Your Fears Are Holding You Back

Your Fears Are Holding You Back

What are you afraid of?

I’ll give you a moment here to think of the things that scare you—maybe spiders, or heights, or being in the dark, or dying. (One of my biggest fears is falling, usually brought on by airplane turbulence, if that makes you feel any better.) Got it? Now toss that out, because of course we both know that’s not what I’m talking about.

What are you really afraid of?

You probably clicked on the link to this post because on some level, you feel unsatisfied with your life. Maybe you’re unhappy with your current job. Maybe you feel like your life is mostly satisfactory, but you’re stuck in a rut that you need to break out of. Maybe your life is great, but you still have a sense that there’s still something more out there that will bring you fulfillment.

Now I’ll give you a moment to think about the things you would like to do with your life—the dreams and goals you’ve accumulated over your lifetime but haven’t achieved. These could be dream careers, like performing on stage or owning a Fortune 500 company, or they could be one-time goals, like summiting Mount Everest or taking a cross-country road trip. All of these are achievable goals; in theory, anyone can learn to play an instrument, manage a business, or climb a mountain. So why haven’t you achieved them? What’s holding you back?

I’m no psychologist, and I’m definitely no mind-reader, but I do have an educated guess that answers that question: Fear. All of us have fears that overshadow and outweigh our dreams. These might be fears of failure, of losing relationships, or of regression. For the most part, we avoid those fears, shove them back and pack them away where we don’t have to look at them. Sometimes we may not even be aware that we have them. But these fears obstruct us and keep us from achieving our dreams.

As for me, I’m afraid of failing. I’m afraid of outright rejection, of being judged and found wanting, of not being good enough, or not being as good as someone else. I’m afraid of feeling crushingly disappointed. I’m afraid of having to work hard at something to the point that I start to hate it. I’m afraid of getting bored or frustrated by something that I normally love to do.

The good news is that none of my fears are insurmountable. By knowing what our roadblocks are, we can plan how to avoid the things we fear—and how to survive them if we can’t avoid them. Try it for yourself. Take another look at your unfulfilled dreams and goals, and ask yourself three questions:

  1. What’s the worst that could happen?
  2. How do I avoid that?
  3. What do I do if I can’t avoid it?

The funny thing about this exercise is that by giving a name to your fears, they start to become less frightening. Often we get to the first question—what’s the worst that could happen?—and stop there. But by brainstorming solutions to a potential problem, we give ourselves the tools to overcome it. Examining our fears gives us the power to conquer them.

I’m tempted to end by asking you a question you’ve probably heard before: What would you attempt do if you knew you could not fail? But that’s not realistic, and really, it’s not the point. So instead, I’ll leave you with this:

What would you attempt to do if you knew that you could fail?

Posted by Calligraphie, 0 comments
Drop the Juggling Act: How to Ditch the Struggle of Obligation vs. Enthusiasm

Drop the Juggling Act: How to Ditch the Struggle of Obligation vs. Enthusiasm

You’ve probably heard the metaphor about life being a juggling act. Everyone has multiple pins, or roles, that they have to keep in perpetual, balanced motion. In my case, the pins I’m juggling are my day job, Protagonist, school, family, boyfriend, best friend, personal fitness, and any other miscellaneous events or opportunities as they arise. That’s a lot of pins to have going at one time, and frankly, my juggling act is an unsustainable, stressful mess.

As far as I can tell, there are three reasons for this:

  1. I never learned how to juggle. My time management skills are pretty dismal. I have a lot going on in my life and at any given moment, I feel like I’m slacking on at least half of my roles, if not all of them. Every time I need to focus on a particular aspect of my life—my classwork, or my day job—I have to drop a different role to make the juggling act work.
  2. I don’t know when to say “no.” I just want to do all the things!  Every time I encounter another opportunity, I add it to my juggling act. Thus far, I’ve had pretty good success making things work through sheer force of will alone, but at a huge price—astronomical levels of stress during, and depression after.
  3. I treat all my pins as though they were created equal. In other words, I’m not great at prioritizing, and I tend to find everything equally overwhelming.

