Shades of Gray, Fearlessness, and Me

Total fearlessness is impossible.

We fear. It is our nature. It is a beast.

To take a risk is terrifying. I know. I often times look at things that terrify me and decide whether they are worth it or not.

Things that terrify me are: roller coasters, heights, elevators (although, I can manage this one better), rejection, being stabbed to death, guns, violence in movies, and being stagnant. An odd mixture, right? Hmm, yeah.

Notice how things I don’t mention are failure, embarrassment, or loss. But I do mention rejection.

It’s odd how closely linked all four of things are, yet how I compartmentalize them separately. See:

  • I don’t ever think I’m going to fail, but I do know that I will and can be rejected.
  • I never think that I’m going to embarrass myself because I follow my heart, but I do know that I will and can be rejected.
  • As for loss, well I don’t fear loss because I know that loss is a part of life and can be combined with rejection, but I don’t ever tie them together. I never think oh, I’m going to lose this thing because I’m being rejected. No, I think well, I’m going to lose this because everybody loses.

Yet, I don’t have that attitude regarding rejection because I don’t want to be rejected. Loss may be part of life, but I don’t want to be rejected. I may not think I’m going to fail, and when I do fail, I accept that failure, but it’s not rejection because I’ve given it my best. At least I gave it my best and failed. And for embarrassment, it’s the same principal. If I went into something with all my heart and embarrass myself, I’ll get over it. At least I gave it my all and my heart and made something happen even if it was embarrassing. Right? Right!

This is why my best friend calls me fearless.

And why I tell countless people that I don’t believe in the area call gray that we allow ourselves to live in.

Back when I was seeing my therapist, she used to tell me that gray does exist. That not everything in life is black or white. I fought her every time. I told her no, I don’t agree.

Yet, the last two weeks, I’ve spent countless hours crying and trying to figure out, understand, tolerate, care for and appreciate the gray.

In other words, at 31.75 years old, I realized I’m going through a mid-life crisis. Maybe it’s my quarter life crisis, just six years late.

See, back in July, I had a friend tell me that everything with me is one way or another. My friend telling me this, made me reconsider my thoughts on this. He doesn’t know that, but it did. It made me wonder why I categorize things as black or white and not heed the gray in between.

I realized that my lack of tolerance for the gray is a result of my perfectionism. The horrible world of perfectionism that I have battled since a small girl. My favorite story about said perfectionism is of me at five-years-old trying to color in the lines and not being able. I jumped up from the floor, threw the sheet of paper I was coloring on the ground along with the crayons and threw a tantrum, complete with stomping on the sheet of paper. Yeah.

That is how I was and still am now. Let me stress that I try to practice patience, every day. I meditate, or attempt to, daily. I have been practicing breathing and appreciation for every small detail in my day, whether it is good or bad. I even made the decision that I will walk behind every slow person as a challenge to myself – to see that sometimes patience and slow is the way to be – to see if I can be more compassionate to that person, their cause, and respect the time that it takes to walk in their path, rather than rush on to get to whatever I deem is more important. We’ll see how this goes. I’m doing it from now until the morning of the day I leave, October 1st.

Which brings me to a key thing about me –  I barely have patience, sometimes even for myself. It’s not my favorite flaw. In fact, it is the flaw that I know needs the most work and reflection. It is the flaw that I’m most impatient to fix. Funny, isn’t it how that works?

What I’ve realized is that I’ve lost a certain compassion not just for myself, but for the outside world. In my head, people walking down the street are going to do something stupid and it’s going to anger me and so I put my armor up to avoid dealing with their inability to live up to my standards.  I’ve put them in the one column that means they aren’t worthy of my compassion. Isn’t that horrible?! Not to mention, it’s painful to admit honestly because you’d never guess that I think this way from my mannerisms and how I treat people, unless you really know me.

The big difference in my tantrums from childhood to now, is that I am still reactionary, except that I don’t throw things and jump around, instead I react with words. Lots and lots of words. I may be speaking the truth, but it is a truth to me based on my lack of compassion for the gray. Of course, I don’t say anything that I regret, because I stand by everything I do and everything I say. If I am wrong, or insult, or hurt someone I care for,  I will apologize. My reactions are really my reaction to the emotion, to the confusion, to the uncertainty.

But readers, see, this is not just a result of being a Type-A personality, it is also a result of being a doer. I’m a doer. I don’t believe in gray because I believe we have to be decisive and we have to act fast. Another good friend of mine has asked me if I feel this way more since losing my Dad three years ago. At the time, he stopped me in my tracks because I hadn’t considered that as a possibility, but then I realized that I am in fact trying to make sure I accomplish my goals and dreams in the case that I die at the age of 52. Life is full of downsides and yet, I owe it to myself and to the people I love to make things happen, to do and to become better.

I know that sometimes reactive behavior isn’t the best. It leads to frustration and anger and hurt feelings, but I have always felt that if you owned up to those feelings when you felt them (trusted your gut) and didn’t dwell on the thinking then you’d live a more honest and forwarding moving life.  I realize that doesn’t always happen, because you can make the decisions necessary to move forward, but if the other parties don’t then you’re stuck in gray.

I spent almost two years in therapy and hours talking to a good friend about patience, my lack of patience, my dislike for the gray, my this way or that way choice making, and the concept of controlling my emotions. In each conversation, I have gotten frustrated and angry, often times feeling like they just don’t understand. To them, being able to control how you react is all that we have in this world and we should know how to use it and use it often.  While I agree, I also disagree. (Of course!)

