An Honest Conversation with Fear

The terror of performing never goes away. Instead, you get very, very comfortable being terrified.” ~Eric Whitacre

I like that quote. It speaks to me. I think you could replace the word “performing” with “interpreting” and paste it on the walls of all our offices. Interpreting is terrifying. But then again, so is life.

I think it’s possible that one of the reasons I decided to be an interpreter is because of how scary it is. In fact, I know that was one of the reasons. I remember considering my options and thinking, interpreting sounds exciting. And it is exciting. Too exciting. Thrilling. Petrifying. Call me brave or call me an adrenaline junkie, but interpreting is certainly not for the faint of heart.

It’s not just the action of interpreting, either. It’s the entire journey we have to take in order to earn our credentials. It’s the constant need to honestly admit to our weaknesses and our difficulties. It makes us better people, but boy is it hard!

A month or so before my university exit exams (I wrote all about that saga in a post titled No Pressure or Anything) I sat down to have a direct conversation with Fear. It was a conversation a long time coming, because I had begun to notice the pin pricks of anxiety whenever I thought about the test; the twist of the stomach, the fluttering in the chest—those physical signs that something is wrong on the inside. So I sat down. I closed my eyes. I breathed and waited to see past the racing thoughts, ready to drift into feeling. Listening.

Eventually, when it was ready, Fear spoke to me. “I’m afraid,” it said. (I don’t know about you, but my first impulse is always to shut that voice down. After all, who wants to be afraid, let alone admit it? But I was determined, so I breathed again and relaxed. I let the Fear speak.)

“I’m scared,” she continued.  “Scared of messing up. Scared of embarrassing myself. Overwhelmed at the enormity of the work left to do if I don’t pass.”

I kept breathing. I imagined what would happen in the worst-case scenario. Doom. Gloom. Sadness.

I asked Fear what she needed if everything went the way I hoped it wouldn’t.

“Love,” she answered quickly. “Support. Understanding.” Oh, I thought. That’s all? I can do love!

Once I had that honest, difficult chat with Fear, my stomach began to settle and my butterflies went away. It was kind of like that Eric Whitacre quote; the fear was still there…but I got comfortable having her around.

After I opened my eyes, I wrote myself a note. On the note, I put all the reasons why I thought I might pass my exams—feedback from professors, colleagues, and myself. Real reasons why I might be okay. Then, on the bottom, I wrote…And if I don’t pass…I will be depressed. I will eat a lot of ice cream. And then I will pull myself back up, and life will continue.

I heard another quote recently:

“What we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.” ~Attributed to actress Mary Pickford

Everyone knows that people make mistakes. Everyone knows that we can use those mistakes to learn and to grow. But so many of us get so scared that we don’t even try. Never succeeding it all feels better to us than failure. But if you can be honest with yourself, if you can look at your fears and your failings, you can use them to grow. You can become a better interpreter. A better human being.

At least, that’s what I tell myself, day after terrifying day. Happy October, everyone!

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