I have been paralyzed by the fear of saying wrong things. Being misunderstood. Being bullied. Being humiliated.
Speaking second language certainly plays a role here. Sometimes I incorrectly use words without realizing the severity and weight they carry. I used to use the words “hate” and “dislike” interchangeably. I used to say “I hate…” when what I meant to convey was “I dislike…”. “I didn’t really enjoy that food” is different from “I hated that food”. But I didn’t know. This is one of more extreme examples but when I moved to New York City alone at the age of 19, learning to live in a totally foreign country, speaking my second language (not very well), I relatively often faced people’s puzzled faces. Fast forward 19 years, I’m a lot more comfortable with my second language and more aware of the meanings of each word I use (instead of blindly trusting a dictionary or translator). But I’m also aware that I still sometimes choose a rather suboptimal word for what I want to communicate.
If the fear of saying wrong things was all due to speaking second language, that’d be too easy, too one dimensional, wouldn’t it? It actually started long before I moved to a foreign country.
I’m expressive. I like to communicate what I think and what I mean. I don’t want to be dull. I want to be clear and direct. I like to use colourful language and lots of hand gestures to communicate. One of the professors who taught a communications & public speaking class when I was in my MBA program said to me that I have “martini-shake hands” (picture those skilled bartenders with martini shakers in their hands…). Well, I don’t think I use my hands and arms that much (I’ve recorded myself and watched) but whatever. Okay, I may do so when I’m overly nervous or excited… Anyway, back to the point that I was making - I am expressive. If I were to pick five adjectives that correctly describe me, “expressive” is definitely one of the five. Another top adjective would be “passionate”. So when “expressive” and “passionate” meet and when I start talking about what I’m heavily invested in, I can be colourful. I’ve learned that some people simply don’t appreciate the colourfulness. I’ve been told that I’m too passionate, that I remind them how little passion they have, that I’m exhausting, that I’m too direct, that I’m too different, that I’m well, too much.
When being pleasant is widely known as and accepted as one of the top virtues for women, being consistently told that you can be rather unpleasant due to your passion and expressiveness, fear grows within you. It paralyzes you and deeply discourages you from being who you are.
So yes, I’ve been living with the fear of saying wrong things. Fear of being misunderstood, bullied, and humiliated, which led to even more fear. Fear of losing the sense of who I am, being ashamed of who I am, and disappointing everyone who has supported me despite who I am, because of who I am…
Fear had stopped me from even realizing all of these. Fear had blinded me from not being able to understand and articulate all of these.
Some books definitely inspire me more than others, get me seriously reflect, and help me realize things that I haven’t before and crystallize my thoughts. The Wake Up by Michelle Mijung Kim is so definitely one of them.
The entire book has taught me whole bunch but the page below is what inspired me to write this blog. This page helped me understand my fear and overcome it enough to put them in words.
All the paragraphs above were first drafted a few months ago. I had to take time to edit few times and gathered courage to publish it. When I first wrote them, I was on fire. The paragraph below (I didn’t edit this one) shows the state of mind I was in.
Right now, the amount of thoughts at such a fast speed coming and going through my head, I feel dizzy. I’m trying to put the thoughts into words before I forget. Sometimes, thoughts are way faster than my speed of writing that I forget the exact thoughts I had few seconds ago and have difficulty writing them down. As I’m writing the thoughts I had 30 seconds ago, I’m thinking about something else, and I forget that something else before I get to write them. I’ve jotted down all of these thoughts so fast that I’m not even sure they are making any sense. I will need to come back, read, and edit.
Your fingers are not fast enough to keep up with the speed of your thoughts… trying to capture the tornado of thoughts coming at you before they are gone… have you ever experienced it? I love experiencing this rush of excitement. I love capturing this excitement in writing.
In her book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Elizabeth Gilbert (best known as the author of her best seller book, Eat Pray Love) shares what Ruth Stone, an American poet, shared with her.
“I met Stone when she was nearly ninety years old, … She told me that when she was a child growing up on a farm in rural Virginia, she would be our working in the fields when she would sometimes hear a poem coming toward her … Whenever this happened, she knew exactly what she had to do next: She would “run like hell” toward the house, trying to stay ahead of the poem, hoping to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough to catch it. That way, when the poem reached her and passed through her, she would be able to grab it and take dictation, letting the words pour forth onto the page.”