These problems are not new to me, but they’ve been on my mind this week thanks to a couple of articles. The first, from my philosophy text, was an essay by Moritz Schlick, in which he argues that the meaning of life is found in play; by “play,” he means the things we do purely for their own sake, rather than for their results or consequences. The second article came from Psychology Today, and suggests that one way to avoid over-committing and becoming overwhelmed is to learn the difference between feeling obligation and enthusiasm. “How can you attend to what most needs doing,” author Susan Biali says, “if all your energy and time is taken up by things that you don’t really want to do, shouldn’t be doing, and shouldn’t have ever said yes to?”

For me, these two articles painted a stark picture: not only is it worth figuring out which of my roles or pins are obligations and which I feel enthusiastic about, but the activities about which I feel enthusiasm are more likely to contribute meaning to my life.

So, I’m taking on an experiment (and I’m trying very, very hard not to make it just another pin to juggle). This week, I put my schedule down on paper, using the template from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I blocked out my time commitments, and I listed all the tasks on my to-do list. Then I went through and made a brief notation in pink beside each of my commitments: O for things I feel obligated to do; E for things I am genuinely enthusiastic about; P for things I enjoy doing for their own sake and which contribute meaning to my life; and ? for instances where I wasn’t sure how I felt or in which I felt torn.

As you can see, there are whole lot of O’s. There were only a few E’s and ?’s. And there was only one P. (It was almost an E, but I reconsidered.)

The next stage of my experiment is to start working out where I can make cuts in my schedule. It’s time to start setting some of my pins down, and focusing on the pins that matter most. I don’t have a choice about some of them; when it comes to work, I can’t exactly quit my day job, because I need to keep a roof over my head and food in my stomach, but I can start saying “no” to networking events I don’t need to attend or projects that aren’t my direct responsibility. When it comes to extra-curriculars, I can’t ignore my classwork, but I can bow out of meetups and just-for-fun lessons that are a drain on my energy, time, and money. And maybe, once my balancing act evens out again, I can start actively scheduling in some of the things that give my life meaning.

My challenge to you this month is twofold. First, write down your roles or commitments, however it makes the most sense to you, and categorize your feelings for them. Which are the most important in your life, and which bring you unnecessary stress? Second, give some thought to the activities you enjoy doing just for the sake of doing them. How do they add meaning to your life, and how can you work them into your schedule on a more regular basis? I’d love to hear your thoughts or see how your schedules and priorities differ from mine—drop me a line at!

Posted by Calligraphie in Reflections, 0 comments
Why Personal Reflection Is Worth the Discomfort

Why Personal Reflection Is Worth the Discomfort

The beginning of a new year often brings ample opportunity for reflection on the previous year and one’s goals for the upcoming year. But how many of us actively take that opportunity when it’s presented?

Between the New Year, the beginning of a new quarter for Protagonist, and the start of my final semester in college, I’ve been given the opportunity this year to take a restock of where my life is at. Previously, I’ve been content to watch such opportunities sail by—if I even noticed them at all. This year, I won’t have that option. I’ve already spent some time creating the outline of a vision for the upcoming year, à la Andy Drish, but that’s only the beginning. Both my courses this semester focus on reflection: a philosophy course on the meaning of life, and my capstone for my major, in which I will reflect on my education, my place in the world, and my future goals.

Normally I’m the sort to shy away from all this new-agey, introspective, reflecting-and-visioning stuff. It’s uncomfortable. If I start reflecting on the past, that means looking back not only on my successes, but also on my mistakes and my low points—and as someone who struggles with depression and PTSD, I find that frankly a bit scary. It’s so much easier to let sleeping dogs lie, and keep plugging along as usual. So what makes the reflection worth the discomfort?

As my philosophy professor put it, “A good life doesn’t happen by accident.” Any sort of meaning in life must be intentional, or else it isn’t meaningful. You’ve probably heard the saying, “Live like there’s no tomorrow.” It’s inspirational, and it sounds great, but few of us immediately quit our jobs and start knocking things off our bucket lists.

