Playing the Game: What Facing my Fears Taught me
Did you know that fear is a primal instinct? Yes. As humans, fear is one of the emotions that is not learned from our environment or culture. Try it. Pretend to throw a baby down and see their fight or flight response kick in real quick.
As we grow up, we evolve from having fears based on survival instinct to learned fears. Fears that are born and molded by the people around us, the environment we are born in, and the culture that raises us.
As women, we learn to fear men, as we learn of the violence they can impact on our bodies. As Ugandans who have gone through the UNEB system, we learn to fear failure. Because how can you take home a D2? After they paid all that school fees? So, we shy away from trying anything new because what if we fail?
Fear, at its core, is meant to keep us safe; it prioritizes the avoidance of danger at all costs. But let's be honest, visiting the other side of danger, is totally worth it – sometimes.
One of my greatest fears like many of us has always been failure. The fear of failure shaped my decisions for a long time: what course I chose to study, the jobs I applied for, and the goals I made. I always chose the safer route.
“I'll study for a business degree at MUBS because it seems safe enough. Not to mention, if I go to MUBS I will not have to deal with all the strikes over at MUK.” As a Ugandan who went to Aga Khan, strikes, tear gas, nebigenderako are part of my fears. The fears based on survival instinct. One of my core memories is tear gas canisters flying over from Kisekka Market during lunchtime. It must have been during the Walk to Work protests. Wabula the things we have survived as Ugandans!
So, imagine how I felt when I graduated top of my class, full of hope and dreams, and could not land one good paying job. Nothing prepares you for that first year or two fresh out of university. It was the first time in my people-pleasing golden-child life, I was failing at something. For at least a year, I moved from unpaid internship to unemployment to those ones of “You bring your resume”.
I have since failed at many more things after that. I fail at many things now because I try many things. I don't only pick the safer route. I've relocated to a small town on the other side of the continent to start again. Only to move back home. Like every other millennial, I have started a podcast before. And in the spirit of multiple revenue streams, I have started a business without any experience. And I have feared failure every single time. Each of those experiences came with their fair share of failures, but I've learned that there's life too on the other side of the fears that keep us safe.
One of my favorite movies growing up was, The Cinderella Story. Between Hilary Duff and Chad Micheal Murray (hello One Tree Hill fans!), it was your typical high school movie. Cue the popular boy meets unpopular girl and they fall in love story. The dreams we were sold!
I bring up the movie because it highlighted a quote that has stayed with me until now.
"Don't let the fear of striking out, keep you from playing the game." - Babe Ruth
I think often about how much life is more about playing the game than winning. When they talk about Kylie Jenner's success versus Rihanna's, both billionaires, people are driven more to Rihanna's story. While they are both winners, the game they played sets them apart. The process to get to the win is what makes the story. Few people want to listen to Kylie's bump-less ride to the top.
As more of my fears have actualized, I realize that I have made it through each one of them - and it makes for a good story. It has taught me to be a little braver in trying things. In going for my dreams - that part has been worth it every time. A lot of our fears are learned. And with anything learned, there is room for unlearning.
What fears do you hold to this day? The fear of being seen? The fear of not being in control? The fear of not being enough? Take time to lean into your fears. Sit with them. Ask yourself why you believe them. Are they your fears or your parents? Are they beliefs that served you once but you now need to let go of?