See, I disagree because I am overly passionate. Some might call it difficult. Some might say that my high expectations and my deep feelings of hurt and anger and reactions are unnecessary and if I learned to control my emotions, then things would turn out differently. Except I find that when we focus on controlling our emotions we are only focusing on ourselves. We are remaining “cool”. We are picking and choosing and deliberating on what is right and what is wrong and how we want to appear. In other words, we are not being vulnerable. We are not being open. We are in essence attempting to control something inside ourselves.

As a recovering -who fails often- control freak, I find that controlling my emotions doesn’t help me. Yes, there is something to be said for being cool headed and composed. Yes, I know we live in a world where we can’t control things and so the only thing we can control is our emotions. Yet, I believe, thanks to Brené Brown, wholeheartedly, the quote from the film Almost Famous, “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we share with someone else when we’re uncool.” What does that mean? It means that when put down our guard and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and open, we are the most honest. We are uncool and we let things fly, things that when we’re busy keeping a tight control on our emotions we would not. These are things that might stay bottled up inside us and we channel into shame and begin to doubt ourselves and turn to our gray area that incapacitates us, our choices, our actions and our beliefs.

Now, I’m not a doctor. I have no training in therapy or psychology and I know that I am prone to getting stuck in my head and overthinking things. But I know this much, for the past few months been in a place of gray. A horrible place of gray. I have had quite a few shake ups from choices I have made. Decisions I boldly considered, taken, and have absolutely no regrets about. Yet, with those actions, the freedom loving side of me has been happy, but the control freak side of me, that has had to deal with credit card companies calling me about bills I can’t pay, has suffered. That side of me has at times punished my freedom loving side, by pushing us into the gray. My freedom loving side has been strong and has been trying to teach my control freak side that this is okay, temporary, and doesn’t shame me and also fights back with the whole, “you want to be free, this is getting you there!” However it still is hard.

In the midst of all the changes, I also experienced a hiccup in an intimate relationship. I’m not going to give all the gory details here, because they are unimportant for a business specific blog, but I went a little “crazy” (as a friend called it) on Facebook a few weeks back. In talking to my friend, I felt shame. A deep shame for the relationship, for my behavior, and for how I was perceived. The interesting thing there is that I had received a few emails from friends telling me they appreciated my raw passion and honesty on such a public space.

My friend, and I love her and her want for me to mature and grow, told me that I had allowed this guy to see how he made me crazy. And she’s right. I did. And I stand behind those actions. Those words that I used, because none of them were insulting or bad. Those words were simply a reflection of my feelings and my experience and my sharing them had everything to do with me.

See, I use Facebook and this blog, as a way to discuss issues I care about, to connect to my friends, customers, potential clients, and to those out there that are looking for something, but don’t know what.  I share my mistakes both professionally and personally, and I do it always with vulnerability and honesty from the onset. I realize that that may lose some people and win others, but that’s not what this is about. Whenever I care enough to share my story, openly and honestly, then that means I’m being true to myself.

I once had a friend tell me that he thought I didn’t care about him because I didn’t ask questions about his life. I sat confused because I had thought we had good communication. He went on to explain that asking questions meant that I wanted him to share more about himself with me. My response to him was, “no, no, no. I operate on the grounds that if you are my real friend, if you are truly comfortable with me, then you’ll share with me what you want, when you want, as you want.” I went on to explain to him that I’m an open book for the most part. In fact, that’s when I know that I connect with you, when I want to tell you everything in my life. If I don’t, then we’re not going to go very far, in fact we may only know each other for a few minutes before parting. If we’re solid, I will tell you everything I can about you in five minutes without taking a breathe because I want you to know and I want you to confide in me. That is my sign to you to hit me with your best shots. That I won’t judge you, or purposely hurt you; that in fact, I will do everything in my power to be there for you all the time. The key though is if you let me or want me to be. My relationships are all based on a deep feeling. I may not contact you all the time, but I’m there if you need me, and I’m always genuine. I want you to feel as comfortable with me as I am with you.

Which brings me back to my recent gray area and my shame and my crying after seeing my friend the other night – I knew what she was trying to get at – that I need to be more honest with what I want in life. My response to her, though not at the moment, is that I don’t know what I want in life. I just know that I’m secure in my ability to make decisions and follow through on them. That may not be the best way for most people, but that is the best way for me. It is what I know. It is what I am comfortable with. It is what makes me approachable (when I’m not in the shade of gray), what makes me fun and lovable, what makes me powerful, and what makes me dependable. I do what I say I am going to do and that makes me all the more authentic. It is what inspires my relationships and my friendships. It is what makes me passionate and a little crazy. I bring all of this to my life every day. Everyone I come into contact with sees this and I believe it draws them to me and vice versa.

Again, I’m not getting into the particulars of my romantic life, but I can tell you this, my current situation was never anticipated. I thought it would be short-term and tie me over until I made my next move. That ended up not happening and I ended up with a surprise emotional connection and gray space that made me crazy. Yet, I’d rather feel that and move forward and maybe just end up with a bulldog that dotes on me and drools on me  than act like I wasn’t in a vulnerable place and too cool for anything.

I know that I have a long way to go, and I don’t know what is going to happen, but I do know that I will keep throwing myself into the arena every day; for things small and  large (upcoming travels to study paper making). I more than likely will end up bloodied, upset, heartbroken, and potentially will over-share, but I’m not being anything other than Sara.  More importantly, I am choosing to not wear the protective masks and gears that we all put on every day to go outside and face whatever the universe and my choices are sharing.

I do hope at some point, I learn more patience, stop aiming for perfection in myself, develop more compassion for those (and myself) struggling with the unknown, the gray, but I also hope I never feel shame again for being passionately me. It is the one thing I know and it is the one thing I definitely love about myself. If that is what fearlessness is, then I will gladly wear it out on my sleeve for the whole world to see regardless of how many times it gets punched and strangled.



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S2 Stationery & Design

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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