No, the harder part is to live like you have forever. What if you knew for a fact you were going to live to be over a hundred years old? How would you want to spend all that time? You have the option to tread water, going through life just keeping your head above water without going anywhere, or you can pick a direction and start swimming. And to pick the best direction, to figure out where you want to go, you must first recognize where you came from and where you currently are.

Thanks to Mr. Drish, I have the beginnings of a plan for 2018 that, if I follow it to its conclusion, will help me establish myself in a place where I want to be, pursuing a career and lifestyle that will bring me pleasure and pride. With the help of my two classes, and with continued reflection, I hope to flesh out that plan and make my dream even more achievable.

Learning can be uncomfortable; learning about ourselves, doubly so. To learn more about ourselves, we have to confront our fears and insecurities, but we can’t learn from our past if we don’t tackle that discomfort. And once we have, we are empowered to create a meaningful, good future.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
     — The Litany Against Fear from Frank Herbert’s Dune

Posted by Calligraphie in Reflections, 0 comments
7 Tips For Handling Procrastinatination

7 Tips For Handling Procrastinatination

If you’re an average human being, you probably know what it feels like to procrastinate. There’s always that one task—or three, or ten—that you’ve left until too late, and now it’s the last minute. Or maybe you’ve only barely begun the procrastination process, and need to convince yourself to start your work before it becomes too stressful.

The other night, I found myself lying awake at midnight in my favorite life avoidance position (face-down, with my entire face smushed into a pillow), unable to sleep because of all the end-of-semester school assignments hanging over my head that I should have started days before. I had reached the point where procrastination was no longer viable, and I absolutely had to start working, but my mental self-flagellation only added to my stress. I already knew I had to get to work, and I knew why I had to get to work; I just needed to remind myself how.

The hard part is, how do you go from Point A (realizing that you have a lot of work to do) to Point B (actually doing it)? I’m glad you asked! Here’s the pep talk I gave myself, which helped me get in gear.

  1. Take a deep breath.
    The more I stress about not wanting to do something, the less I want to do it. Take a moment to breathe, relax, and recognize that you can do this. (You truly can, no matter how hard it seems or how little time you have. Humans have an incredible ability to overcome ridiculous odds.) Picture how good it will feel to have this unwanted task done and out of the way.
  2. Create the right environment.
    Find a clean, clutter-free (and distraction-free) spot to work, and then tune it to your specifications. Do you need bright light to concentrate, or do you work better in dimmer, warmer light? Do you prefer a quiet space, or to have music playing? If you’re the latter, consider checking out video game soundtracks, which are specifically composed to boost concentration, or go the easy route and put on a productivity playlist that someone else has already thrown together. I do better with comfortable lighting, white noise, and zero access to Facebook. (If you relate to this problem, try manually logging out of social media. Each time you get bored and unconsciously click to your favorite social media website, the login screen will remind you that you have more important tasks to do. StayFocusd is another great Chrome plugin for helping with distraction.)
  3. Break it down into smaller goals.
    Admittedly, I’m pretty terrible at this, and I tend overwhelm myself with the scope of the task that needs doing, but when I can focus on one piece of the assignment at a time, it always feels more manageable. I find it helpful to write down a ridiculously detailed checklist of all the parts of my project, and then I cover all but the current step with Post-It notes.
  4. Remember that starting is the hard part.
    Once I delve into a project, it’s always relatively easy to keep doing it. It’s basic physics: an object at rest stays at rest, but an object in motion can do anything she sets her mind to. (Or something like that—science was never my best subject!) Once you hit your groove, you’ll find it easier to keep going.
  5. Start in the middle.
    Begin with whatever catches your interest most. Find one exciting aspect of the project, and use it as a jumping-off point. If you have to write an essay, don’t start by planning the introduction; start by planning that rad bombshell of an argument you want to drop in paragraph three, and let your enthusiasm carry the momentum.
  6. Take breaks.
    Breaks help both your productivity and your health while you work, but I’ve never liked timed work sessions (such as the 80 minutes of work and 6 minutes of break suggested by the linked article). My attention span waxes and wanes when I work; sometimes I can focus for a solid hour or more, and sometimes I need to get up from the computer again after fifteen minutes. Learn to recognize when you need a few moments of distance from your work, and take the opportunity to physically remove yourself from your workspace: stand and stretch, or grab a glass of water, or take a bathroom break.
  7. Recognize your achievements.
    When I do manage to break a project up into bite-sized tasks, it helps to have a reward at the end of each section. I might tell myself, “I’m going to finish drafting these three pages, and then I’ll go for a walk and enjoy some fresh air,” or “I’ll make some tea in my fanciest teapot,” or “I’ll cuddle the heck out of my boyfriend.” In the interests of health, I try not to reward myself with food except at actual meal times, but if chocolate motivates you the most, go for it! Having a reward to look forward to makes it all worth it.

