear, which exists inside all of us, is deep and remote. It conjures our earliest experiences and the dread that we feel when we are exposed reminds us of our most harrowing questions of childhood:
"Will I be cared for?" "How do I earn their love?" "If I work and work and work at it, will I be embraced or discarded?"
If you've put yourself out there in some meaningful way, you are likely experiencing some version of this terror. If this sounds familiar to you, then I have good news:
You are doing something right.
Even though the feelings that emerge when you take risks remind you of your primal childhood fears, they are not one and the same. The fundamental difference between the past-you and the now-you is that you are an adult. Yes, I know, it's hard to believe, but you are.
You have come out on the other side of childhood and adolescence. Not only have you survived the trials of these life stages, but there is something inside of you that is insisting on pushing you forward in your development.
If you are considering putting yourself out there and taking a risk, or are already doing so, you have a potential audience that is much, much larger than just your parents. It is true that the world can be a cruel and punishing place, but it is also large and welcoming. It is just a matter of when you will be heard and who will be there to hear you. There are scores and scores of people who can and will receive you. You just need to keep at it.
If she told you that she likes you, but doesn't like you like you, or they didn't publish it just yet, or he said, "Thanks. We'll let you know," you are undoubtedly in pain. I'm not trying to talk you out of your emotional experience, nor could I even if I wanted to.
Just remember this: It is a bend in the road, not the end of the road. Use the experience. Don't cower, don't waiver, don't falter. The only three words you need to know right now are these: Keep on going.
Learn from your experience and get back out there as soon as you can. The real risk is not in exposure, but in withdrawal. By pulling away from the world either by refusing to put your work or emotions on the line again, you guarantee the very thing you most fear: rejection and failure. You deny yourself the opportunity to forge the connections that make life worth living. Exposing yourself (not literally -- at least hopefully not) is the only way to develop and learn. You can slice it and dice it a million different ways, but growth, real growth, lasting and meaningful growth, comes from one thing and one thing only: risk. If you can keep at it, if you can push through the fear and self-doubt to let others see you, you and your message will be received. It may not happen exactly as you envision, but it will happen.
When it comes right down to it, the biggest risk you will ever take is not taking a risk at all.
For more by Ben Michaelis, Ph.D., click here.
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