Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago, “Kristyn, what are you afraid of?”
I stopped and chewed on that question for much longer than I really needed to because my answer was the epitome of why I didn’t want to answer.
“I have a fear of failure.”
And I didn’t want to speak those words into motion because saying I was afraid of failure felt like a failure. It was almost like in that moment, my perfectly constructed sense of self and my capabilities were questioned.
Of course I had a reason why. About a year ago today, I wrote my first blog post for Awkward Twentysomething & Surviving It. I made a promise to myself that if I was going to start a blog, I was going to actually write a blog, which meant I was going to post once a week for a year. Fifty-two blogs for 2016 and 2017 before I decided to figure out what was next on my writing journey.
Then December came around and I was feeling burned out and tired – a feeling that’s an all too familiar friend of mine. I was driving home from the airport in the middle of December, just three short months away from making my goal, and I knew exactly what I needed to do. I needed to hit pause on writing and posting and sharing.
Now, there isn’t much in my life that I put on pause, especially if my reason is that I’m tried or not feeling “into it.” In fact, I’m the kind of person who has to be careful about what I say I’m going to do. I’m going to start a blog, so I did. I’m going to travel the world, so I did. I’m going to buy a house, so I did. So for the longest time, despite feeling tired or like I was drowning, I kept pushing myself to the next edge.
I’m an expert at burnout. High school ended in a season of burnout for me, which ended in pure destruction of my life, which I ended up cleaning up over the course of my college days. Then I got to grad school, which happened to end in a season of burnout, which also was accompanied by my body physically breaking itself down in various, unproductive ways. So I spent the past two years after grad school picking up the pieces and putting them back together again.
On that December night, though, I decided I wasn’t going take the next step off the burnout cliff. I was going to reject the notion that if you don’t finished out on a goal that you’re a failure, and I rejected it hard.
So for the next three months, I didn’t write. I put a big pause on my big dream because I could feel the inside of me slowly dying little by little. And isn’t that the opposite of what we desire deeply when we set out on passion projects?
I said no to the passion project for a season of time because it was all of a sudden a blessing turned burden.
I’ve learned a lot in the last three months, partly from pausing my full-force-ahead, can’t-stop-for-anything kind of posture, but also because I said yes to some other critically important adventures in my life.
I’m here today to tell you that life doesn’t crumble when your dreams and goals do. You might be thinking, “But it’s only a blog…” But time and time again, because I let myself play with the fire of burnout or because I stopped just before it was too late, I’ve learned what it means to step aside, course correct, or hit pause.
So I’m telling you that it can actually be the most beautiful, the most tenacious to make more space for something or someone else. And I’m not saying any of this is a permanent laying down of dreams. Because the other thing I learned in this season of pause is that sometimes you need to come up from air to remember who you are and why you are called.
When you pause, healing begins. When I graduated from grad school, I had 6 weeks before I started my full-time job at a university. It seemed like everyone was curious about where I was traveling or what creative venture I was setting out to pursue, and what I did instead was sat in silence for those 42 days.
Unfortunately that wasn’t nearly enough time for my body to catch up. So over a year later, I was sitting in front of a dietician who stared me straight in the eyes and said, “Kristyn, you can get better, but you need to basically stop everything in your life.”
So I did. And the gift that was given to me in those months of saying no was a large, overflowing gift of freedom. Freedom from expectation, freedom from guilt, freedom from my body that had so quickly been deteriorating.
You will learn what people’s expectations truly are, and you learn what people’s expectations truly matter. I had this crazy notion that everyone would know and everyone would get mad at me for not following through on this goal I had promised myself and to everyone else unspoken. My fear was that I was going to be another one of those overly-ambitious blogger people who talks a big talk but never actually delivers. So in the first week of not posting, I felt a little exposed and a lot of guilt for not.
And I know, this sounds ridiculous because it’s a blog. But maybe you can relate? Maybe you said no to an opportunity other people thought was great for you because you know it was only going to be great for them. Perhaps you stepped out into a big decision and were all of a sudden aware of what everyone thought of you.
Over the past three months, the other parallel gift that I was given was the opportunity to not only understand and live out the reality that no one has as high of expectations as we have on our own, but I was also able to get really clear on whose expectations really matter. And what I also learned was that the higher the stakes of that decision, the more people care to offer up their opinion.
The bottom line is this: We each get one life to live, and only we ultimately know what’s best for our individual lives. If that means stopping the passion project or taking the risk, then it’s yours. Because when it comes between the world and your soul, your soul must win every single time.
You will receive the gift of clarity on what makes your soul come alive. Because I said “pause” to something that consumed so much of my time and energy, I had the opportunity to give that time and energy to opportunities that wound up reminding me of why I write and why I share my story.
I spoke. I dreamed of other creative ventures. I sat with heaviness. I raised my voice with other women. I listened to the struggles. I celebrated and took risks. And at the end of the day, I was reminded that I write to remember and I write to invite in. What a gift it was.
After three months, I am absolutely still afraid of failure. I think that one is an entirely new chapter of my life to work through, but what we can celebrate today is this – having courage to break unhealthy cycles, holding space to remember why we engage life the way we do, and displaying the bravery it takes to say no to one thing to say an open handed yes to another.