Keep in mind—just because I originally compiled this list to encourage myself to do schoolwork doesn’t mean you can’t adapt it for other projects! Maybe you procrastinate when it comes to shoveling snow or wrapping a mountain of holiday gifts; you can still focus on the small tasks by starting with the front step or the present you’re most excited to give, and even if you can’t change where you do the work, you can always crank up some tunes on your iPod or radio. Plus, winter is a great time of year for hot cocoa breaks!

And no matter what you keep putting off this month, remember that Protagonist has your back! If you need help overcoming a problem that feels too big for you, or if you need the reassurance that you can handle it, drop us a line at  We believe in you, and we’ll help you tackle your challenge like a true hero!

What advice do you give yourself to avoid procrastinating?

Posted by Calligraphie in Reflections, 0 comments
Insights on The Paradox of Rational Depression

Insights on The Paradox of Rational Depression

It seems obvious to me why we call insights “pearls of wisdom.” Pearls form when an irritant intrudes on a mollusk, and the mollusk coats it with nacre until it becomes smooth, shiny, and valuable. In the same way, ideas enter our minds and niggle at the back of our consciousness until, over time, our minds polish them into something valuable.

My most recent pearl of wisdom intruded on me during a coaching session in August, when I expressed how hard it felt to do something, and Curious asked, “But does it have to be?”

At the time, that cued a weepy, defensive meltdown—I didn’t want to hear that the extent of my difficulties could possibly be my fault, because I already felt bad enough about them. But like a speck of dust in an oyster, his question stuck, and in the few months since then my mind has kept turning it over and over. Do things really have to be as hard as I make them?

Here’s the answer I’ve come up with: No. But also, sort of…yes.

I don’t hide the fact that I struggle with depression (in fact, sometimes it’s hard to get me to shut up about it). Thanks to prescription medication and a therapist, who is a goddess among men, I mostly have my depression under control, but sometimes it still sneaks up and ambushes me. For the most part, my depression manifests as a drop in mental capacity; I am no less capable of rational thought than on my good days, but everything, including thinking, becomes ten times more exhausting.

When I’m not depressed, I can recognize logically that I possess the capability to deal with the difficulties in my life, and I can act on that realization. If I have an unexciting project due, I know that I can (eventually) make myself complete it whether I want to or not. It’s like rolling a big boulder: not always easy, for sure, but possible with the proper application of force and willpower.

One of the most maddening aspects about my state of mostly-under-control is what happens when I hit a downswing. On my down days, I can still reach that logical realization of my own capability, but acting on it becomes a task of Sisyphean proportions. Completing my project is still possible, but overcoming my apathy becomes not only a much larger task than before, but often a downright repulsive one—when I’m super depressed, the idea of going back to functioning as normal feels physically uncomfortable. I still possess the ability to roll my boulder, but now I have to shift it uphill through knee-deep mud.

And yet, if I just got the right leverage and pushed harder, I could overcome that obstacle, too, right? Maybe I just don’t have enough resilience.

The problem in this case, as eloquently as I can describe it, is that when I am depressed, I am simultaneously Sisyphus (Wikipedia) and the muddy hill. The obstacle is my own brain chemistry, and while there are things I can do to optimize my brain chemistry, sometimes my brain throws me for a loop anyway.

Hence, what I think of as the Paradox of Rational Depression: I can always control how I respond to difficult situations…except for the times when I also can’t.

