Teaching Opinion

The Anxiety of Doing Something New

By Starr Sackstein — July 18, 2017 3 min read
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Recently the stirring anxiety of doing something new had first paralyzed me and later inspired me to do what I’m always suggesting others do—take a risk and try not to worry about being wrong.

I fear, however, that it is in these instances that my perfectionism (a condition that I usually would say is in remission in recent years) emerges and renders me almost paralyzed.

It is a certain fact that when I know I can do something well, I’m readily running toward the opportunity to explore and grow, but when I’m worried I won’t be perfect, I almost don’t know where to start.

The first instance of this in the past year was with Pokemon Go. My son and his friends were playing it all the time and when I tried it, I could barely even through a pokeball straight. It was embarrassing of course because my 11 year old and all of his friends were so good at it. Of course, me being who I am, I couldn’t leave well enough alone until I was pretty darn good at the game. Now I’m almost embarrassed to admit to an adult crowd that I’m quite accomplished at it. My son and all of his friends have lost interest, so I can’t even blame him for what became a short term obsession with being the best at it.

It didn’t stop there though. The next time I had to confront the paralysis was when my partner bought me a beautiful new bicycle for my 40th birthday. In all honesty, I haven’t ridden a bicycle in years and he is kind of awesome at it (like he races competitively and owns his own bike shop). His prowess is intimidating. Now he got me the bike so we could enjoy rides together, but since I know I won’t be the best at it, I was afraid to even to try.

I know, not a very cool thing to admit out loud, but it was the truth. As I’m typing these truths, my face is actually reddening despite the fact that the only company I have is my sleeping cat.

The most current iteration of this fear is when I began to confront my first assignment in my new leadership class.

Reading the chapters and taking notes, easy-peasy. Already done, but the part that I don’t know that much about, the part about writing observations with a rubric I’ve never seen has me a bit stymied.

Again, a little embarrassed to admit that I’m afraid of starting the assignment and not doing it as well as I feel like I should be able to.

“Should” is a big problem for me and, I suspect, for a lot of other learners, too. But I promise you, I will comfront my fear and tackle the assignment and be poised for the feedback I know I’ll get. My professor isn’t going to judge my lack of experience (even though I’m already judging myself pretty harshly). When I was in school even though grad school, it all came VERY easily to me. The work wasn’t remotely tough, just tedious. Sometimes stimulating, but usually not.

This is different. So I’m trying to parse through the different.

First of all, I’m in a room full of other accomplished colleagues. Although we are all students, I’m not the only who is doing something. I wasn’t even the first person to submit my reflection on the bulletin board and usually I would have had it all done right away.

Second of all, it has been a long time since I’ve actually been in school to learn in this capacity. I feel vulnerable; both excited that I have a lot to learn and terrified that I won’t be the best at it.

I know, it sounds silly. Why should it matter if I’m the best or not?

But that’s a part of my perfectionism psychosis. So I struggle with what I know is good practice. Trying and being wrong is a part of the learning process and no one expects me to know how to do something I’ve never done before, but I still expect it of myself.

Confusing I’m sure, but I’m hoping that some of you reading this can identify.

Fortunately, I’m flying today and when I do, I plan on finishing my reading and then getting to write the observation. Once it’s done, I’ll share my experience and maybe even the feedback that I get. If I was doing this as a part of my job, I don’t think I’d feel so intimidated, but I really want to be able to impress. I feel like people expect that of me.

(A little secret though.... aside from feeling a little fraudulent in my own capacity, I never feel like I’m as good as people say I am. So I keep pushing to be better.)

Perhaps this is healthy and even good, but the anxiety really doesn’t feel great.

I know the learning will come and that’s why I’ll just jump in—very soon. I’m running out of procrastination time and other life distractions.

Taking the deep breath before I jump into the learning head first and I promise I will come up for air knowing a little more.

Here goes....

When was the last time you tried something new? Were you afraid or energized? Please share.

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