In both cases, all I have to do is apply the proper force and willpower, but during a depressive episode, the parameters change. The sort of thinking that would make a problem less stressful on a good day won’t always work on a bad day. However, I know that no matter my mental state, I always have the option to plot a new course or grab a bigger lever. Sometimes it’s just easier to stop pushing my boulder and wait until the mud dries up. There are choices available to me.

Everyone, to some degree, has an aspect of their life in which they get in their own way. I wish I could share the answer to this paradox and how to apply it to your own life, but I don’t yet have all the psychological and emotional tools I need to solve it (although between Curious and the goddess of therapy, I have a pretty good support team to help me get there). This is something I plan to keep working on, but if I discover any pearls of wisdom that are polished enough to share, I’ll post updates.


What is your Sisyphean task? Do you need help getting up your hill, or have suggestions for how to get out of your own way? Let us know at!

Posted by Calligraphie in Reflections
Becoming Potential – Your Path, Your Choice

Becoming Potential – Your Path, Your Choice

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a link to a blog post from Princess Awesome entitled  “Stop Telling Kids They Can Be Anything,” which caught my eye. I wondered what the heck that meant—are we supposed to stop encouraging kids? Well, no. Princess Awesome suggests that instead of telling kids “You can be anything,” we should say, “You can choose your path.” This option takes the pressure off of kids by eliminating any need to be something (and only one thing) for the rest of their lives.

That simple suggestion absolutely floored me—and the idea has stuck with me ever since. I can’t help but ask myself some questions:

  1. How might my outlook on life differ, and how much farther might I have gotten, if someone had told me as a kid that I could choose my path? What would I have learned or done differently?
  2. Why on Earth don’t we tell this to adults, too?

I’m one of those people who feels like a late bloomer. I have watched, with no small amount of jealousy and perplexity, as my high school compatriots went off to college knowing exactly what they wanted to do with their lives, and then proceeded to do it. A good friend of mine wanted to go into sports management, and has now worked for our state’s major-league baseball team for several years. Another friend went to MIT and got into aerospace engineering. A former classmate moved to LA and became a model and a singer. But unlike them, I never felt that I knew what I wanted to be, much less how to become it.

Roughly eight years ago, during my first go-round through college, I visited my school’s career counseling center to see if someone could help me figure out what to do with my major. When I had applied for colleges, I’d known with absolute certainty that I wanted to major in writing (even though I had no idea how to turn that into a career), because I loved writing and I wanted to become a better writer. By the time I visited that career counselor, I had learned a lot about the art of writing, but I still had one problem: I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my major once I graduated from college. I hoped the career counseling center could help me figure out which direction to take.

Instead, the counselor dropped a list of possible careers for English majors in my lap and sent me home to look it over and see if any of them looked interesting. This list consisted of multiple pages of job titles, in a twelve-point font, with at least three columns to a page, and provided so many options that I never even read all of them, much less pursued any of them. I had run into the same problem Princess Awesome identified: with an English major, I could theoretically be anything, but knowing that I had endless career possibilities didn’t help me to actually pick a career!

At that point, I didn’t need to hear that I had possibilities. I already knew that. Instead, I needed to learn how to narrow my possibilities down to a more manageable selection. I needed help choosing my path.

Fast forward a few years. When Adam (our very own Curious Bystander) first mentioned the idea of Protagonist, I knew I wanted to get involved. I had no idea how, and I had no experience with entrepreneurship, but when he accepted my offer of editing support, I felt for the first time like I had the opportunity to chose my path. Committing to that choice felt scary, but I wasn’t choosing something as monumental as a career, and nothing decrees that I have to follow this path all the way to the end. At no point did I choose what I’m going to “be” for the rest of my life. But in the face of endless possibilities, I found an opportunity, and I chose to follow it.

Ultimately, the moral of this story boils down to this: it doesn’t matter what our possibilities are. It matters what our opportunities are. Our power lies in finding one thing we can do, or not do, and then trying it. And then maybe trying something else, and seeing what happens.

To this day, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, and I still don’t even know all of my options. But not only is that okay—it ultimately doesn’t matter, because I don’t have to be anything, or even have a plan. I just have to keep my eye out for opportunities. And when they arise, I can choose my path.

Link to article:


Posted by Calligraphie in Reflections